Monthly Archives: September 2010

India Call Center Developments

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Indian Call Center developments
In previous blogs we mentioned that the Philippines was neck and neck with India for call center revenues, but I read an article posted on Dec 6th 2010 in the Global Nation Inquirer stating that the Philippines has become the call center capital of the world.  I saw this coming.  Filipino call center employees get statistically more done per hour than in India and have a better command of American English as well as a good level of cultural affinity with the U.S.  Even some Indian companies set up call centers in the Philippines to benefit from their cultural links to the West.
My personal feeling is that India excels at intelligent tasks, and that cultural skills are just a matter of learning.  India has no shortage of people who can learn anything.  With a population of 1.1 billion, there will be many who can master every type of skill known to mankind, even if they don’t have a head start.  Indian education emphasizes math and science, and when Indian kids come to America to go to college, they are years ahead of the Americans.  Its just a question of emphasis.  Culture is easier to master than trigonometry, its just a matter of learning it.  Accents can be learned and mastered too, at least to the point of being acceptable for business use.
If an Indian call center employee has some Indian accent, that is okay, just as long as they are clear, helpful, and know all of our American faux pas.  But, many could master even regional accents through a good  educational program.  Some businesses put an emphasis on training and mastery while others accept mediocracy.  With the types of prices Indian call centers are charging these days, there is no room for second rate service.  Prices have skyrocketed recently, so quality of service, not price competition need to be the primary focus.
Tata Consultancy Service is a multi-billion dollar Indian company famous for cars, dams, and other services.  They have just opened a BPO operation in Manila instead of in their motherland.  It is a sad state of affairs when Indians are outsourcing their tasks outside of India.  The tide has shifted.  Overall outsourcing revenues are still by far the highest in India, but China is catching up fast, and the Philippines with its far smaller overall market share is also gaining… at least in the call center industry.
To end this short blog with a joke.  Did you hear about the new car models from 2005?
There was the Ford Hurricane and the Tata Tsunami.

Facebook is international, but Linked In focuses more on American Business

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Every social media platform is all over the globe. That is a well known fact. But, Linked In is mainly used by Americans with Indians in the #2 spot. Keep in mind that total members in the USA are only 84 million, but the quantity of their usage and pay-per-click fees represented about 80% of their total volume. This is an advantage if you like Targeting Americans! Linked In has also grown to have 277 million members, up from 200 million a year ago. They have had regular and moderate growth for many years. Linked In’s total number of followers needs to be adjusted, because I signed up twice. One for each of my businesses (maybe that is not so important.)

Linked in was launched on May 05, 2003!
Linked In is also almost four times as good for lead generation as Twitter or Facebook.

Professionals recommend using Linked In by joining professional groups, maintaining a professional profile, and posting industry relevant content.

Many companies that want more business don’t understand the value of sharing quality content. If you write useful information about how your industry works, people will be more likely to want to do business with you. You will gain recognition and faith.

Decision makers use Linked in as well as Facebook, but they use Facebook more for fun and Linked In is used more to make business contacts and business decision. So, what’s your business decision?

You might also like:

How to attract clients to your call center via Linked In

Twitter Stock — a good idea?

Confidence Verses Skills

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Confidence verses Skills

India is a country that emphasizes hard skills in schools.  Most school systems worldwide do the same thing. But, in business, hard skills, such as technical skills of various sorts are only half the equation.  You need soft skills too, and this means interaction skills.

When I call India, I notice that people speak very quietly, and mumble.  The phone lines are not good to begin with, and then people’s unclear communication skills makes it much worse.  Good communication skills are paramount in business.  The bosses of companies always have the best communication skills of anyone at their company. But, workers need to communicate too, but generally lack the skills.  Communication needs to be TAUGHT somehow, but someone, somewhere in India.  Having good clerical or technical skills will not win over the desireable clients as much as combining your skills with good communications and customer service.

Be confident?
Americans are great with confidence.  We think we can do anything, when in reality we don’t know what we are talking about half the time. This works great in business — at least in the beginning.  In business, it is suicide to overpromise, or underdeliver (which are the same thing in essence). However, it is also suicide to appear shy, squeemish, or lacking in confidence. If you do business with the West, you MUST adopt a “Can Do” attitude, a friendly disposition on the phone, clear English, etc.  It is common in India even with PhD’s to think that they can not do something.  This type of thinking is a psychological damper and has been passed along from generation to generation in India.  Mothers only tell their children “don’t do this, don’t do that”.  It is stifling.  There needs to be a more proactive way of thinking that identifies what is beneficial to do, and then find out how you can do that beneficial thing.

In person it is opposite
Indians are a nationality that are amazing in person, and terrible on the phone.  I wonder how such a nationality can survive in the call center issue being so bad on the phone!  I think Indians should do “Meet you in person center” outsourcing instead of call center outsourcing.  They could fly clients to Hyderabad, and meet clients in person, have samosa chat (a common food in Bombay) while people talk to each other and sip on masala chai.  Indians are the most personable nationality when samosas and chai are involved.  The trick is pressing you internal psychological buttons here.  While you are on the phone with a stranger, pretend that they are Lakshmi Aunty and that you are talking about how the family is doing — in person — with no phone — except there will be a phone!  Your whole tone will be much friendlier and people will like you immediately!  Just trick yourself into forgetting that the person is a stranger, and trick yourself into forgetting that there is a phone.  Maybe use a speakerphone and pretend the person is right in front of you!

Doing more of it is the key
I have learned a lot in my own personal development.  As a child I was very shy and had all of the bad charactersistics I complain about in my blog.  I had to grow out of my shyness, my mistrust of strangers, and adapt a positive attitude so that I could attract clients — lots of clients — and desireable ones too. What I learned is that you need to do a lot of phone work to get good at it.  Developing a positive tone, asking the right questions, being polite, and wording your questions and answers in a way that leaves a positive feeling in the other person’s mind are all critical skills.

Your Turn: How Social Media is like a game of Monopoly

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Move your thimble! It’s your turn!

What do social media and a game of monopoly have in common? More than you think. When you play monopoly, you start out with some money, and you move around the board collecting properties. When someone else lands on your property you collect some money. You can use the money to buy more properties. But, if you land on someone else’s property, you have to pay them.

In real life in web business, you can acquire social media accounts and put money or time into getting followers on those accounts. Every time you pass go and collect $200, you get another week of time to invest in building your accounts. The problem is that in web business, whenever something on your web site(s) breaks, you have to pay the programmers big bucks which is like landing on someone else’s hotel in Monopoly.

As you go around the board, you might land on the question mark, pick up a card, and get the Go To Jail card. This is what happens when your SEO technique is something that the Google gods don’t care for.

But, another aspect that links social media and Monopoly is that you don’t acquire the entire world all at once. You develop your empire in bits and pieces. Every step along the road you have to make strategic choices and decisions. Which property do you save your money for? Do you built hotels all at once or do you wait? When do you sell your properties? How much do you save for an emergency? It is all just like real life. The only difference between Monopoly and real life is that:

(1) I am not a thimble and
(2) In real life in addition to hotels, there are resorts!

Hiring analytics: How much does the other person like you?

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Does it really matter how much people like you?
According to serious researchers it does. Harvard Business Review documented studies that documented the fact that managers can rarely have successful teams if the members don’t like the boss. But, this applies to outsourcing work as well. If the people doing your outsourced work don’t like you, you are in trouble. It doesn’t matter how good they are, how experienced, how meticulous, or how cost effective they are — if they hate you, the relationship is unlikely to work.

Can you find out BEFORE you hire someone if they like you? Sometimes that is not so easy to know. If they start out liking you on Monday, they might change their mind about you in a month if one little thing goes wrong. People are fickle and that is not going to change. You can see how long you talked to them on the phone which is some indication. Someone who doesn’t like you will not talk to you for 2.5 hours like my recent call with a software developer in Massachusetts.

Can you test how much people like you? Offer to take them out to dinner. Tell them you will pay for everything. Do they accept or decline? It makes a big difference and says a lot. Or, do they turn the offer around and offer to take you out and pay? The money means very little, but the intention means everything.

Here are some “likeability” tests
(1) See how long you talk over the phone
(2) See if they return calls or contact you on their own initiative
(3) Offer to treat them to dinner
(4) See how willing they are to answer far too many annoying questions during the 2nd interview. If they don’t like you, they will stop answering questions a lot more quickly. How much more quickly? Hmmm. Why not experiment and get some test results analytics yourself and tell me! I’m curious to know your experience!

Outsourcing: Kenya vs. Nigeria in Africa

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I am writing this entry with happiness and sadness.  Happiness for Kenya, and sadness for Nigeria.  Africa is a part of the world, that had a hard time developing and has been plagued with disease, famine, civil war, dictators, and blood thirsty rebels.  Although the people are very charming, the continent doesn’t sound like my type of a place — even to visit!  I went to college with dozens of African classmates from all over the continent from Morocco, to Cote D’ivoire, Kenya, Lesuthu, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, and many other places as well.  So, I’m familiar with people from Africa, at least educated ones. But, running has made me become painfully aware of the economic realities of modern Africa.  Certain countries are serious about doing business, while others are not.
When I started, I assumed many things. I assumed that our web design section with it’s 800 listings (largest section on our site) would do well. I was not aware that web design as an industry was failing.  I assumed that India would be our #1 country — I was correct on that guess.  I assumed that South Africa would be the most active African country in outsourcing on my site — wrong again.  Kenya wins the competition. We get many serious companies in BPO, Data Entry, Call Center, Accounting, and other specialties signing up from Kenya regularly. We see a little activity from South Africa too, but not as much.  Nigeria has been a disaster. Yes, the sign up numbers are there, but most of them look like schemes, or businesses not relevant to our site such as money changing.  Hopefully none of the companies are fraudulent.
Nigeria leads the world in corruption and internet scams as well. It is scary and sad.  If a country is to get ahead, they need a strong work ethic, and a good reputation. Nigeria seems to be shooting itself in the foot, even on our site with it’s questionable listings.
Things seem to always change.  Twenty years ago, the world was a very different place.  Perhaps in another twenty, Kenya will rise to be a very powerful country, and we will all have to learn Kiswahili.  We’ll see. They are on the right track for now, based on how they are performing on my little directory. In the mean time — “kwahairi”.  So long!

Office Prices and Outsourcing

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Office Prices and the Outsourcing Industry

India’s main problem with outsourcing is that the rents are getting so high, that Indian outsourcing companies must raise their rate for outsourced work to be able to cover their costs. Looking at a list of global office occupancy costs worldwide from, I can share some of this information with you.

PSF – costs in dollars per square foot for office space in 2010.
Numbers have been rounded to the nearest dollar

Hong Kong 161
London 130 (West End)
Tokyo 101
London 62 (Docklands)
Mumbai 60
Delhi 59
Singapore 59
New York 42 (Midtown)
Los Angeles 39
Madrid 37

The irony is that in places like New York where incomes are roughly five times what they are in Mumbai for similar work, the price is 43% higher in Mumbai for office space. In the long run, America has many advantages that lead to national economic stability. We have endless land, and fast roads and airports that connect every single corner of the country conveniently to each other part of the country. There very few strikes effecting transportation, and political stability is something we take for granted. India has none of these advantages. It will take India 40 years of hard work to catch up to Western countries in terms of infrastructure.

One aspect that doesn’t show up in the above quoted statistics is that the data is for certain neighborhoods where offices are generally located. There are other parts of the above metros further away from the downtown that have less expensive prices. For example, in Delhi, it is $59 psp in the business district, but I’m looking at an ad in Noida where 1500 sf of office / factory space are being offered for rps35,000 / month which translates into less than one dollar per square foot per month. So, prices can vary tremendously within the same metro area depending on conditions.

High office prices have run many call center outsourcing businesses out of Bangalore, Mumbai, and Chennai, leading them to outskirts of Delhi, Assam and other areas where land is plentiful. Mumbai is on a peninsula, making land a scarce commodity, especially with the lack of skyscrapers which help to conserve land. Bangalore is surrounded by hills and mountains making growth difficult. Chennai is bordered by an ocean on one side making expansion possible only to the West. But Delhi has land around it and remote parts of India still have cheap land to expand to. So the future of Indian outsourcing work seems to keep migrating further and further away to where the cheap land and labor is. In another few decades, much of the outsourcing work will be redirected out of India entirely, perhaps to Africa, Bangladesh, and other areas.

Choosing the programming language

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This is a funny story that happened in real life

Unfortunately, this story was heartwrenching for me.
I had a great programmer. He worked for a company that I had hired for many years. He knew my sites well, and there was another programmer who knew the site well too. In any case, these two software developers both knew ASP Classic. I thought that lots of people knew this language and that there was no problem. I was wrong.

He started with 2 years of experience
At the time one of the programmers was hired, he had only two years of experience. His salary was modest. He was a fast learner and accumulated up to eight years experience during the time I knew him. His salary went up, but not that high. The boss was a very sharp guy (I know him well). However, the boss didn’t scour the market looking for ASP Classic Developers (Programmers). He already had his two programmers and that was all he needed. The boss didn’t realize that the market value for someone as capable as his head programmer was a lot higher than what he was paying. We both didn’t realize this — until the programmer got offered DOUBLE his salary and promptly quit.

5 programmers later
That left me in a bind. I didn’t know who to hire for programming. I went through five different programmers until I found someone really acceptable (not perfect, but quite good). So, the plot thickens.

Translation to PHP or .NET?
As the head programmer announced his departure, he gave me some good tips. He said that I needed to recode my site into .NET because very few programmers knew ASP Classic these days. In just a few years, the world’s supply of ASP Classic Programmers had dried up. The boss couldn’t find anyone good to replace the leaving employee. One suggestion I got was to translate the entire site into PHP — the reason being that there are far more PHP programmers than .NET, and also far more .NET developers than ASP Classic.

Later I learned, that it is easier to translate the site to .NET, since you can do this little by little, module by module — and there are many modules. Imagine the complication of tranlating the site to PHP and launching the new version all at once. There would be 100+ bugs that would take half a year to build.

So, I decided NOT to translate the site. I voted for .NET programming simply so I could do the work gradually. I wanted to rebuild each module to much better specifications than before. I had learned that my old way of running the site had much room for improvement. Some of the older modules didn’t need to be used anymore, and there were many new functions that needed to be built.

The irony
After much shopping around for programmers, I found that not only is there a bad shortage of Classic ASP programmers, but in America, you can no longer get any programmer who has good skills and availability. You have to go to India or offshore no matter what the language is if you want more than a handful of hours per week of actual work. What I learned is that there are many Classic ASP Developers in India. The trick is finding them, and finding ones that I like. So, I didn’t need to rebuild anything — yet. Although, I eventually would have had to rebuild anyway, because even India’s supply of developers who know Classic ASP is a diminishing pool

Is Twitter for People With Attention Deficit Disorder?

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Tweets, little snippets of written conversation stripped of grammar or punctuation, would have been unthinkable for adults ten years ago — and certainly would not have earned a passing grade in school. But who remembers that far back? And who besides college students these days takes the time to focus on a whole paragraph?

It is true that a segment of our society is actually suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)… and cannot focus on more than a Tweet’s worth of information. Some reports say 11% of the population has ADD or ADHD (includes attention problems and hyperactivity), doubled from 5% decade ago…but the real numbers may be even higher. It seems that everyone is highly stressed and low on concentration compared to the years when we were growing up (if we ever did, that is).

Is Twitter merely fun–a powerful tool to convey information in a concise and clever, brief format–to stimulate further communication? Or is it a product of our ADD-prone culture and inability to communicate in complete thoughts for an extended period of time? Is it good for us?

Common symptoms of ADD are inability to concentrate, being disorganized, forgetful, late all the time, always in a rush…and there is evidence that our impersonal, fast-paced work environment promotes ADD. Instead of solving the problem through patience, education and training, our culture has catered to the level on which many people function, reducing the amount of information people take in or provide at one time. According to a March 31, 2013 NY Times article, ADHD (essentially ADD with hyperactivity and inability to focus) has increased 41% in the last decade (some sources say the increase is as great as 66%); sales of drugs to treat the condition doubled in 2012 to a record $9 billion.

Does continually using sites like Twitter–or beginning to think in Tweets–help people focus and concentrate? Does it give them the patience to become good writers? What is the effect of a daily diet of Tweets?

Tweets are thought-provoking, short, quickly written statements that convey a main idea. The push to communicate briefly to so many people in so little time may harm our ability to communicate well for longer periods of time–and to a very few people. Unless they are aphorisms written by masters of the English language (Emerson, Thoreau, Atwood), Tweets are easily forgotten…and will they save the world? What does our addiction to Twitter say about our ability to communicate and our interest in forging real adult relationships?

Maybe Twitter should create a site called Sing it to Me Slowly…for those who want to take more time and have more to say?

(1) Some people tweet about business, life, or love. But, I tweet about Twitter
(2) Tweets, little snippets of written conversation stripped of grammar or punctuation, would have been unthinkable for adults ten years ago
Tweets are thought-provoking, short, quickly written statements that convey a main idea.

You might also like:

How to attract clients to your call center – presentation

Optimizing your Twitter PPC campaign

Are you running out of workspace? Outsource a few tasks

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Are you running out of workspace?
Maybe you can afford new employees but have nowhere to put them until you move into that new office space that costs 5x as much. So, what do you do?  You can outsource a few tasks to companies overseas in the meantime.  A wide variety of tasks can be outsourced including web design, personal assistants, accounting, legal support, programming, call center, data entry, e-publishing, medical billing, medical transcriptions and more.  Back office tasks are typically done at outsourcing companies — miscellaneous tasks.
The irony, is that when you think you are running out of workspace, you have not seen the workspace of the outsourcing companies.  They typically have workers crammed together like sardines or ants in an ant hill.  If you don’t want to outsource, you can consider smaller cubicles, or cramming small desks together. Just because you need your elbow room, doesn’t mean you can’t find some employees who don’t mind being squeezed.
Another idea is overflow workspace.  There are places that sell office space by the cubicle.  You can negotiate a nice price by the day, month, or whatever time period you like.  Have that extra worker be a mile away in a shared work environment. It is a great idea and those shared office spaces tend to be lively fun places to be as well!

Mixed-level software teams: a business model that works!

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I have talked to people at all types of companies. I know people who have one office and want another. I know people who work remotely. I know people who have an office in India and a sales office in the United States. All of these company structures are part of the bigger picture of what a business model is. But, I learned a secret from reading blogs and seeing who performs best in real life — and I am going to share this with you.

Bottom heavy
Typical companies in India are bottom heavy. They have lots of workers, but very few managers. Many workers are self-managing. This type of business model could work if you exclusively hire workers who are capable of doing a great job being self-managing. Most people are not self-managing, so I would avoid this business model.

Mixed teams — a winning idea!
But, companies with what I like to call, “mixed teams” seem to work optimally. They have a skill mixture in each team. Teams could even have replaceable members just as rickshaws all use the same parts which you can transfer from one rick to another in seconds. Imagine a team of five people. You have a project manager who is very seasoned, a mid-level worker, and three junior programmers. The grunt work gets done by the lower level workers. The planning and supervision gets done by the project manager. The more complicated work gets done by the mid-level employee. Brilliant and cost effective too! You are still getting cheap labor for the majority of the project paired with the superior thinking skills of a seasoned professional! But, there is more!

If the lower level employees get stuck, they have not one, but two seasoned people to ask for help. But, there is yet another even bigger problem that the mixed level model solves. It is very hard to hire higher level programmers in any country these days. They are systematically gulped up by big companies and seldom available. It is easier to hire inexperienced people since there are so many of them and nobody really values them. So, what is the strategy? If your high level programmer leaves the company after a few years, your mid-level employee will be experienced enough to promote to that higher position in many cases. Internal hiring solves this huge problem of a worldwide shortage of experienced programmers.

You might also like:

How to make sure that the software company you hired will deliver!
Click here

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SEO Strategies — Revolving content & 2nd generation linked content

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Is SEO complicated?
People think that SEO is complicated. I don’t know enough about it to understand its complications. Google’s algorithms change unpredictably, but certain principles hold steady. Content is king, and good content draws in traffic. Google can tell if people like your content. Different IP addresses will come and spend time reading if it is good, plus people will tweet it, link to it and more. But, what is the secret?

Obviously, each page has to have some keyword focus with pre-planned keyword variations. But, there is a lot more to my style of simplistic SEO strategy. Keeping the content changing is critical. Busy pages should change their content every 10 days or so, while less traficked pages, perhaps every few months. You don’t have to change the entire content — just a link or two, or perhaps a paragraph. You need to schedule time to change your pages, and pre-plan what content you are going to put in at set intervals.

But, what about 2nd generation links? (not a real term by the way) What should my home page link to? Google likes it if a home page or big page links to pages that themselves link to good content. You link to pages that link to other good pages. Let’s say you have an informational site. Let’s say that you have a separate page for various types of sports. One main page for rafting, one for rock climbing, and another for skiing. Let’s say there are many more pages like this. The page could be purely paragraph style and have a few links embedded in the text. However, you could have another format for informational pages which would be link oriented pages that might look a bit like search results.

Imagine a page with 20 links. There could be two lines of commentary about each link under each link, and then a line of space. Imagine a home page that links to a dozen or so of these info-link pages. Great. But, it gets better. Imagine that these info-link pages are rotated every month. Each month you get a different dozen. Perhaps each month you cut one link to an info-link page and add another. You drop the page about rock climbing in June and add a page about baseball in its place. That way, your home page will be connected to 240 super content pages. Each of your 12 info-link pages that are linked to the home page link to 20 pages related to their theme content (a particular sport), and then the content is rotated so there is always something new.

What is the next step? Those info-link pages could also evolve and revolve as new links could be added to the list of 20 and others could be removed. Google likes live sites, so if yours is always having little changes happen, that counts in your favor.

My story is that my directory site 123notary has good rankings for city search results pages simply because the content is always revolving. However, our home page doesn’t change much and Google doesn’t give it a good ranking. We will change the programming soon to include revolving content. But, it is not a big deal, because our site is about search results and giving great information to the public — and we do this well.