South Asia | How Indian startup call centers are taken for a ride
Agents taking calls at a start-up call center in the outskirts of Coimbatore, India. Phot: Asia Times
Agents taking calls at a start-up call center in the outskirts of Coimbatore, India. Phot: Asia Times

How Indian startup call centers are taken for a ride

Vendors either don't deliver or give only projects that have little chance of succeeding

COIMBATORE, December 1, 2016 11:40 AM (UTC+8)

Krishna Kumar, 26, regrets the day he decided to set up a call center. A computer student, he gave up his studies at an institute in Bangalore in 2014 and moved to Coimbatore hoping to make some quick money and build a dream home for his parents.

“By then, IT firms had stopped hiring. I thought Kovai (another name for Coimbatore) is ideal to set up a small office. Rentals are pretty reasonable and one can hire an agent (caller) for just 8,000 rupees (US$116). I started my business with a manager and five agents,” he said.

Today, Kumar is working as an agent for another startup call center struggling to make a living after losing all his money and damaging his career prospects.

Why do such startups fail?

“It’s a case of the big fish eating the small fish. Knowing we’re a startup, our project providers or vendors cheated us by charging huge fees and giving us fake projects. We tried subjects like selling solar panels in the UK and generic medicines in US. They gave us contact details of customers who weren’t interested in the products we were supposed to market. The data we bought in good faith were all outdated and worthless,” Kumar said.

The project providers based in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Baroda never paid him and yet kept encouraging him to expand the team.

“Once they got the initial payment, they didn’t bother about serving us. What is worse is they never paid us. If we questioned them, they shouted at us and threatened to terminate the project. This is their trick to exploit us to the maximum without paying a dime. I eventually became bankrupt,” he said.

Vinodh from Coimbatore also got his fingers burned after setting up a call center business. He paid 800,000 rupees (US$11,680) to an Ahmedabad-based company for a project which was never delivered. His calls to them went unanswered.

When he finally managed to contact the company, a top official, after listening to his complaint, said: “You go and die.”

He has taken the case to court, but the judgment may take time.

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