Philippine Business News - The Anatomy of a Call Center Agent, cartoon by greyweed

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it! – How Filipino accents dominate the call center business

Philippine Business News, Manila – The Philippines has emerged as the world’s new call center capital, ousting India, by taking 70% of it’s call center business, according to a report by the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP).

With increasing growth in many of the world’s English speaking markets, this trend is likely to continue. According to the CCAP estimate, the revenues and employment in the Philippine’s contact center industry is set to grow at 14-15% for 2014 and 2015.

The CCAP report revealed that contact center revenues hit a record $10 billion in 2013, exceeding the $9.9-billion target and were around 18% higher than the $8.6 billion in 2012. In response to this growth, CCAP has revised it’s contact center sector’s revenue projections up to 2016. The projected growth for 2014 is now set to be $11.4 billion, $13.1 billion in 2015 and $15 billion in 2016.

The Philippines has an advantage over India due to a workforce that can speak English with a neutral accent — a trait particularly appreciated by their western clients. Accents, according to one of India’s major trade associations, are the cause of losing much of their call center industry to the Philippines. The shift will be responsible for $30 billion in lost foreign earnings for India during this decade.

The head of India’s Associated Chambers of Commerce summed up the problem. “Employees in Philippines call centers speak English fluently with a neutral accent, which is what customers look for and that is something missing in Indian accents,” said the group’s general secretary, D.S. Rawat. “That is a prime reason why [call center] business is thriving in that country.”

With continuing strong growth, the United States provides the bulk of the market for the Philippine’s call center sector. However in the recent years, it has begun to break into other English speaking countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

India, a former British colony, has a huge number of English speakers, though the Indian accent remains strong and their workers have much less exposure to western culture, than their Filipino counterparts. To Americans, Filipino speech sounds similar to the Latino accent, inherited through 300 years of Spanish rule.

Likewise in the UK, the popularity of Americanized culture, means American-Latino accents are much more readily accepted and understood, than those of it’s former colony. The British government is using a Philippine call center to handle payroll claims for it’s foreign diplomatic offices — including their embassy in India. Even the CEOs of India’s largest outsourcing companies have given up trying to hold back the tide and have begun opening call centers in the Philippines.

The rise of the call center industry is set to turn the Philippines into a genuine ‘24 hour’ country. Being at a 12 hour time difference from much of the US, the Filipino call center agents’ shifts often end around dawn. Bars located close to call centers offer 7am happy hour specials to workers at the end of their ‘day’.

Taking this to it’s logical conclusion, the construction firm Megaworld is building mini-cities around the call center industry — with offices, shops and homes — that reverse the day/night cycle and operate permanently on American time.