Thursday 13 June 2013

Outsourcing: the good, the bad and the ugly. Staying in touch with your suppliers and understanding cultural differences.

Chris McKeown from Aptara
Chris McKeown, European Director Account Management for Aptara outlined the ingredients for a good customer/supplier relationship at ALPSP's Outsourcing seminar today.

The customer must be clear on what the supplier can deliver and any limitations on what the supplier can deliver. They need to avoid the 'yes' pitfall by being clear a supplier won't lose work or damage your perception of them by saying no to something. You have to feel comfortable that the supplier has a clear understanding of the partnership and they know the services the vendor can offer.

The supplier must be clear on the specification for the work and service level agreements (including times and quality measurements). They should understand what feedback and reporting is required as well as what the customer publishes and how the customer likes to work - communication is at the heart of this part of the relationship. Key performance indicators will be based upon communication, service and quality.

McKeown provided a range of tips. Think about public holidays in the country where your supplier is based. Ask the vendor to write up notes/actions to ensure they understand what has been agreed. Also have an escalation list of who to speak to if something does go wrong. Be aware of how an increased  inflow of work can have an impact on quality. Regular vendor reporting and regular calls are a great way to avoid problems.

Laxmi Chaudhry
Laxmi Chaudhry is a Director of 1 Stop HR and a cross-cultural trainer and consultant. She closed the seminar with an engaging overview of communication as the glue for outsourcing. There are several misconceptions people hold about cross-cultural communication.

Do you believe English is a common language? Think again. Jargon, phrases, irony, inference can all be lost in translation. Ask for clarification and confirmation, repeat, put in an email to reconfirm, and don't worry about patronising. That only comes from a tone of voice, not checking what has been understood.

Why does cultural awareness matter? It is about effective communication, language, successful teams and relationships between partners. Motivation and recognition drives higher performance and better collaboration. It also helps you to reflect your market place. It is an effective way of remote working and can impact on your bottom line.

Laxmi suggest that cultures are like icebergs: with explicit/overt observable behaviours above and implicit or covert beliefs, values and assumptions below, which are not easily observable. The key is to understand that what lies beneath is hugely influential on what goes on above. She urged delegates to consider cultural values and how they impact everyday business. Consider the differences in culture on the importance of hierarchy, relationships, context, direct or indirect approaches, how important the group is compared to the individual and the value of losing or keeping face. When you take these areas into consideration, it makes a lot of sense of how people respond.

Other advice included: don't underestimate the importance of non-verbal communication. Check for understanding - don't assume anything. If you are managing important overseas relationships, take steps to work more effectively with partners and have cultural awareness training.

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