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Jose Sarmento Matos Humanizes the Outsourced Call Center

Curators’ Corner

Jose Sarmento Matos Humanizes the Outsourced Call Center

Have you ever received an order that you weren’t completely satisfied with and had to pick up the phone to call customer service? Were you greeted by a heavily accented individual as you realized your slightly faded handbag was an embarrassingly first-world problem?

The outsourcing of call centers to developing countries has become increasingly prevalent since the 1980s as companies are relocating their customer service hubs to locations where wages are markedly lower.

“They work 6 days a week, 10 hours per shift,” shares Jose Sarmento Matos, a Portuguese photographer whose project, How Can I help You?, documents the lives of these employees. “In India and the Philippines, call center workers mostly work on night shifts due to the time difference to the countries they are in touch with.”

Having worked in a call center in London for a short period, Matos set out to humanize a culture most Western countries know little about.

“These people deserve to have some kind of face, a real face,” Matos told The New York Times. “I just tried to capture their lives because nobody knows them.”

In the Philippines, customer service is an estimated $150-billion industry employing more than 1 million people. Not only do Matos’ photos show the dimly lit desk life of these individuals, he also follows them on breaks, home to their families, and to birthday parties with friends.

“We tend to forget they’re people,” Matos said. “They’re making money to pay their bills and take care of their kids and parents: they have feelings and they have lives.”

So, the next time you irately pick up the phone to complain about a lost order and are greeted by an outsourced rep with an Americanized name, take a moment to remember Matos’ photos and the faces at the other end of the line.

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