A match between voice and vision

Juhi Chawla inaugurates the call centre.
Juhi Chawla inaugurates the call centre.

“Yes M’am, how can I help you?” responds a pleasant voice on the other end of the phone. I’m calling the Drishti Call Centre in Mumbai and Hussain Presswala, a visually challenged telecaller, who works here. This centre is part of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), located at the Worli Seaface in this metro. Inaugurated in 2006 by the then President of India Pratibha Patil, initially it was manned by 15 visually challenged telecallers providing marketing support to Tata Indicom.

Since September, the centre has been scaled up with an auto dialler and server with 50 work stations and 30 people 800_1_IMG_3335with visual impairment work here now. “More candidates are being screened for jobs from the database at our employment cell,” says NAB Executive Director Pallavi Kadam.

“Earlier it was a manual system and quite cumbersome. We had to hold the Braille printout of phone numbers in one hand and dial the numbers with the other. This way so many wrong calls were dialled and we used to be rebuked by the person called almost every day,” says ­Hussain, a B?A (History) graduate from St Xavier’s College. He is with the centre for the past 18 months and can speak Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi and English. “Now working is more fun and comfortable. Each of us is able to make 100–150 calls a day of which at least 35 get converted into customers.”

The centre handles marketing calls for Vodafone now. Asked about the nature of his job, Hussain says that he explains to potential clients about the various offers of Vodafone and “I convince people to convert to post-paid connectivity.” He is happy that he has not had any unpleasant experience in the past three months after the centre has become fully automated, and takes home a salary of Rs 4,000 to support his father’s earnings. He closed his call with an impressive, “Thank you M’am, nice speaking to you, have a great day!”

The genesis

It all began when Rtn Digant Shah of RC Bombay Hanging Gardens, D 3140, initially offered to donate a computer to the call centre. He learnt from Pallavi Kadam that the manual system had several issues, one of them being calls wrongly placed to people in the ‘Do not disturb’ list, for which NAB was penalised by TRAI. Subsequently Tata Indicom opted out, after which NAB entered into a contract with Vodafone.

Discussions with Vodafone revealed that the problem can be solved if the operations are computerised and calls automated. “That meant employment for 50 visually challenged people, and I got excited,” says Shah. Later he spoke about it to the club secretary Rtn Dilip Shah who funded the equipment through his Premlata ­Vandravan Shah ­Charities in memory of his aunt and uncle. The computerised call centre was inaugurated in September by Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla, who is also an honorary Rotarian of the club.

“The quantum of investment is not important, it is the cause … how many lives this call centre is able to touch. It is like giving a glass of water to a thirsty person,” says Dilip Shah.

For Subhash Dharne (49), who had to shut down his PCO booth after mobile phones took over, his employment at the centre has been a godsend for four years now. “I am able to support my family comfortably and what’s more, we have been promised a hike in the salary now, post-computerisation.”

How it works

The auto dialler dials the call from the list pre-fed into the server. The call is transferred to a computer. The visual data on the computer monitor is converted into voice with a special screen reading software, ‘Jaws,’ which the agent manning that computer hears through headphones and proceeds with the job. They are provided a week’s training prior to appointment.

With computerisation, the efficiency level has vastly improved; more calls are being made compared to the manual method, says Pallavi. “We highlighted this point to the Vodafone representative and told him that the benefit of the efficiency should be shared with the call centre employees, following which they have agreed to increase their salary by 50 per cent,” says Dilip Shah.

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