Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When "The Demands of the Business" Go Too Far

In The Philippines BPO (business processing outsourcing) operations for companies based in other countries, especially the U.S are an important sector of the economy. These companies transfer divisions such as call centers here in order to cut expenses, especially labor.  But there is a disadvantage of such relocations to this part of the world: This region is subject to severe  weather conditions, namely severe storms including typhoons at least nine months out of the year. The Philippines sits along the geographical ring of fire.  So there's also always the risk of earthquakes and volcanoes. The country also has a weak infrastructure that has difficulty handling the demands of 21st Century commerce. Thus, it's incumbent on companies who decide to relocate partly or fully here to do their homework so they'll know what they're getting into.    

The heavy rains and resultant flooding that Metro Manila experienced from a storm in August resulted not just in the loss lives and of heavy property damage.  Conditions were so bad that President Aquino called for (what turned out to be a two day) emergency suspension of work at most private business including BPO's and non-essential government offices.  Personally, I think that all things considered, this edict was a humane and practical decision. Yet according to "Philippine Daily Inquirer"columnist  Paolo Monticello, Aquino made a bad call because for one thing it overrode the BPO industry's own (unspecified) plans to deal with the situation.  Further, he says it reflects poorly on the country's ability to respond to such events. Businesses that send their work to the Philippines demand continuity in services, natural disasters not withstanding. They expect results, come hell or high water (literally).

Monticello gives the example of how well and quickly Japan's business sector took the Fukishima disaster in stride, and I likewise admire that country's intrepid response to that devastating calamity (See my post "Why Don't They Get It?").  But he doesn't address the consequences of what might have happened if the earthquake and tsunami had struck Tokyo instead, just as the Philippine economy would be in serious peril if a similar event were to strike Metro-Manila, the business center of the nation rather than some provincial city.

In his article Monticello gives a token nod to the need for worker safety during floods but doesn't offer solutions to the transportation disruption under these conditions.  How are employees supposed to get to their jobs?  Swim? And what about their own personal disaster-related hardships and emergencies at home?  As it turns out, a contributing factor to the flood in Metro-Manila was the city's aging pumping system. How can stranded BPO employees be held accountable for that?   Yet, as it is, some companies that do stay open nevertheless penalize their staff for not showing up

Moreover, call centers are usually not vital services on which the public depends for their very lives. If a BPO is closed because of severe weather conditions or other natural disasters, this is ordinarily at most an inconvenience to customers and not worth risking the lives of the staff.  I say this from the decades-long perspective  both as a  former call center agent in the U.S. who was occasionally prevented from reporting to work by such events as natural and civil disturbances.  On the other hand as a consumer I have also had to cope with business service disruptions from the same causes. But I recognize that sometimes  emergencies happen beyond anyone's control. That's part of life, and we just have to learn to accept it.

Monticello refers to uninterrupted BPO service in the face of natural disaster  as "keeping the lights on". He stresses that the Philippines can only compete with other countries for these businesses by supporting such goals. And that's all well and good to a point. But let's face it under disastrous circumstances, most  employers here can't guarantee transportation, safe working conditions, and at least partly paid time off for workers to deal with their own losses.  If Monticello doesn't recognize this fact, then when it comes to understanding the limits of  human physical and emotional endurance, he and like-minded business analysts are really in the dark.


danie jomes said...

Philippine is a country which always effected by the natural calamities, thats why the whole economical values goes down in philippine. Philippine have to take a responsible step in that way.

Secular Guy said...

Thanks for your response, danie. I agree and it is the responsibility of the government to respond accordingly, such as making the necessary infrastructure upgrades to handle severe weather.

But meantime, the safety of the average workers shouldn't be placed in jeopardy while the status is still quo. They should not be forced to risk their lives just for their employers' profits when conditions are too adverse to reasonably expect them to report to their jobs.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick,

Yes, many employers don't care too much about their low-paying workers here. I have heard many stories about how bad some employers are with their employees. Many don't even give them the minimum wage yet. I think, many are just for profit at the end of the day.

The road, utility (sewer, electric, water) infrastructure is indeed not too great here. Many places in the province (Cavite) where you have new subdivisions with new homes (even socialized housing), the infrastructure is better (like underground central water system to the house).

Road infractructure (if you want to pay a hefty toll), you can enjoy a stretch of good road, but otherwise, it's a terrible situation all together to go somewhere with the car.

Many land and property prices are priced too high here for what you get as your suroundings (terrible sidwalks, if any, pollution, electric wires hanging down, road noise, etc...).

But, one thing that other nations doesn't have is, you can get anything in Manila in a 3km radius from where you live, if you are a little lucky.

Medium-size hospitals are found in many areas where you live. The care is great and immediate.

Shopping malls are in abundance with a whole floor of a Cyber Zone (in certain malls), that's good stuff.

Service, you name it, you can get it and prices are still fairly low for what you buy compared to other nations.

Sales people are friendly and very professional, even in restaurants.

But it's no place here for a peaceful walk in the park in Metro-Manila. You have to go to Hong Kong for this.

I am amazed of the service oriented people all over Metro-Manila who want to help you, and for the low wages they work for.

Many people who work in western countries who earn top-dollar would not lift a finger for you if you ask them a service.


Secular Guy said...

Hi Ralph,

Thanks for your response. I appreciate the thought and consideration that you put into it.

I agree with most of your reply. My only point of disagreement is with the customer service issue. Some places are institutionally bad, like banks that are disorganized and poorly staffed for serving the public, and major department stores with their "exchange only, no cash refunds" policies for unsatisfactory purchases. At other places the workers themselves are lazy and indifferent like wet market stalls and other "ma and pa" businesses. On the other hand, fast food restaurant chains usually have good service with friendly workers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick,

You may be right about certain places where there's bad service and especially, it's very disorganized.

I've have done business in many banks here, BPI, BDO, Chinabank, PS Bank, Metrobank, Unionbank, and must say, BDO comes on top of good service. I don't know about you, it may also depend on the branch and how your start is with them, if you start on a positive note or not with them.

They do steal your money if you have a dormant account with just the minimum balance and forget about it. That does not happen in Canada.

You may have the legal minimum balance also, and they change a law that you need more for minimum, but they do not correspond with you about the amendment, and you'll never know about their change, till you see your balance to zero later on.

Happened with me at BPI.

Also, yes, the exchange-only-thing is a Filipino thing. No refund. In the US or Canada, one gets a refund very easy, although, I have returned items in quite a bad shape here (e.i. the packaging was damaged), and they took it back, on one condition you buy something else from their store now or later.

Yes, I have seen many employees lazy, especially in government offices, like BI and at city halls.

Many things should be better here, but if it will ever change for the better, I don't know.

Best regards,


Secular Guy said...


Thanks for the additional information about your bank experiences and bank practices. That's important data.

As for the retail exchange-only policy, my wife once challenged this practice at SM over defective merchandise and actually got a refund. Sometimes when you pursue matters like this with the store management, they will yield.