Call Centers Can't Simply Stay Home

Bloomberg Businessweek|June 15, 2020

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Call Centers Can't Simply Stay Home
Concern about data security, power outages, and poor internet service fuels a return to offices
Por Bruce Einhorn and Siegfrid Alegado

For Americans with questions about their bank accounts, mobile phone service, or e-commerce orders, getting answers has long involved talking on the phone with someone in the Philippines, where English-speaking operators handle queries, complaints, and other calls. U.S. companies outsourcing this kind of customer service benefit from lower labor costs while counting on their Philippine operators to keep customers’ confidential information safe within the walls of the call centers.

Now the coronavirus is testing that arrangement. After the Philippine government imposed a strict quarantine in March, call centers had permission to keep skeleton crews at their offices, but they had to send thousands of other employees to work from home. Even as lockdowns end in the island nation, social distancing rules remain in effect. Many staffers won’t be returning to call centers and instead will be answering customer questions from their residence.

That decision has forced Alorica Inc., a major operator of call centers in the country, to work with clients to revise their agreements about what kinds of information workers can handle outside the office. The closely held company based in Irvine, Calif., has about 40,000 employees in the Philippines, half of its total workforce, and must limit occupancy at its 22 sites there to 50% of capacity to reduce the risk of workplaces becoming Covid-19 hot spots.

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June 15, 2020