How customer service representatives lose control of the call

A metafunctional analysis


  • Priscilla Angela T. Cruz Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines
  • Jane Lockwood Hong Kong Polytechnic University



business process outsourcing, business English, communication breakdown, contact centre, workplace communication, Systemic Functional Linguistics


The contact centre industry has been growing rapidly in the Philippines over the last two decades and now boasts over one million customer service representatives (CSRs). Outsourcing work to this destination, where English may not be the first language, can lead to communication difficulties. Problems of locally recruited CSRs ‘losing control of the call’, leading to customer frustration and poor feedback, have previously been attributed to poor grammar and incomprehensible accents. However, more recent research has suggested that such communicative problems actually stem from a more general inability to build relationships and appropriately select, explain and describe information about the product or service and, if needed, instruct the client on what to do. This paper therefore examines ‘losing control of a call’ in terms of the overall exchange. Specifically, two calls were examined to analyse how information was organised, packaged and developed to the satisfaction (or not) of the client. We argue that discrete grammatical inaccuracies and regional accents do not result in losing control as much as the way overall meaning is managed by the CSR. The implications of these initial findings could be of importance to the recruitment, training, coaching and appraisal of CSRs in an industry where the nature of communication breakdown remains poorly understood.

Author Biographies

Priscilla Angela T. Cruz, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines

Priscilla Angela Cruz has been teaching at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines, for over 15 years. Her PhD, which she received from the same university, focused on identity, English language education and textbooks in the Philippines. Her research interests are Systemic Functional Linguistics, educational linguistics and language variation.

Jane Lockwood, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Jane Lockwood is Adjunct Associate Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She completed her doctoral thesis on workplace training and evaluation processes in Hong Kong. Her current research focuses on virtual communication in the business processing outsourcing (BPO) industry with specific reference to India and the Philippines, about which she has published widely. With Gail Forey, she co-edited Globalization, Communication and the Workplace (2010, Continuum).


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How to Cite

Cruz, P. A. T. ., & Lockwood, J. (2021). How customer service representatives lose control of the call: A metafunctional analysis. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 15(2), 142–162.