In driving transformation for US stakeholders while working in a Global Capability Center, it’s essential avoid mistakes in providing good service when working across cultures. In this blog (and in the accompanying video) we will highlight best practices in working with US Americans, especially when you have never been to the US and lack the real-time boots-on-the-ground US expertise and experience.
The video below answers some of the questions around “How is providing good customer service different between the US and India?” through highlighting local examples based on research I have done while working with over 50 companies in India in the 2010s. The content below the video enhances the video by sharing additional insight into areas where developers falter in bridging the gap in communicating technical concepts to non-technical clients with the additional layer of delivering this information across cultures.
To dive into this topic from a different perspective, let’s look at how we can avoid making mistakes in providing good service through understanding the importance of communicating across cultures to those who don’t understand “our language.”
While we are speaking English, we may not all speak in a very technical way. This applies to any industry, not just IT. Let’s take this example as given by 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.
“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 (or may not be an expert) in the field the product is being delivered (we need to understand the end user). 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.
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.
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. One of the fundamental ways to deliver information is through written or verbal communication. First and foremost, molding the team to be comfortable to speak up, teaching, coaching, and honing this skill helps even the quietest individual contributors speak up (it’s a myth that the quiet ones have nothing to say or are lacking in language fluency). It’s also a myth that it’s the fault of the quiet person to speak up. Often the blame should land on the entire team. How are the entire team’s dynamics supporting or hindering an inclusive environment where everyone feels psychologically safe to speak up?
This often busts the myth that English fluency is the greatest concern. Often, it’s how the language is used, which can be problematic. Understanding how to talk in the customer’s language, showing empathy to their situation, and talk in a non-technical way to non-technical clients are a few examples of this. Above this, those in standup meetings can share their expertise and experience in their status updates. It’s not just about saying what was done yesterday, today and what will be done tomorrow. Focusing on the short-term picture may be easier to communicate, but doesn’t demonstrate the critical thinking, planning, team collaboration, and expertise clients expected with they signed on with you. Building such skills at any level can be done (we have seen great success with our Deliver Impressive Status Updates team coaching program for Agile dev teams).
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. Communication skills, which are essentially leadership skills, are the cornerstone to business. These skills are challenged all the more when interacting cross-culturally. Author, and US-native, Jennifer Kumar knows this all too well as she has lived and worked full time in India for almost 10 years. Contact her or see her programs listing to see how she can help your team build cross-cultural competence.
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio at Pexels, feature image RODNAE productions on Pexels
Updated May 2020, April 2022
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