NORWICH, England: Norwich Union, the insurance brand owned by the nation's largest insurer Aviva, has unexpectedly reversed the trend in exporting its call centre operations to low-cost countries such as India.

The insurer admits there are "some cultural differences", claiming that Indian staff don't always understand what UK customers are talking about.

It cites immersion heaters as one example: relatively unknown in India, local call centre agents are purportedly unable to grasp the notion that the heaters can break and cause flood damage.

However, many British callers believe the lack of understanding is more likely attributable to often impenetrable local accents, rather than the inability of well-educated Indian call centre staff to grasp a simple concept.

Despite instructions to anglicize their names, introducing themselves to callers as 'Kevin' or 'Tracy' - and an expert command of English language if not its argot - the main barrier to communication is accents that reflect Bangalore rather than Bangor.

There is a growing tide of customer dissatisfaction over this issue, not only with UK insurance companies but also other utilities such as Network Rail and BT whose priority appears to be cost-cutting rather than customer communication.

Some industry observers believe it significant that calls are rarely (if ever) diverted overseas for telesales operations, where clarity and understanding are vital to clinching a sale. Once signed and sealed, however, marketers' priorities appear to change.

Norwich Union, meantime, denies that its move to return around 150 jobs to the UK is a sea change.

"This is not a U-turn in terms of what we are doing," insists a company spokesman. "Seven thousand eight hundred jobs in India by the end of 2007 is still the objective. We have about 6,500 people there at the moment."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff