International Call Centre Study
July 25 2007 - A recent international study of nearly 2500 call centres has challenged many
assumptions about management and employment practices in this sector. The Global Call Centre Report: International
Perspectives on Management and Employment summarizes collaborative research by more than 40 academics in 17
countries in Asia, Africa, South America, North America and Europe.
The study found that the international call centre sector is complex and rapidly changing. Call
centres support customers across all sectors of industry offering a wide range of services as diverse as assistance
with use of products, credit card activation and medical information. They are a major source of employment and job
creation, but also have high turnover rates leading to lower service quality. Cost pressures continue to shape
management practices, but alternative strategies and innovations are emerging. The report argues that employers
and public policy makers will need to consider what changes are necessary to ensure the sustainability of this
sector and its role in global economic development.
Other key findings include:
- Call centres have some characteristics in common especially in relation to market scope, service
provision and organizational features emphasizing standardization and cost minimization. However, there is little
evidence of convergence towards a "global call centre model".
- With the exception of India, most call centres serve domestic consumers. They tend to reflect the
legal framework, customs and norms of labour market institutions and the business environment in their respective
- There is considerable variation in work design and job quality, human resource practices including
training and performance management, and collective bargaining structures.
- Wherever located, most centres have been established within the last five to 10 years, refuting the
notion that they are redistributing employment from industrialized to emerging economies.
- Two-thirds are in-house centres serving the organization's own customers. The remaining third are
outsourced and operated by subcontractors. In-house centres in all countries studied tend to be small and targeted.
They have lower turnover rates and higher quality employment, make more extensive use of team work, and have a greater
proportion of full-time permanent employees. Subcontracted mass market operations tend to offer more standardized
jobs with lower skills and pay, higher performance monitoring, greater use of part-time staff, and lower union
- Alternative business strategies help to explain differences within countries. Centres that target a
specific customer group can design sophisticated management and employment systems to meet more complex needs.
- Staff turnover rates and costs are generally high. For example, annual turnover in the United States
ranges from 25 per cent to over 50 per cent, depending on the sector. Replacing one worker costs the equivalent of
between three and four months average pay.
- Overall, more than 50 per cent of centres have some form of collective representation. In coordinated
European economies, the majority are covered by union and works council representation. Consultation and negotiation
over work design and human resource practices tends to result in better quality jobs, lower turnover, and lower wage
dispersion. However, call centres in coordinated countries also make greater use of subcontracting and part-time
contracts to maximize flexibility. The report cautions this may be a means of circumventing labour market regulations.
Lead author Rosemary Batt, the Alice H. Cook Professor of Women and Work and professor of human
resource studies at Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School concluded:
"Consumers want good service, and they typically express the lowest levels of satisfaction with call
centres. But companies continue to shift more of their customer interactions to call centres because they are very
cost efficient. Studies like this provide empirical evidence of the kinds of management practices that produce lower
turnover rates and better quality jobs. The findings in this report are consistent with others I have done. There is
growing evidence that centres that invest in the skills of the workforce and provide discretion to solve customer
problems have lower turnover, better service quality and higher revenues."