American companies using overseas labor is nothing new, but over the course of the last few years, the practice has become far more popular as a way to cut costs and inefficiencies, especially as more companies begin engaging in the practice. Generally, using offshore labor was thought of as the purview of large corporations, especially those in the tech sector, who have been moving their call centers and customer service functions to countries from India to Ecuador - even though the practice is often disparaged by both customers and company managers alike. Everyone has heard a story of an unhappy customer whose call was received by someone who spoke broken English and used a pseudonym.
However, things are getting much better and today most people can’t tell a call service agent in Bangladesh from one in Boston. And, as English is learned in classrooms around the world, increasingly complex and sensitive tasks can be sent overseas and completed at a fraction of the cost.
Historically, India has been a popular destination for companies looking to outsource, but because of the time difference, increasing labor costs, and generally heavy accents, companies have begun looking to less familiar shores. Now locations like Argentina, a place with very little difference in time and culture, or the Philippines, a place where workers have light accents, are being used more frequently.
But, while technology is making outsourcing easier, there are still basic things every company needs to understand and practice in order to make their outsource venture a profitable one.
Three Basic Tenants of Working With Offshore Companies
1. Start small and build slowly
Training an offshore team can be extremely difficult and it is a process that could end up being very lengthy as there are cultural and language barriers that will need to be considered and overcome. These differences also make training overseas employees far different than training American workers. This is why starting with a small group and layering responsibilities on slowly is the strategy that is most likely to be successful. Ensuring workers have a strong foundation from the very beginning will help alleviate and avoid headaches that could come later down the road when there is less supervision.
2. Practice thorough Training and Active Management
Companies should send a representative, or team, from the American headquarters to the offshore company location. While in the country, the headquarters representative should focus on creating documentation that thoroughly explains all job functions and problem-solving strategies that can be easily used in the future once they have departed.
It is also important that headquarters stay in close contact with the offshore company using things like Skype to setup daily calls and provide virtually constant feedback. Managers should look for problems in training rather than problems with individual workers - allowing for errors in the beginning will ensure a strong training program later.
Something else companies should consider is becoming advanced training software programs as a means to standardize training processes. As technology improves, and familiarity with these companies increases, new startups are forming that specialize in aiding the training of overseas workers. For example, call center agent coaching software can help companies automate a training process that can be repeated hundreds of times. There are also online email marketing courses that will help companies increase the return on their investment by augmenting expertise.
3. Account for Time Zones
Accounting for time zones may sound obvious; however, for many companies the difference in time is often the most difficult thing to plan for and work around. It is often the case that offshore companies and American companies are on the opposite schedules, which means offshore employees will either be working at night or American companies will need to staff a night crew to help manage the team.
The easiest way to mitigate this problem: buy a clock and post it in an obvious location.
Keeping Your Eye on the Bottom Line
Outsourcing specific functions and processes can be a great way for companies to cut costs and, thanks to America’s growing familiarity with overseas companies, it is becoming far less frustrating. Technology is making it far easier to stay in touch and on top of the situation; however, regardless of how much technology improves, great management and diligent training is an effort that, in many ways, can’t be automated or outsourced.