I Say Tomayto, You Say Tomahto

May 17th, 2007

I Say TomaytoLanguage and cultural differences can cause a lot of heartburn in outsourcing relationships. Here are some instances of how things can go awry

A customer once emailed a travel company to change his flight bookings since the flight he was booked on was very early in the morning. He wrote, “If I took a flight that early, I would have to leave with the chickens.” The offshore customer service representative from a distant land and culture sent him a prompt reply “Our pet policy does not allow chickens on an airplane.”

In another classic situation, the IT team of a company was talking to their outsourcing partner’s IT team. The conversation was regarding the backup work that needed to be done over the weekend. Here is what went on:

Client: So you guys understand that this work needs to be completed before the weekend ends?

Outsourcing partner: Yes, yes, we are aware.

Client: Good. I will keep my servers on and will take the back up once you are done with the uploading. Thanks for working extended hours to help us get this done. We appreciate this.

Outsourcing partner: Thanks. My daughter is turning 5 on Saturday. And I have the entire family coming over the weekend to celebrate the event.

Client: Oh, that’s great! Please wish her happy birthday on our behalf. Enjoy your daughter’s birthday with the family.

Outsourcing partner: Oh, sure. Thanks for the wishes.

Client: Ok. Talk to you guys next week. Bye.

Outsourcing partner: Bye.

So will the outsourcing partner’s IT person show up over the weekend? Will the work get done? The client is expecting the provider’s team to finish the work as discussed and the provider thinks that he has communicated to the client that he would not be able to do it because he has to attend his daughter’s birthday party! Both teams are from different cultures. One has a more direct approach, while the other an indirect. This reflects in their conversation and leads to making assumptions, sometimes incorrect.

In another instance, a team was trying to justify the errors that had taken place the previous week Obviously the client was upset since the service levels were affected and wanted to find out what went wrong. Instead of accepting the errors and having an action plan ready, the team started providing justification to the client. This made the client even more upset and the impression he got was that the team was trying to be defensive. Part of cultural training is to train people to accept mistakes and failures that sometimes are a taboo in certain cultures.

Here’s another example. An outsourcing company prides itself in its software team’s application-development capabilities, which had resulted in creating a paperless office. This became a much hyped feature. The client’s trainer came to provide on site training to the company’s team. The team’s manager was surprised to see that there was no printed material provided to the trainees to refer to what was taught in the class. After two weeks of training, when the final assessment started getting closer, the company’s manager finally asked the client’s trainer whether the team would get some training material to prepare for their final assessment. The trainer realized what had gone wrong! His interpretation of paperless office had stretched too far! He or the company’s manager could have saved two weeks worth of effort had they discussed this earlier.

Better Communication

The bottom line is, when two companies work together, communication has a direct impact on the desired results. To ensure faster smoother transition and achieve desired results while outsourcing, companies need to take the following factors into consideration:

Culture. Understand the culture of the people you work with. It also helps to understand their level of exposure to various aspects of life.

Employee Expectations. Address employee expectations and apprehensions. When companies decide to outsource, there is an obvious apprehension among the employees about losing their jobs to some overseas company. A proactive approach of providing explanation of the reason to outsource and associated benefits helps.

Assimilation. Assimilation of expectations is very important. The outsourcing company needs to understand and accept your expectations.

Building Relationships. Many times, the offshore teams are uncomfortable asking questions. They hesitate to argue and debate. A good rapport should be built between the teams. This will help the offshore team get rid of their inhibitions.

Training. Training should include not only the product and service content/manuals but also situations and scenarios of what can go wrong and ways to handle such situations.

Evaluation. Continuous evaluation (almost daily assessments) helps you understand a team’s performance and their level of understanding.

Defining Milestones. This can be part of training as well as an ongoing process. It gives a sense achievement as well as clarity of expectations.

Apt Communication. Never assume. Ask when in doubt!

by By Parul Mehta

Source: Global Services

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Entry Filed under: Why Outsource?