In the United States, the issue of customer service centers is a sensitive one. With an estimated 11.5 million Americans out of work, many oppose the corporate practice of outsourcing jobs.
Also bothersome is the anxiety many Americans experience in dealing with outsourced call centers. Some compare the experience of spending 20 or 30 minutes trying to explain a problem to a customer service representative halfway across the world who speaks little English to having a root canal.
Honestly, outsourcing your customer call center to India must seem like a great idea until you realize your customers hate it, Betsy Lowther, a New York fashion blogger, wrote recently on Twitter.
Mexican call centers are not a new concept. For years, the Press two for Spanish that Americans heard on the line when they called their phone companies often meant being redirected to Mexico City or Monterrey while the English-language calls were sent to India or the Philippines.
But more Mexican call centers have begun handling English calls, as well, during recent years of record-breaking deportations.
The trend isnt limited to Mexico. Call centers are opening across Latin America.
In July, President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic participated in the ribbon cutting of a new Santo Domingo call center that touted it will invest $7 million in the local economy and provide 2,500 jobs.
City newspapers publicize the opening of new call centers while municipal officials tout the jobs they bring.
Size matters a lot. If youre talking about a small town, 5,000 jobs _ or even 500 _ are extremely important. And some of these call centers can be huge, said Jose-Luis Alvarez-Galvan, a Mexican economist who tracked the rise of call centers for his book Outsourcing and Service Work in the New Economy: The Case of Call Centres in Mexico City.
The economic impact may not be as significant to the Mexican economy as the arrival of major retailers such as Wal-Mart, but Alvarez-Galvan said the centers created thousands of jobs in an country that was desperate for them. However, he sees the centers as more of a temporary economic lift as customer service work becomes increasingly automated.
One of the major challenges of having call centers in Asia is not only language but also the time difference, said Christopher Wilson, an associate with the Wilson Centers Mexico Institute research center in Washington. As language resources improve, the call centers are part of a growing service-sector industry that includes software development in Guadalajara, which might be the next wave of trade between the two countries.
Call center worker Guzman doesnt think much about whether hes been exploited. Hes thankful just to have a job. And the call center pays well and has better benefits compared with many other Mexican jobs.
I feel lucky my parents gave me this skill to speak English, he said.
Why Franco Ordonez pursued the story:
This three-part project was sponsored by an international reporting fellowship administered by the International Center for Journalists and funded by the Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation and the Ford Foundation.