top of page
  • Writer's pictureSteven Bustin

Speak (English) to me

Updated: May 15, 2020

There are a host of factors that have an impact on the success of any outsourcing relationship: technical expertise, labor costs, project management, business ethics and copyright protection, network security, product and service quality, subcontracting control, time zone difference, education levels and of course, culture and language. And it is the latter two, culture and language, more specifically for American companies, culture and English skills, that ultimately matter most as the foundation of every other factor. If there is an issue with culture and English skills, the relationship is considerably weakened, the probability for success, greatly reduced.

The Big 3 of Outsourcing, India, China and Philippines, are in a battle for leadership in outsourcing culture and English skills, and two of the three are rapidly losing. This article is not meant to disparage in the least, any of the great firms and workers in those countries, but the world of outsourcing has evolved and competition is gaining or has surpassed them in some areas.

India of course had great first-mover advantage in outsourcing and realized considerable success for that reason. But like many first-movers in various industries, India has watched others learn from her mistakes and has experienced issues in multiple areas, not the least of them regarding culture and English. As the industry grew demand for software engineers meant that more lesser-qualified engineers (often engineers in name only) were hired and their English skills were subpar.

India has more of a “verbal” than written business culture, exasperating the miscommunications present if English skills are not nearly perfect. Telling the Indian engineer that “the code must be complete by next Wednesday so we can move to Phase II on Thursday” may garner an emphatic “Yes!”, with nothing written down. But that yes only meant they agreed with you, not that it would be done. And while there are many Indian outsource workers with good English skills, there is a reason India is no longer the #1 Call Center country for Western businesses. Inflexible attitudes, rote responses and frequent issues with English combined with, at times, heavy accents have created opportunities for competitors to establish call centers and other outsource businesses.

China, while experiencing rising wages, still offers great cost advantages to Western companies. But that may be the strongest tangible value. In recent years China made good progress in English skills as well as cultural understanding. But English skills often remain subpar to Western ears and a culture of copyright theft (and it is a culture issue) is a major concern. For example, the culture readily accepted iPhone knockoffs being marketed internally before the iPhone model was available to American consumers. Add in a penchant for indirect answers and instructions with English language challenges and your outsourcing project has become more challenging and less successful than planned.

The Philippines is the late(r) comer to providing outsourcing services but in fact, has already surpassed India and China in some areas. Manilla is now the largest outsourced call center city in the world. There are multiple reasons for this and the phenomenal outsourcing growth in IT, software development and virtual assistants. English and Tagalog are the official languages of the country. Virtually everyone speaks English, from birth. Schools teach classes in English. And along with nearly universal outstanding English language skills (often with neutral accents ) is the most culturally westernized society of any Asian country. 

According to the Talent Index generated by the Everest Group in conjunction with O2P, the Philippines is ranked #1 in terms of quality of English and Western culture affinity Due to decades of a strong American presence, they are immersed in American culture, watch American TV shows and movies (in English), are enamored with the NBA and are intimately familiar with Western business culture. Yes, they have a high level of general education, have a government that actively supports the BPO industry even at the university level (BPO specific curriculum) and have hundreds of thousands of highly skilled engineers and developers. And yes, labor costs are attractively quite low. But it is the combination of universal English skills and true cultural affinity that is driving the national growth as an outsourcing powerhouse and an ever more popular outsourcing partner for Western businesses.

Don’t underestimate the power of language skills and cultural affinity when choosing your outsourcing partner. Build a successful relationship on that foundation to achieve success. Now, more than ever, you have many choices for outsourcing.

35 views0 comments


bottom of page