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Cultural Differences

If you're only outsourcing programming to an offshore provider, you may believe that there's no need to be concerned with culture or language. But even in programming functions, cultural differences can appear. Acceptable user interfaces may have a different look and feel from one society to another. Colors and sentence structure may differ just enough to draw the user's attention. For example, I'll occasionally come across a software error message that must have been written by a well-intentioned programmer who is unfamiliar with the language, something like this: "I'm sorry for this error. We are still working on this bug." Although polite and honest, this message doesn't convey quite the meaning that the programmer intended to a U.S. audience.

When business processes are outsourced, cultural differences are even more pronounced. For example, the way call center agents answer the phone, how they interpret the complaints of irate customers, and how they try to add humor to the conversation may all be driven or affected by local culture. There are already cultural differences within the United States from North to South and East to West that cause issues. Imagine if your offshore provider wasn't prepared to deal with these differences from country to country.

What can you do to mitigate cultural differences?

  • For programming, be very specific in your requirements. Include details such as error messages or phrases, color codes, acceptable abbreviations, menu titles, and so on.

  • In business process outsourcing, provide a guide with approved and scripted responses to certain types of questions. Determine the process that the provider has in place (if any) for ensuring that acceptable language is used. Phrases in one language can be offensive in another. Even the way a caller is greeted can change the dynamics of the user experience. If there is any doubt related to culture, call center agents should be instructed to simply address the issue and leave out editorial commentary, in order to avoid misinterpretation by the caller.

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