More than 90% of callers directed to overseas call centres have reported real difficulties in understanding the person at the other end of the phone according to figures released this month by Surveylab, the online research company responsible for the 2007 UK Customer Care Survey.

The disturbing findings show that although companies can save money through overseas outsourcing, they’re losing much more in terms of customer confidence as callers can struggle to make themselves understood.

Now more than two-thirds of respondents said they would definitely buy less from an organisation if they knew that company was using overseas call centres.

And despite many organisations’ best efforts to disguise the fact, there’s no fooling the UK customer when it comes to over-the-phone helplines.

In a poll of 4,500 consumers, Surveylab reports that 80% have called a call centre outside the UK – with telecoms companies and banks scoring highest on customers’ frustration ratings.

Top Phone Frustrations

Surveylab’s study reveals that of the 80% of respondents who’d called an overseas call centre last year, more than half had made five or more such calls to a variety of organisations.

Top gripe for consumers is the overseas agent’s inability to understand the reason for the call.

“Our figures show that whilst overseas call handlers are usually very polite and willing – often more so than their UK counterparts – there is frequently a basic communications mismatch which can lead to long, unproductive calls,” explains John Kemp, Customer Service Director of UK-based Surveylab.

“Often well-educated overseas agents can have to rely too heavily on scripts, floundering when the call doesn’t match their documented response.”

Lack of local knowledge is niggle number two – with one agent insisting to a caller that Leeds was right next to London – they eventually admitted to looking at Leeds Castle (in Kent) as their source of information. Callers with regional accents declared themselves particularly frustrated with overseas call centres, having to repeat themselves continually in order to make themselves understood.

Businesses hoping to befuddle customers into believing they’re calling the UK came under fire as part of the findings.

“Another practice customers find particularly annoying is the insistence of companies and their agents on using obviously false ‘English-sounding’ names,” John continued. “It’s an obvious lie and an insult to the caller’s intelligence. One respondent replied in detail about a conversation he’d had with a male agent who’d insisted his name was Beryl.”

The wide variety of complaints about call centres means only 4% of respondents described themselves as ‘very satisfied’ with how their call was handled with a massive 67% - two thirds of the survey – saying they were ‘somewhat or very dissatisfied’ with the whole experience. Other commonly-cited concerns included worries about security, poor call quality and a sense of injustice as jobs were being lost in the UK.

With customers threatening to take their business elsewhere, UK businesses should sit up and take note about who answers their phones.


Meanwhile, fast-thinking customers are now coming up with ways of counteracting the call centres. One crafty caller to a well-known high street bank has found the ideal solution. He asks to be put through to their Welsh-speaking service – and then asks them to conduct the call in English. “I always end up speaking to a UK operator because there aren’t too many call centres across the world where the agents can speak Welsh,” he wrote.

Ends 8/11/07

Note to Editors:

The 2007 UK Customer Care Survey was conducted by Surveylab on behalf of the Customer Care Alliance, a consortium of companies specialising in customer care measurement and improvement.

A summary of the survey’s findings is available to download from


Susan Calthorpe
Clive Davis Partnership
Tel. 07812 361308

John Kemp,
Customer Service Director,
Surveylab Limited
Tel. 0845 6121 544

Published on: 12:00AM on 13th November 2007