Single-Child Policy Puts a New Wrinkle on China’s Call Centers


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The China call center industry is set to experience some of the most rampant growth ever seen in call centers anywhere in the world. In a recent white paper, The China Call Centre Industry (which you can download below), I showed how the industry in China will grow by at least 300,000 seats in the next five years. This is at a minimum. That equates to a staggering 1,200 new seats per week, every week for the next five years!

This kind of growth is, of course, not without many problems and potential threats. Just one of these threats is China’s long-standing single-child policy. China still maintains the policy of allowing only one child per couple for most mainland couples in an effort to control the population. (I should note that the one-child policy does not apply in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, all of which collectively constitute Greater China.) That policy puts a unique spin on China’s call center industry, both in terms of hiring and in terms of operations.

In most cases, a child grows up in a house with two parents and two or four grandparents. As a result, many young adults are used to being a little pampered and not spoken to harshly. And when put inside a call center environment, these people are more sensitive to aggravated or obnoxious callers. China call centers (especially in the lower-cost profile areas like Guangzhou and Shenzhen) are having issues with agents simply not showing up again after a “hard” day. In fact, in most cases, if the agents last through their entire three-month probation period, they are far more likely to stay with the call center for the long haul.

At the same time, parents who have only one child want the very best for their child and often discourage call center work, encouraging, instead, more traditional professions, such as engineer, doctor or lawyer. I have observed several instances where agents’ parents offer to pay them the same amount of money as they would make at a call center, so they would stay home and their parents or grandparents could spend more time with them.

If you want to set up and effectively run a call center in China without an attrition rate of greater than 80 percent, you must truly refine your recruitment strategies. And you also must have very targeted and closely monitored reward and recognition schemes that not only reward the agent themselves but also reward the family. Endearing the parent to the child’s employer is a definitive strategy for helping ensure longevity in Chinese agents.

While many Western call centers are trying to engage the families of working mothers by establishing children’s art walls and such, China call centers must engage the family of the younger employees. For example, managers might send the parents a letter of congratulations when their child is promoted.

The single-child policy is just one of the very unique challenges faced by companies wanting to set up call centers in mainland China. There are many more interesting little twists and turns to be considered and accounted for. In particular, Western companies that are considering operations in China will need to seek some local advice to make sure they are truly equipped to compete and succeed.


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