Cornell University

Global Call Center Project

169 Ives Faculty Building, 607-254-4437

About the Global Call Center Project

The project began in 2004 with the collaboration of research teams in the United States and Great Britain, but quickly spread to many other countries because of the importance of call centers as a source of economic development and job creation in advanced and transitional economies alike. 

Research teams now include participants from North and South America, Africa, South Asia, South East Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and Eastern and Western Europe. 

Participating countries include: Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, UK, and the US.

The Growing Importance of the Call Center Sector

Call centers are remote service and sales operations in which transactions are mediated through telephone and computer technologies rather than through face-to-face or local interactions.  Providing voice, email, and internet-based services, they have expanded rapidly in recent years, fuelled by advances in information technology and the plummeting costs of data transmission.  Firms in manufacturing and service industries alike increasingly view these centers as their primary vehicle for interacting with customers.   As a result, call centers have taken on a strategic importance: they manage the behavior of customers -- setting expectations, shaping customer buying patterns, and ultimately influencing company revenues.   

This emerging sector poses challenges for managers as well as other stakeholders – consumers, governments, employees, and employee representatives.  Managers face the challenge of providing low cost, high quality service in a highly competitive international environment.  Employees often describe call center work as monotonous, and turnover rates are often high.  Consumers may gain from new or lower cost services, but often complain of poor service quality, self-service menus, and doubts about the privacy and security of their personal information. 

Governments also have a stake in the growth of call centers as the source of job creation and a solution to unemployment.  This holds true for recently industrialized countries as well as advanced economies where de-industrialization has left large pockets of unemployment in previously-prosperous regions.  Some governments have provided public resources to attract call center operators in the hopes of creating decent-paying jobs and revitalizing old economies.  Unions are another key stakeholder in this emerging sector, as call centers offer unions an opportunity both to improve otherwise low wage jobs and enhance organizational membership. 

Thus, many different constituencies share an interest in the development of this sector and how they can be managed successfully in the global economy.

Research Questions and Topics

The project examines such questions as:

  • How 'global' is this sector?  Is there a universal best practice model of management emerging across countries or have managers developed alternative approaches and innovative strategies?
  • What role do institutions and public policies play in shaping the development of this sector?
  • How similar or different are management practices within and across countries, and what explains these differences?
  • How do in-house centers compare to subcontractors?  And how do business-focused centers compare to mass market centers?
  • What strategies contribute to better operations, job quality, turnover, and absenteeism?

It covers a wide range of topics:

  • Adoption of new technologies
  • Workforce characteristics
  • Selection, staffing, and training
  • Work design, workforce discretion, and teamwork
  • Compensation strategies and levels for employees and managers
  • The extent of collective bargaining and works council representation