Sad, un-PC truth: offshore support centers often lag significantly behind onshore centers when it comes to productivity and customer satisfaction. This is especially true with outsourced teams, but often for insourced teams as well. Why is that?
- Limitations in the hiring pool. Presumably you (or the outsourcer) carefully surveyed the local hiring pool to ensure that the skills you need are plentiful. And perhaps not. Especially in emerging locations, the availability of appropriately-skilled agents and especially managers is very limited. A common challenge is being able to find skilled engineers that also have good English skills, written or spoken.
- Cultural differences. US customers are famously direct, while the culture in some offshore location shuns confrontation– a perfect recipe for scared agents and managers, and frustrated customers. The relationship between the offshore center and headquarters is likely to be fraught for the same reasons.
- The far-from-headquarters syndrome. When I talk to offshore staff, I’m always surprised that they do not know what’s going on at headquarters (when I, a mere consultant, do). They are often left out of communications about new products, new tools, and new processes, and large time zone differences do not help.
- Poor training processes and fit. Following on the last point, training is rarely designed and packaged in a way that fits the requirements of outsourcers, or even insourced teams that happen to function offshore.
- Turnover. Outsourcers are notorious for high turnover, which means that customers are constantly interacting with newbies. And often there are few opportunities to grow in offshore organizations, which means that good talent leaves early.
So what can you do about it?
- Invest in the offshore center. If you treat it as a low-cost unit and scrimp on every expense, you’ll get your money’s worth: poor outcomes.
- Improve hiring. This is easier to do if you manage the center directly, but you can and should collaborate with the outsourcer to ensure that new hires have the right profile for success. Scrutinize what makes high-performers successful, and vice-versa. Note that the winning profile may be different from the one you used onshore.
- Be present. Visit. In person. Regularly. There is no substitute.
- Train for soft skills. Soft skills are important anywhere, but they are particularly important for offshore teams that lack the cultural context and onsite mentors of onshore teams. Train both support engineers and managers. And yes, you can require your outsourcer to provide appropriate training. (FT Works can help. Contact us for details.)
- Stem turnover. Turnover is a downstream phenomenon so you need to improve hiring, training, and processes to see results. In addition, track turnover and analyze each departure to identify opportunities to improve.
Do you work with offshore centers? What have you done to make them successful?