In India, Rural Workers Run Call Centers

As they are at ease with the local language, call-center employees from the villages are better able to serve customers who often prefer speaking in the local language, Manivannan said. Many of these customers are also in rural markets, he added.

On the flip side, staff hired in villages do not have strong English speaking skills. That is the reason DesiCrew started about a year ago with non-voice services, Malhotra said. It has started a pilot for voice-based services recently, but in Indian languages.

The setting up of BPO and call centers in rural areas is still limited to a few companies, mainly startups, and social service organizations. Byrraju Foundation plans to have 10 to 12 centers, employing about 1,500 people, by the end of this year. That is, however, a fraction of the staff employed in India's call center and BPO industry.

As staff get more costly and harder to hire in the big cities, large Indian and multinational outsourcing companies are expected to open facilities in smaller cities and towns, but analysts are doubtful they will set up operations in villages.

In the BPO and call-center business, the size of the operation is important because some costs like building security, and technology are fixed, said Siddharth Pai, a partner at outsourcing consultancy Technology Partners International (TPI). Many small villages, spread out across a large area, may not be able to provide the large number of staff that a commercial operation needs to be viable, he added.

DesiCrew's Malhotra, however, said that already three out of seven centers run in villages by the company are making a profit. DesiCrew currently has between 10 to 20 staff at each of its satellite centers, and a hub in Chennai. "Processes can be split among the centers depending on the people you have," Malhotra said.

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