BPO sector: Get trained even before you are hired!
Merril Diniz, 15 Dec 2013
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 Raman Pruthi

IN a classroom at NIIT Uniqua’s Gurgoan centre, a batch of twenty-somethings are perfecting their tenses and learning how to pronounce the days of the week and the months of the year, correctly. Some focus so hard, they skip a few days and months in-between. April and August prove to be toughies commonly being mispronounced as “up-ra-eel” and “uuh-gust”.

But their trainer is patient and uses these guffaws to lighten the mood and keep her students, motivated. Next, she simulates a mock phone call pretending to be an irate customer calling to get her mobile phone plan changed.

A student requests two minutes time to prepare, scribbles furiously on his notepad and proceeds to answer the call, as his classmates listen to the exchange. Post, he receives feedback from his classmates and trainer, who reviews him on how he opens the conversation, content, confidence levels and grammatical errors.

In the picture:Trainer Dennis Bob Philip instructs a fresh of hires at Convergys

What is being taught?

The session is highly interactive (mostly missing from the average Indian college classroom), and students are eager beavers, looking to improve their communication skills as a means to get ahead.  Some of them are not from  the Delhi-NCR region and hail from smaller towns in the vicinity.

For the next three months this batch of “near-hires” will undergo rigorous training five days a week, seven hours a day, to make them job-ready for an entry-level position at one of India’s top 20 BPOs. The training is free of cost and is sponsored by the BPO in question, which interviewed them, deemed them not yet ready for a job but having the potential to improve with a little training in communication skills.

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“Let me share with you what we call the ‘hit rate’. For every 100 people we interview, we hire seven to 10. So, we divide the errors into fatal and non-fatal. If someone makes a lot of grammar mistakes and also messes up their tenses, which is very difficult to rectify through training, then it is tough. But basic grammatical errors, we can fix that. So, it depends on whether it’s a fatal error (which we cannot correct through training) or a non-fatal error. In fact, near-hires are hungry to learn and are the most energetic lot!” says Tim Huiting, VP-Human Resources, Convergys. 

In the coming months, the batch in progress will learn how to pronounce, expand their vocabulary and be politically correct, so as not to offend customers. But the BPO runs a risk – on one hand these candidates may still not be employable despite rigourous training. On the other, candidates may choose to hop companies and even industries, post the training.

Convergys has a slightly different approach. “We do a hybrid model, where we outsource a third-party trainer who conducts the training on our own campus. A good reason to do it in-house is that they get to see the environment, in which they will work, and we notice that the stickiness for these people is higher,” says Ashutosh Sinha, India Recruitment Head, Convergys.

But training “near-hires” is inevitable and an outcome of the dearth in employable candidates. In another classroom, yet another set of students are seated with headphones over their ears, their laptops simulating a conversation in English with them. These BPO aspirants are not as lucky as the “near-hires”. Turned down at various BPO interviews, they are paying good money to improve their chances at securing a job.


IMG_8985What does it cost?
The fees are between Rs. 6,000 to 15,700 for a programme, which will prepare them specifically for BPO jobs. They are not guaranteed a job, but ‘100 percent job assistance’. What does this mean? According to the BPO training institute, this means minimum number of placement opportunities (three to five interviews) to each student. NIIT Uniqua, a BPO training company, a joint venture with Genpact, also has tie-ups with IBM, Wipro, Bank of America, WNS and HCL, for placements.

According to the company in 2010, they also placed 200+ candidates in organisations, which hire for I2I operations such as Genpact, NetAmbit, Serco, Spanco and Techmahindra, and the entry level salary starts at Rs. 66,000 per annum.

Jobs before training
“We also have something called a ‘Conditional Appointment Letter’, which says that you have been found good at the entry point and if you attend a particular programme, there will be a job waiting for you, at say,  Genpact. In some cases the money spent by the candidate is also reimbursed by Genpact if the candidate works there for a stipulated period of time,” says Chockalingam Murugan, President, NIIT Uniqua.

Cut to another training set-up at the Convergys office in Gurgaon. A fresh batch of recruits are seated in a classroom with rows of computers, a projector and walls covered with colourful chart paper. One depicts a map of the US. Yet another has grammar tips. Trainer Dennis Bob Philip animatedly instructs a fresh batch of entry-level recruits on the difference between empathy and sympathy, and when it is appropriate to tell the customer “I’m sorry” and when it is preferable to say “I apologise”. According to Dennis who has been training for the past six years, the focus is now on speaking flawless English as opposed to emulating the American or British accent anymore.

“Customers usually figure that our people are from India, so we don’t try to make them sound like they are not from here. So, now there are two focuses. One, diction, grammar and clarity of speech so the customer understands. Two, comprehension. And this is a bigger challenge -. Can the agent understand the UK accent, for instance? I struggle sometimes to understand someone from Northern England or Newcastle!,” says Tim.

According to Dennis, name changes are not a must here unless it is tongue twister. For instance, Sita will remain Sita, but somasundareshwar might metamorphose into Sam. However, some clients insist on name changes. “It was a prerequisite from the client side to change our names,” says Ankit Sharma (name changed), who worked as a Voice Agent at a BPO located in Delhi.

IMG_8970Training on-the-job
Typically, once hired new recruits undergo rigourous training for between three to six weeks, though this period varies across BPOs. The focus is on verbal and written communication skills and process training.
Infosys BPO's Foundation Training or the Pre Process Training is a 21-day training programme focused on developing the seven essential skills needed to perform ones job effectively ie Oral Communication, Written Communication, Document usage, Numeracy, Reading Comprehension,  Problem Solving and computer usage. The aim is to hone the employee’s interpersonal skills for effective communication – be it oral or written.

After completing it, they will be sent to any delivery centre for an “engagement”. For instance, someone may be sent for an “engagement” in the communications service sector. The ambience and working environment at the delivery centre replicates that of the client in the UK or US. At the delivery centre, the individual undergoes three to six weeks of process training, which usually involves clearing client certification programmes.

Infosys BPO also kicked off Project Genesis in 2005 to offer free BPO training to college students. They have tied up with colleges in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Orissa to train their faculty in a Global Skills Enhancement (GSE) programme for a period of 12 days. GSE certified lecturers in turn train their students at the college campus and Infosys BPO organises job fairs at their respective locations, to hire students for entry-level positions.

According to Infosys BPO, they have so far implemented the project in 966 colleges, trained 2633 lecturers, 68841 students, and offered jobs to 4270 students. And training is free of cost, for both students and teachers.  

 Madhu Bala sharma,
Learning & Development Facilitator -IBM Daksh

With a positive attitude, Madhu has carved a niche for herself in training, despite being born with a 100% visual disability.  In 2009, Madhu received the National Award for Empowering Persons with a Disability, from the President of India. She currently resides with her three-year old son and her husband, who is also 100% visually impaired.

BORN and raised in Delhi, I attended two types of schools -  a regular school and a resource school at the National Association for the Blind (NAB), which encourages an integrated system of education. They taught me Braille and offered basic guidance. Post, I went to LSR (Lady Sriram College for Women, Delhi) to pursue English Literature. During final year - through NAB - I got a chance to work as a Voice & Accent trainer with Gecis (now known as a Genpact), and interviewed people for the role of Customer Care Executives. It was a part-time job, alongside studies.

So I got a break and did it for 10 months. Later, I moved to IBM Daksh as a V&A Facilitator because sitting at a desk is not something that I would like to do! I was introduced to IBM Daksh through a consultant who places PWDs (Person With a Disability). She knew me from my Gecis days, thought I would suit the profile and got in touch. So, I was lucky! I would train new hires in Voice & Accent, soft skills, grammar, etc.

I stayed in the role for about 20 months and then moved into Learning & Development. As part of the learning team, I am certified to facilitate workshops. I also develop content modules at times, and ensure that the facilitation is on target, check that the certification of other facilitators is on track, etc.


 Vijrant Bhalla

The best part about working @ BPO: Training!

In January 2010 Vijrant Bhalla joined Citibank along with 18 other recruits as a Customer Care Executive for a credit card process. He was given eight weeks of training ,which the 20-year old describes as “the best part of working in a BPO”. The first week involved instructions on communication skills, in which he learned about the US and British English and the difference between them. “Also, the accent and slang the US people use,” adds the BBA student who passed-out from Symbiosis, Pune in 2008.

Though the trainees were prohibited from using slang, they were nevertheless informed of the commonly used words to understand the colloquial language. “Holy cow”, for example, Vijrant exclaims.  The training covered seven weeks of product information (credit card) and the allied services. But despite progressing well in the organisation, Vijrant left in five months as night shifts were not his cup of tea.

The stint, however, proved to be a learning experience. “Now I know how the credit card business works, how interest rates are charged, where the customers falter and where the companies can be smart,” he says  Using his own credit card judiciously  was another learning.

“I also acquired finesse in communication skills that the training provided,” he admits. But despite an income avergaing Rs 1.92 lacs per annum, he isn’t interested in making a career in outsourcing industry. It’s the advertising world that holds his dream for now.



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