You’ve probably heard or read it about a million times before, outsourcing is an increasingly popular business strategy for companies looking to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency, and gain access to a global talent pool. This isn’t to say that it’s without issues, outsourcing comes with unique challenges, such as cultural differences that can lead to miscommunication, delays, and frustration. Learn the best practices for overcoming cultural barriers and make the most out of outsourcing in other countries.
Understanding Cultural Differences
Before going down the rabbit hole that is, looking for an outsourcing partner, it’s important to research the cultural norms, values, and communication styles of the BPO company’s country. This understanding of cultural differences will help build a foundation of trust, avoid misunderstandings, and improve communication. For example, in the Philippines, the culture emphasizes respect, harmony, and indirect communication, which is a stark comparison to the more direct approach of cultures in the west. Understanding these cultural differences can help establish a common understanding of expectations and avoid potential conflicts.
A real world example without the company name, can be seen when a company decided to outsource its software development operations to a BPO company in India. The client’s team took language and cultural training classes to better understand Indian culture and communication styles. This training helped the client’s team communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships with the BPO team.
Effective communication is key to overcoming cultural barriers in almost every aspect of life, including outsourcing. One of the most critical communication strategies is to establish clear communication protocols that outline expectations for communication frequency, channels, and language. Companies should use simple, clear, and concise language, avoid slang or jargon (unless needed for more technical positions), and provide a context where necessary. Additionally, cross-cultural training helps team members understand cultural differences and communication styles to ensure clear and effective communication. Just make sure to test their knowledge before putting overseas staff in customer or potentially even client-facing positions.
Example: A healthcare company decided to outsource its medical billing services to a BPO company in the Philippines. The client’s team established clear communication protocols that included using simple, clear, and concise language and avoiding medical jargon. This approach helped the BPO team understand the billing requirements, resulting in accurate and timely billing.
Hiring Bilingual Staff
Hiring bilingual staff can be a game-changer in overcoming cultural barriers. Bilingual employees who are fluent in both the client’s language and the local language can help bridge the communication gap between the client and the BPO company. In some cases, they may have traveled or even lived in different parts of the world, making adjusting their cultural habits at work even easier. In addition, bilingual staff members can assist with translation, interpretation, and cultural adaptation, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Example: An e-commerce company decided to outsource its customer service operations to a BPO company in Mexico. The client’s team hired bilingual staff members who were fluent in both English and Spanish to communicate effectively with the BPO team and customers. This approach helped the client provide excellent customer service and improve customer satisfaction.
Building A Strong Relationship
Building a strong relationship with the BPO company is crucial for overcoming cultural barriers in outsourcing. The relationship should be based on trust, respect, and open communication, though additional attributes may be required depending on where in the world you decide to outsource your processes to. One of the most effective ways to build a strong relationship is to establish regular communication with the BPO company. This communication can help build rapport, clarify expectations, and address any issues that may arise. Another way to build a strong relationship is to establish a robust service level agreement (SLA) that defines the scope of work, performance metrics, and quality standards. A more casual way to build a strong relationship is to actually talk to the staff, small talk about how they’re doing or what their weekend plans will expedite the trust-building process.
Example: A financial services company decided to outsource its accounting operations to a BPO company in the Philippines. The client’s team established regular communication with the BPO team, including daily status updates and weekly progress meetings. This approach helped build a strong relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
Leveraging technology is an essential strategy for overcoming cultural barriers in outsourcing. Collaboration tools like video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management software can help improve communication and collaboration between the client and the BPO company. These tools can bridge time zone differences, provide real-time communication, and improve transparency. Technology can also help automate processes, reduce errors, and improve efficiency.
Example: A retail company decided to outsource its inventory management to a BPO company in India. The client’s team leveraged technology by using a cloud-based inventory management system that allowed the BPO team to access real-time inventory data. This approach improved collaboration between the client and the BPO team and helped reduce errors in inventory management.
Adapting To Cultural Differences
Adapting to cultural differences is critical to overcoming cultural barriers in outsourcing. Companies must be willing to integrate cultural differences into the workflow to create a collaborative and inclusive work environment that supports the success of the outsourcing partnership. This integration can include modifying communication styles, accommodating different working hours, and celebrating local holidays.
Example: An insurance company decided to outsource its claims processing operations to a BPO company in the Philippines. The client’s team modified their communication style to be more indirect and polite, which is a cultural norm in the Philippines. This approach helped the BPO team feel more comfortable and allowed for clear and effective communication.
Ensuring Cultural Competency
Ensuring cultural competency within the organization is essential to overcoming cultural barriers in outsourcing. Providing training and education to team members can help them understand cultural differences, avoid stereotypes and assumptions, and build effective communication strategies. Encouraging employees to learn about different cultures and be open to diverse perspectives can help create an inclusive work environment that supports the success of the outsourcing partnership.
Example: An IT company decided to outsource its software testing operations to a BPO company in Russia. The client’s team provided cultural sensitivity training to help team members understand Russian cultural differences and communication styles. This approach helped the client’s team communicate effectively with the BPO team and build a strong relationship based on mutual respect.
The Wrap Up
Outsourcing can provide many benefits, but it also presents unique challenges, such as cultural differences. To overcome these barriers, companies must have strategies in place that focus on understanding cultural differences, effective communication, hiring bilingual staff, building a strong relationship, leveraging technology, adapting to cultural differences, and ensuring cultural competency within the organization. By following these best practices, companies can overcome cultural barriers in outsourcing, build a collaborative and inclusive work environment, and achieve success in their outsourcing partnerships. With clear communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to learn and adapt, cultural barriers can be overcome, and the benefits of outsourcing can be realized.