Insourcing -- The New Trend?
Friday, Aug. 3, 2007 at 11:02am
Friday is a day for happy stories and this one is happier than most. FORTUNE today reports on an Indian company that has opened a call center in Reno.
"The phenomenon has a name: 'insourcing,' the term experts are starting to use when foreign multinationals open offices on U.S. soil and hire Americans, at a higher price, to do the very jobs they once lured overseas," writes reporter Jia Lynn Yang. "In this case the center in Reno is targeted toward companies willing to pay a premium - its workers there cost up to 40 percent more than their counterparts in India - to give their U.S. customers a more culturally fluent, less frustrating 1-800 experience."
Now, this is a side of globalization that I think most of us who live in the United States can appreciate. It reverses a trend that made many of us nervous, the feeling that jobs are simply slipping away from us, and with them, some of our national identity. It's weird enough for a guy in Atlanta to call the corner business and get instead a centralized rabbit warren in Omaha. But a phone call to your corner bank that ends up eighteen time zones away? Not exactly warm and fuzzy.
Still, whenever I call Citibank (C), for instance, I always like to establish a personal connection right away. "Where are you, by the way?" I will ask the clipped, precise English person on the other end of the phone.
"Mumbai," they will say.
"What's the weather like there?" I will ask. This elicits one of two replies. The first is, "Hot." The other is, "I don't know, I haven't been outside in quite some time." I know how they feel. One day last week I got to the office at 6:00 AM for an earnings call and left at 8:30 PM after all the exploded fat has been cleaned up from the kitchen. Outside that day, it had been 90-degrees and soggy humid in Manhattan. For me, it had been 72 and dry the whole day long.
What's most interesting is that Asian companies are doing this to improve customer service for Americans who want to hear a friendly voice. They are, in a sense, defying the economics, and going for good business practice. What a concept!
This turn-about could extend to other portions of our business civilization, as corporations think about the comfort and well-being of their employees and customers over strict adherence to the short-term bottom line. We could see:
- Senior management firing all management consultants and using the money to hire internal people and fund pension plans;
- The "insourcing" of jobs that used to go to out-of-house law firms, advertising and public relations agencies, print departments, cleaning crews, etc.
- The implementation of the four-day work week;
- Business-class seating throughout the entire airplane;
- Free snacks for any customer forced to wait more than 10 minutes online;
- No commercials in movie theaters that charge more than $7.00 for a ticket;
- Nobody permitted to make more than $500,000,000 in one year;
- All instruction manuals to be written in original, comprehensible English, not in pidgin nonsense translated from Urdu;
- The reinstatement of thousands of real, live human beings where there are now audiotapes instructing you to press numbers in order to be put on hold.
This last is most important. I believe we may date the decline of our society from the moment some genius got the great idea to put computers and digitized voices behind 411 information. These Asian businesses have already taken a great step by recognizing the American consumers might like to speak with voice that is recognizable to them. Somebody smart can take the next step, I think, and realize that most of the time, when a human being has a problem or a question, they might not want to talk with a machine.