An Asian Tiger takes up Service: The Growth of the Call Centre Industry in Singapore

Dr. Jennifer Jarman
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From the early 1990s, the call and customer contact centre industry expanded around the globe, starting first in North America, then moving through Europe, and now through Asia. Explanations of the location decisions of call centre firms have stressed the cost factors and the search for large pools of cheap labour. In this paper, these explanations are discussed and their limitations considered. The paper argues that insufficient attention has been paid to the enormous expansion that has been underway in this industry, and the reasons for the shift in the way that customer service is being re-organized. This shift entails replacing face-to-face and over-the-counter service with remote centres of workers who never see a customer in person but provide service through the mediation of telephones and computer screens. I argue that the existence of a thriving call centre industry in Singapore, a high-wage, knowledge-based economy in Southeast Asia, suggests that labour costs alone cannot explain the current shifts in the location of call centre firms. Furthermore, the emphasis on the transience of call centres in local economies is also over-emphasized. Rather, the social and cultural capital of local operators servicing local markets is an important factor in the ability of call centres to communicate effectively with their clients. I conclude by emphasizing the importance of social factors in explaining work trends in this industry, and suggesting that labour costs and labour supply may be over-emphasized in explaining location decisions in this industry.

Keywords: Telecommunications Industry, Call Centres, Transformation of Work, Globalization, Outsourcing
Stream: Other or Stream Unspecified
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Asian Tiger takes up Service, An

Dr. Jennifer Jarman

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore

Ref: T05P0255