I interact a lot with Indians and Indian Companies (for outsourcing). What are some of the cultural differences between working with a US company VS an Indian Company?
February 5, 2012 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I interact a lot with Indians and Indian Companies (for outsourcing). What are some of the cultural differences between working with a US company VS an Indian Company?

One thing I noticed is that employees of Indian companies say "Yes" to a lot of things and then don't follow up. This is not always true but I have a feeling they are uncomfortable saying "No". This could be a cultural thing.

So I want to better understand some of these cultural differences which will allow me to engage with them in a better way.
posted by r2d2 to Work & Money (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I find the opposite to your experiece... but I work with set teams in projects managed by tickets and work orders so... maybe not comparable depending on the industry.
I have the pleasure of interacting with Indian programmers for our business system. A lot of the people sent to the states for direct contacts are great and bright people. Their support staff back in India spend the midnight hours working for us, which I appreciate greatly.

One tip from me:
Don't be afraid to ask them to slow down when talking. I find most use British English which isn't a problem, but they use it at such speed that it is tough to pick up for the uninitiated. This is probably the one big issue with outsourced customer service issues that people whine about. Don't be afraid to slow them down to help yourself adjust to the accent.

As with any servicing person, treat them with respect!
posted by Bodrik at 9:50 PM on February 5, 2012

If you work with Indian companies that have been doing this for a long time, then there are very few things you have to adjust. That said, some of the key things are:

1. Estimates - There is a tendency to underestimate, because of previous experiences in burning the midnight oil to finish things

2. Reluctance to say "no" - You are partially; the tendency is not to say "no", when talking about timelines or technical stuff, but that is usually at the lower levels. A senior manager will usually be ready to speak his opinions

3. Over reliance on signoffs - In early outsourcing deals, international companies tended to "protect" themselves by writing iron-clad clauses on scope, deliverables and sign-offs. This has wired people in a different way and a sign-off from you means that any flexibility or change can be a costly affair and can lead to tense moments

4. Communication - This may be a non-issue, if you deal only with some individuals, but if you have to engage the complete team, calling out specific individuals for information (not in meetings initially!) can be effective

As Bodrik pointed out, English is often fast and sometimes with some words/accents that are hard to follow. However, asking them directly to slow down tends to have a negative effect - they are expected to understand different English accents without others slowing down!

One effective way that one of my early managers showed me was to repeat what they had said and asked them if you understood correctly. Indians are no different from anyone else and they don't have a too rigid personal honor code, so you can be firm without insulting the other person.

Again, I like Bodrik's last sentence. If everyone treated others with respect, we would have easier lives.
posted by theobserver at 10:20 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This will only be helpful, if at all, as a data point, and not anywhere near as helpful as theobserver's response. My firm is U.S.-HQ'ed with international offices, including one in India. My firm is upper-echelon, so we're going to get the most attractive candidates.

I have had great success getting people above my level to respond to me and do the things I was tasked with getting them to do. This is in contrast to our China offices. I found our India professionals proactive, EXTREMELY thorough, and whatever the opposite of whatever the adjective of 'procrastinate' is. There could be any number of reasons that my findings are different from theobserver's or anyone else's, the most notable of which I tried to lay out above.
posted by troywestfield at 4:46 AM on February 6, 2012

I work with one outsource company in India from time to time, so I just have a few things:

1. Others have covered the asking your India counterpart to speak clearly, but on the other hand -- I have learned to speak slowly and clearly in return, so that I am certain that my India counterpart understands me as well. In both speaking and in emails, I write in short sentences, with as few commas as possible, so that there is as little confusion as possible. For example, "Last week, when we spoke on the phone, we talked about an estimate and I was wondering if it is ready yet." gets rewritten as "I was wondering if the estimate we discussed in the telephone call last week is ready yet." It's as big of an issue to expect someone who speaks English as a Second Language to communicate clearly with you as it is to expect them to understand your casual US English.

2. Be aware that they've got different holidays down there, so they take time off different times of the year than us. My outsourcer is good about giving plenty of notice, so it hasn't been a problem for me.

3. Be extremely clear on specifications; not only does it make it clear to them what your expectations are, but it also gives you a ruler to measure their performance by. When I've had problems with my outsourcer's output, I could send them examples of where the mistakes exceeded tolerance and they redid the work at no cost. This really goes with any sort of subcontracting, because assumption that the subcontractor has the same expectations and objectives rarely works out well.

Regarding 'yes'/'no', I've had much the same experience with constant promising - they'll do pretty much whatever I ask - but I haven't had any trouble with procrastination, last-minute completion, or carelessness with expectations. I did do a bunch of shopping for my outsourcer first, including calling references and so forth.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:33 AM on February 6, 2012

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