An Interview with Brinda S. Narayan on Bangalore Calling

So here is another short interview with Bangalore Calling author, Brinda S. Narayan. You can read the review here

Why a book on the Outsourcing Industry?

I was working as a quality consultant with a few call centres and one of our key tasks was to sift agent voices on a scale ranging from ‘neutral’ to ‘high-MTI’ (high mother-tongue-influenced). And like Yvette, the Anglo Indian trainer in my book, I was seized by a vague discomfort by what we were doing. Surely, I thought, there must be psychological repercussions on agents as well as larger but more intangible social losses. I decided to take a sabbatical and study the phenomenon. Bangalore Calling is the outcome of my research.

2.      What is your opinion on the BPO Sector as it is today?

The sector has evolved like many other sectors on a high-growth trajectory. It’s certainly generating a remarkable number of jobs, by directly employing people as well as through secondary services to the industry.  And many centres are also offering higher-end services providing greater growth opportunities. But we should be aware that all these gains come with losses, and so while we sustain the gains, we also need to temper the costs.

3.      You know I have met so many people who think that the Call Centre Industry is not the right fit for a career. Why do you think that happens and how have you tried to incorporate and may be demolish this view through your book?

The job, like any other job, would be the right fit for some people and not for others. Some agents that I interviewed had gained vastly in confidence, with the newly-acquired speech becoming a passport into terrains that were inaccessible earlier. Others had become more self-conscious about speaking in their mother-tongue or in a mother-tongue-influenced accent.  I don’t think I tried to demolish any particular view about the industry, but perhaps I tried to highlight issues that most people weren’t thinking of.

4.      Brinda’s Top 10 Books

I do read a lot, so it’s difficult for me to create a top 10 list. I have many favorites and they’ve all been vastly inspiring in many ways. Anyway, here are some favorites in no particular order:

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

Margaret Atwood – Oryx and Crake, The Handmaid’s Tale

Philip Roth – American Pastoral

Amitav Ghosh – The Glass Palace

Sunil Gangopadhyay – First Light

I also read lots of non-fiction.

Arlie Hochschild – The Managed Heart (her work on emotional labor was a huge inspiration for this book), The Second Shift

Sudhir Kakar – The Indian Psyche

Ashish Nandy – The Intimate Enemy

Ramachandra Guha – India after Gandhi

5.      If Brinda ever had to be a call centre head, the first 3 things that she would do?

I would sensitize trainers and the HR department about existing accent hierarchies and how such biases can be pernicious to victims. The onus of ‘satisfying customers’ does not rest with frontline employees alone, though they’re often the ones who have to withstand the brunt of customer emotions – and organizations need to be sensitive to that.

6.      What kind of research went through during the writing of the book?

My research was very intense. I interviewed 70 agents across three centres, I visited and interviewed several agent families. I spent several nights on call floors, listening into hundreds of live calls. I transcribed an entire two week training program. I had several notebooks filled with material before I started working on this book.

7.      Why Uncle Sam on the cover?

Uncle Sam was most famously on U.S. wartime posters with the caption, “I Want You.” Since Bangalore Calling deals with globalization and its consequences, and in particular the Americanization of call centre agents, I think the image depicts the phenomenon very aptly.

1 thought on “An Interview with Brinda S. Narayan on Bangalore Calling

  1. call guy

    ooh, I’ll have to get myself a copy.

    Especially agree with the statement:

    The onus of ‘satisfying customers’ does not rest with frontline employees alone, though they’re often the ones who have to withstand the brunt of customer emotions – and organizations need to be sensitive to that.

    It seems that many companies are just happy for customer services representatives to act as a buffer which prevents organisations from ever feeling the need to improve procedures.


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