Belfast Telegraph

It's just a phrase they're going through in India

The need to attract private sector investment to Northern Ireland has never been more pressing.

But an unexpected development has been a continuing reputation for Belfast as a low-cost base for major companies to locate their 'back office' functions.

Some have quipped that the selection by the likes of law firm Allen -amp; Overy of Belfast as an outsourcing base makes the city 'the new Delhi', a reference to Indian's popularity as a location for call centres for financial services companies and telecommunications firms.

But it's unlikely that IT, finance and legal specialists at Allen -amp; Overy in Belfast will have to undergo the same extent of training and immersion in a new culture as Indian workers dealing with UK customers of finance firms and other businesses.

Yesterday, a Guardian columnist wrote about a telecaller in India who had called himself Sean in work so as not to alienate customers by introducing himself using his own, 'foreign name'.

He was also calling himself Sean outside work.

While training in such call centres used to be in British and American accents - as well as Super Bowl and EastEnders references, as appropriate -now the growing preference is for a neutral accent.

That has led to the emergence of specialised institutes for accent neutralisation.

Part of their training is to quote from Hollywood scripts like Saving Private Ryan (sample dialogue: "where's the sense in risking the lives of the eight of us to save one guy").

Many believe the practise of swallowing an alien culture for the purpose of selling products is dehumanising, with workers being closely monitored for correct use of English phrases during a gruelling night shift when concentration will inevitably falter.

Yet some look past the potential for oppression. "I don't care about where they're from or how they speak - I want technical competence and a willingness to go beyond the script and give me the help I need," asserted one reader on the website.

Someone else maintained that coaching people from India in the English language was not morally wrong but merely ensured that customer service representatives could be understood by customers.

Whatever the ethical case for overseas call centres, the business case will continue to hold sway.