Tuesday, 14 July 2009

500 jobs lost: Where’s the outcry?

Outside the Box
John Mangun
Business Mirror

Last week it was announced that some 500 high-paying, career-building jobs left the Philippines. If these jobs has been lost due to the global slowdown affecting our export business, several politicians would have immediately been all over the television with their advice.

If several jumbo jets had landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport with 500 returning overseas workers, government officials would have met them at the airport promising help and training. If these jobs had been lost due to a major manufacturing firm closing shop, local pundits would have written extensively with their personal solution to the “problem.”

This story of job losses never appeared on television, in the press, but was met with silence.

From the Western Australian Today newspaper website on October 10, 2008: “More than 500 Telstra call-center jobs are to be transferred to the Philippines.” Telstra is the largest telecommunications company in Australia, serving 9.7 million mobile subscribers.

From The Australian newspaper website on July 8, 2009: “A Telstra spokesman on Wednesday said the Philippines-based service, which had operated for about six months, had not satisfied Telstra’s Australian customers.”

“Queensland Consumer Watch spokesman Paul Tully said: ‘Since January, all Telstra memo calls were unanswered by poorly trained Filipino staff whose skills in Tagalog far exceeded their English language ability,’ Mr. Tully said. ‘Telstra customers have complained non-stop of messages with wrong numbers, wrong names, misspell (sic) and confusing word combinations being received. The past six months has (sic) been utter pandemonium for Telstra customers.’”

My personal opinion is that Mr. Tully is an idiot. But he has his own agenda, so we can understand where he is coming from.

Filipino call-center agents do not need my defending them from these sorts of comments. However, I do know this business from the ground up. I have personally taken thousands of customer-service calls, managed call-center agents, and have been managing director of an outsourcing firm. I can say that Filipino call-centers agents are the best in the world, having seen the performance of our greatest competitor, India.

There is a unique dynamic that occurs when English-speaking customers from England, the USA or Australia make a service call and talk to a Filipino. These same customers would not think for a moment about buying imported goods produced in foreign countries, sometimes manufactured by near-slave labor employees or by underage children. Yet when they pick up the telephone and their call is answered by a Filipino, suddenly they become very nationalistic, screaming about and often cursing the Filipino agent who is trying to help them.

In fairness, the overwhelmingly vast majority of overseas customers calling to the Philippines sincerely appreciate the incredibly high degree of service and respect they receive. Often these customers are amazed if they find out that their needs are being handled by a person halfway around the world who works all night to help them.

No people on the face of the earth have the Filipino heart and soul that allow for the level of customer care that local agents can give.

However, Mr. Tully is correct about one thing. English-language skills are critical and too often, as we all know, we are falling short.

I do not envy the agents who worked on the Telstra account. Australian English is one of the most difficult of all English accents to understand. Every English-speaking nation, including the Philippines, has a variation of accent; American, Indian, British, Canadian, Irish, even Singaporean and South African. I am not sure even the Aussies always understand other Aussies.

Yet there is a fundamental problem with our English skills, and this fact needs to be repeated over and over again until the message gets through. We cannot afford to do otherwise.

Remember, English was the first national language of the country. When the 1935 Constitution mandated “steps toward the adoption of a common language,” that was written in English. Salvador P. Lopez, media icon, University of the Philippines president, journalist, wrote in The Future of Filipino Literature in English (1940) that, “There is nothing in the Filipino soul that cannot be transmitted through the medium of English and which, when transmitted, will not retain its peculiar Filipino color and aroma.”

We must get serious and remain serious about English. You want more jobs for young Filipinos at home? If current trends continue, outsourcing will employ one million people in three years, more than twice the number in the electronic-export business about which everyone is so concerned. Outsourcing remittances will nearly equal overseas worker remittances by 2011.

Paraphrasing the words of an American client to a local call-center director, “You want more of our business, teach your people to speak better English.” Every call-center recruitment ad says that a requirement is to be fluent in English. Yet 95 percent of all applicants never make it through the first interview because they cannot speak basic conversational English.

Our political leaders are not doing their job well enough on this issue. Government funding for English education is totally inadequate. The loudest voices are those promoting a false and phony nationalism based on the “Filipinoism” of using the vernacular.

President Manuel L. Quezon said, “Language has no nationality. It is nationality that gives the name to the language when it adopts it.” We should be proud and teach pride in intelligent, well-spoken, world-class “Filipino English.”

PSE stock-market information and technical-analysis tools were provided by CitisecOnline.com Inc. E-mail comments to mangun@email.com.

1 comment:

  1. Paul Tully - Australia1:39 pm, July 14, 2009

    John Mangun of Business Mirror shows what a complete and utter clown he is with his imbecilic comments on this forum. I am married to a beautiful Filipino woman from Davao and love the nation, its people and its culture. I am also a user of the Telstra Memo Service which worked perfectly until it was moved offshore and the subtle English tones and pronunciations were difficult for those whose first language is Tagalog to understand. This is where specific names, times, dates, telephone numbers etc are critical to the efficient transmission of messages. Yes, Mr Mangun - I do have my own agenda and that is to restore the accuracy and professionalism of Telstra's messaging service. The past 6 months have been a disaster - wrong numbers, wrong names, wrong details. But a fool like you cannot see that. At least Telstra had the foresight to admit that it was wrong and retrieve some of the damage it had done. Telstra had been overwhelmed with complaints you idiot - so, according to you, all of the complainants are idiots because we wanted to have a decent standard of service. I always follow the Biblical exhortation of repaying people 10-fold, so if you think you don't deserve such sarcastic comments, neither do I!