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An Indian BPO company learns Japanese culture to boost teamwork

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It was a tough afternoon for Santosh, a manager for a popular BPO company in Noida. He was sick and tired of the lack of loyalty of his employees. He was fed up with the status consciousness of his staff. And lastly, he was at his breaking point with the sloppiness of some of the workers. Santosh knew that if India was ever going to get ahead, a cultural shift would have to happen. Since childhood, Santosh had always had a love of the the cultures of the East. His family took him to Japan as a child, and his love affair with Japan never ended. He knew what he had to do. He had to Japanize his company. But how? And would his staff be agreeable to the change?

The New Company Culture
Santosh started by creating some new company practices as an effort to remold the company culture. The workers started the day by doing jumping jacks and then singing the company song. Nobody liked this, but they did it. This is how Japanese workers start their day, so this is how Santosh’s BPO would start theirs. Group activities are an essential framework of the Japanese culture as theirs is a society of ants. They function as a whole society and not as individuals. They are loyal to groups, and not to their personal needs. In the entire world, it is really only Japan, Korea, and to some extent Vietnam who are so group focused. The American culture is individually focused while India and many other nations revolve around family. But, family culture will not get India ahead. Santosh had a plan.

Group Activities
Stage two of Santosh’s plan was to have group activities. The workforce would go hiking together. A few said they didn’t feel like it and another girl refused on the account that she didn’t want to get her shoes dirty. Santosh insisted that people would have to put aside their individual preferences if they were going to function as a group. If they didn’t like hiking, they could come up with some other physical activity to promote health and group consciousness.

Next it was time for sushi. You can’t have Japanese culture without sushi. Sushi has raw fish. If you eat raw fish in India, you will undoubtedly get dyssentery and be in the hospital. So, what can you do? They tried making sushi with nori seaweed paper that they flew in from Singapore. They got cauliflower and sticky rice. That didn’t taste good. Then they tried cook fish, but half the staff refused to eat it because they were pure-veg. What to do? After about twelve experiments, Sujata decided to try tempura sushi which is popular in California. The group loved it. It was fried, unhealthy, and tasted great! Sushi didn’t quite gel with the group. So, they decided to try something more Indian.

They would have green tea, and mini samosas eaten with chopsticks. Sujata fumbled with her chopsticks. She couldn’t hold them right. She looked at the chopsticks, then looked at Santosh, then stared blankly into space looking confused. Then, Santosh explained that you hold one of the sticks like a pencil and the other jammed between the side of your thumb and your ring finger. Sure using chopsticks won’t come natually to non-Asians, but what better way to get into the mentality of the Japanese culture and teamwork?

Next, Santosh introduced the idea of bowing. It is hard to get Indians to eat meat or fish if they are from a non-meat eating caste. Hiking doesn’t match the sedentary lifestyle enjoyed by most Indians either. But, bowing shouldn’t be too much of a problem. When anyone entered a room, they had to bow. Unfortunately Veena forgot to bow.

SANTOSH: You forgot to bow!

VEENA: Oh, sorry sorry sorry! I’ll bow three times to make up for it.

Samurai Culture
Next, everyone watched a movie on samurai culture. Santosh said that if anyone made a mistake, they would have to kill themselves with a sword. It would be fake, and with fake blood, but what better way to condition yourself into being careful about your work as if your life depended on it? After a few weeks of this Sujata had had enough. She complained to Santosh that they were not Japanese, and that they were Indian. It was unnatural to adjust to this foreign culture. They didn’t even know anyone from Japan and they didn’t have any Japanese customers either.

Doug’s visit to India
A year ago Santosh had hired a hippy guy named Doug to teach them about American cultural norms. Sujata reacted better to Doug as he was easy going and didn’t give them a hard time. Doug’s philosophy was, “Do whatever you want to — man.” Sujata and the others we okay with Doug until Sujata told Doug how Aunty wanted to force her to marry Dinesh, and she didn’t want to. Doug said, “Well if she likes Dinesh so much, why doesn’t she marry him herself?” Then Sujata replied, “In India, we cannot talk about our elders that way. It just doesn’t work like that.” The problem was that Santosh’s staff could not break out of their rigid Indian ideas and adjust to other cultures. Sure, they could accept certain things about other cultures, but not things that conflicted with the values of the homeland. How would their team succeed with all of this rigidity?

A few momths later, Sujata complained bitterly to Santosh…

SUJATA: How can I be in the same team as Prateep? First of all, I am much more highly skilled than he is, and second, I have seniority! I have been here 104 days — well, 104.5 days if you include orientation, and he has only been here 43 days.

SANTOSH: In life there are no exact fits and no exact equals. For us to succeed as a company, we are forced to either work together, or leave the company. Since I own the company, I have no choice. I have to stay. When you get married to Dinesh, you’ll have similar problems. He’ll want to do one thing and you’ll want to do another. You’ll have to compromise and get along somehow or your marriage will be a wreck. We can’t survive as a company without teamwork and India will never become a first rate country without a general improvement in corporate standards. It is up to us!

VIPOOL: You wanted to see me?

SANTOSH: Yes, at our company, we treat our employees like family. When they have done something wrong, instead of firing them, we send them to their room. You made a data entry error yesterday. I hereby order you to what Japanese call, “The boring room.” You are to commit hara-kiri, the ritual Samurai stomach cutting act with this fake sword. Fake blood is in the refrigerator. Try to make some convincing facial expressions and sound effects. Oh, and one more thing.


SANTOSH: Don’t forget to bow — very important.

VIPOOL :Yes sir… I mean, “Hai… gozai-masu Sensai” (Japanese translation of yes teacher)

After a year of Japanese culture, the employees still didn’t like it — well, except for the green tea ice cream and mini-samosas. But, their sense of teamwork got better. Many cultures as so individualistic, that it is hard for them to put their personal concerns aside and think about teamwork. But, what people fail to realize is that if everyone else is teaming up with you, teamwork just happens. If your team expects you to contribute, but treats you like an unappreciated member, the team culture won’t last.

Assigning billing work overseas to BPO companies

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Assigning biling work overseas to BPO companies
This is a topic of concern to many US companies, particularly small ones who have less control.  It is nice being a big company.  You can set up huge offices anywhere in the world, get business licenses anywhere and your attorneys will do the work for you.  You can have your head office in the Caymen Islands where there is no corporate tax.  You have a lot of freedom being big.  But, for the rest of us, we do not have these luxuries.  We are at the mercy of who works for us.
There are many companies that hire overseas BPO companies to do their billing and credit card transactions.  It is common.  For the most part, it is business as usual.  Americans are always fearful that people in a foreign country will be more likely to cheat them, but I feel that you need to look at countries one by one. India and the Philippines do most of the BPO outsourcing in the world, and there are only scandals from time to time, and perhaps not that many more scandals than their equivalents in the United States.  I don’t have the data.  If you hire a reliable company, all it takes is one bad individual (or apple as we say over here), to spoil the bunch.  One bad employee can commit serious fraud involving credit cards, and ruin a whole company’s reputation and cost them millions. That bad guy could be anywhere. He could be in India, or Canada, or who knows where.
If you are in Nevada, and hire a company in Nevada to do work for you, you can have a contract, and you can sue them if they violate the contract.  If you are in Nevada and hire an Indian BPO company to do work for you, it is not so easy to sue them.  For that matter, if you are in India, it is not easy to sue someone in India due to the inefficient legal system.
To keep the trust of your clients, if you are a smaller company, you might be better off having your billing done domestically rather than hiring an Indian BPO, and preferably by a trusted staff member.  I would not have billing done by anyone you have worked with for less than a year if at all possible. There is a lot to lose here!

BPO India – Current Developments

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BPO India – current developments
IBM first entered the Indian BPO market in 2004 with its acquisition of Daksh.  IBM now has BPO operatons in eight cities in India.
Many experts note that India will have to move higher in the value chain to maintain market share in the BPO market.  As India raises its prices for BPO labor, the skill level and level of specialization also needs to rise.  Knowledge and Analytics are the new focus in the India BPO sector now, but for the companies that are only offering grunt work, they need to increase their overall quality offering, otherwise less expensive countries will be likely to gauge their market share.
South Africa has recently announced that it will be having incentives to attract business process outsourcing cmpanies.  These incentives could stimulate a rise of South African outsourcing that could pose a real threat to Indian BPO’s market share.  The largest market share for outsourcing is currently in India.  BPO’s springing up in other countries, especially those who have many who excel at English, will eventually cause India to lose its market share of the global market.  Since the global market continues to expand, India’s total dollar value of outsourcing services is not expected to shrink.
Since many in South Africa speak English as their native language, and often have an accent that is similar to British English, they have a huge edge over countries where English is their second language.  Another helpful factor for South Africa is that their time zone is very similar to England’s making it easy to make phone calls during business hours.  Both the U.K. and South Africa also have a similar financial system.  South Africa has been an untapped resource until recently for outsourcing, but they will be able to quickly gain market share and become the world’s fourth largest outsourcer behind India, China, and the Philippines.