To quote Dr. V. Rajagopal retired Director, Central Plantation and Crops Research Institute (CPCRI), Kasaragod when talking about how knowledge is transferred between scientists and farmers to improve the quality of agriculture in India through scientific advancements, he says,
“It takes time to convince a farmer and for that good communication skills and patience become imperative. Experts must be ready to share, hone their talking skills to help transfer of technology to the fields from the labs.” [sic](source)
Initially someone may wonder how this piece of advice given between farmers and experts (in this case, scientists) could relate to the communication problems that occur during offshoring and outsourcing. Can you make the connection?
It’s an easy connection, really. Ironically, these kinds of connections that once understood drastically improve soft skills and an ability to link diverse concepts and approach problems from different viewpoints; hallmarks of truly good customer service from the American viewpoint. This is an important skill needed by Indians when interacting with Americans that is very much lacking.
So, have you been able to guess the connection? Let me restate that quote with a change of a few terms:
“It takes time to convince a client abroad (or American colleague) and for that good communication skills and patience become imperative. Software developers (project managers, team leads, etc.) must be ready to share, hone their talking skills to help transfer of technology to the various corporations and customer bases they serve from their India operations.”This is clunky or cumbersome language. Better said,
“Expert computer programmers and coders need to be able to understand the holistic needs of their clients and their client’s customers to understand how the product delivery and potential problems can affect their business growth.”This is not always easy. Firstly, the developer needs to understand that though he or she may be an expert in software, the developer is not an expert in the field the product is being delivered to. This requires a steep learning curve for the developer. To deliver the best customer service (from an American standpoint), it is important and imperative to understand that discipline’s vocabulary, exact customer base (strengths and problems) and an ability to approach situations and problems from various angles. The biggest problem here is that the Indian educational system, though imparting superb technical training, misses the mark on focusing on communication and soft skills. This becomes the biggest problem for outsourcing projects.
Three Possible Solutions:
Research the Company
An employee or independent contractor should be identified to thoroughly research the company. This research can include (but not limited to), what is the problem the company is trying to solve through their products, how the past and current products (including the software currently being assigned) solves the customer problems and is different than past solutions, what kind of problems they want to avoid in their product roll out, how customers will interact with the product, among other aspects. Another, often missing element is understanding the client’s vocabulary. Each discipline and profession has a particular language. What is the corporate lingo (aka words and phrases unique to this company)? The best customer service representatives know how to talk to their customers in a language they understand. This is irrespective of crossing cultures.
Create a Training Program to Deliver to the India Team
Based on the research conducted above, a training module must be developed and delivered to the India team for every project in a new company or in a new discipline or delivered to a new customer base. This may seem too time consuming and unnecessary at first. Developers may scoff at this idea thinking they are already experts in their work, and this training is not directly related to their work. Americans would highly disagree. I have come to know of several offshoring and outsourcing projects that within weeks of appointment were canceled because the India team refused to understand the terminology and exact needs of the client they were servicing in America.
Soft-skills training is imperative to being able to deliver projects effectively. The number one problem many managers identify is improving English fluency. Though this may seem like the problem, with those very conversant in English, there are other more advanced aspects of handling the language besides simply talking. Major problems I have noticed are: an inability to express technical aspects in everyday English or in terminology understood by the client (some of this can be addressed from the above solutions), an ability to command the language to express the same idea multiple ways, an understanding of concepts like open and closed ended questions, paraphrasing, reflective listening, extracting specifics, using "I language", being specific and being able to use inflection in speaking. Some of these skills come with practice, while some are cultural-dependent. The bottom line is if the team in America is unable to understand the India team due to a basic lack of communication; the project suffers, less opportunity to maintain relationships exist and overall the benefit for the American side is lost. In business terms, this means the American client may discontinue working with the offshore company, finding other alternatives.
To avoid the mistakes in this article, invest in these suggestions. The cost in short term will seem high, but in the long run, your company and team could see longer lasting projects, assignment of more projects and, in the long term, better job security for your team and your company. While some may think that these issues are not important as they have not been affected by them please do not let the illusion of this steer you away from understanding its core importance. Communication skills are cornerstone to business. These skills are challenged all the more when interacting cross-culturally. It is important that companies and their employees take this seriously for their own career development as well as company strategic growth.
Author Jennifer Kumar is hired to broker and encourage smooth work and communication flow between Indians and Americans.