Cambodia’s call centres lost in translation
Cambodia’s nascent call-centre industry faces many challenges when competing with established Asian outsourcing giants like India and the Philippines, and despite recent growth, experts are divided on whether the Kingdom’s youthful population and developing infrastructure will be enough to compensate for its relatively low education levels.
Tiabduan Poolun, country manager for One to One Cambodia, a subsidiary of one of Thailand’s largest call-centre firms, said while most local companies have little knowledge of the importance of outsourced customer services, demand was growing steadily.
Moreover, the foreign language skills of Cambodian youth were proving an asset in securing regional clientele, putting the Kingdom on course to be a regional call-centre hub.
“People in Cambodia have very good Asian language skills, speaking a good level of Lao, Thai and Vietnamese,” she said. “They have good multilingual skills and the country’s political situation is quite stable, which are big advantages for Cambodia to develop call centres focused on Asia.”
However, not everyone would agree. Analysts at AT Kearney, an international management consulting firm that publishes a cornerstone annual report on global offshoring activities, including call centres, say that while Cambodia benefits from a youthful population, its inadequate education system presents a major hurdle.
“Young people will make up the bulk of call-centre ventures around the world, except maybe in Europe,” explained Johan Gott, a principal at AT Kearney. “It’s a type of job more suited to a young population, but it also depends greatly on a country’s level of education.”
He said it will be hard for Cambodia to compete with English-speaking countries like India or the Philippines unless more is done to improve basic language skill and knowledge.
“In general, low language skill is a major disadvantage, and my biggest concern with Cambodia would be its lack of English ability,” he said. “If I were to list the factors needed for a successful call centre and outsourcing industry, the first three things would be education, education and education.”
Tomas Pokorny, CEO of WorldBridge Outsourcing, which operates one of the largest call centres in Cambodia, believes young Cambodians can be trained to achieve very high standards of work, but noted that many struggle when it comes to speaking foreign languages, especially English.
“Cambodians are equally trainable as any other country,” he said. “The issue is the length of training, particularly when taking languages into account.”
He said statistics show that in the Philippines it takes two months to train a worker for language proficiency.