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Business

Learning the Ways of the West

The global trend in exporting jobs to low-income countries like India has created a niche for institutes teaching Indian workers how to dress, talk and eat like their Western bosses.

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Software engineers in India are brushing up on their Western etiquette.

When Mohan Verma, an Indian systems analyst, heads to London to work on a Deutsche Bank project, the butterflies in his stomach will be more than just the excitement of his first trip away from his home country.

The 28-year-old techie will be at pains to eat, dress and talk just like the English do. The new graduate of a six-week manners and social behavior course at the CPI Intellisoft Center of Excellence, Verma, who didn't want to give his real name, brushed up on everything from how to talk on the phone to how to hold a fork.

Intellisoft, in the city of Hyderabad, is part of a booming cottage industry riding on the global wave of Western companies outsourcing jobs in software and tech support to India. Last week, Siemens announced plans to shift 15,000 jobs to Eastern Europe and India.

German software giant SAP is there as well, benefiting from the fact that they can pay their Indian workers 17 percent of what their employees in the West get. The outsourcing means new jobs for the 650,000 Indian software professionals and brings with it a sharp increase in the amount of interaction with foreign clients.

But basic problems of communication remain in a country where phrases like, “What is your good name, sir?” are still commonly used and where a man shaking hands with members of a group would leave out the women present.

"Other than the language, even simple things like head-nodding mean different things," said Professor Herbert Weber, who heads the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Technology in Berlin. In Germany, a nod of the head usually means yes, whereas in India it is used for both yes and no and doesn't carry much weight, according to Weber.

"Though the IT world does not demand the social skills as required in the hospitality industry, one cannot afford to distract clients at presentations with mannerisms that may appear odd," Diya Banerjee, who runs a consulting firm that works with institutes that offer etiquette courses, told DW-WORLD.

Lessons in Western ways in demand


In the past two years, dozens of such institutes have been popping up in big Indian cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune. The enrollment is not limited to individuals like Verma, said Banerjee. Multinational companies like GE Capital also send their employees there.

"Some of these institutes offer a wide variety of courses from accent change for call center workers to etiquette for techies," she said.

Although software companies employing high-end analysts in India have only recently begun using firms like Intellisoft, call centers providing service support to Western companies have been training workers to perfect foreign accents and deal with screaming customers for many years.

"We have been reorienting our employees at call centers. That includes telling them about the Western way of life, the geographic and demographic details of the various states they have to call and making them watch Hollywood films and tapes with dialogue in American or Canadian accents," said Soorej Sachindran, who speaks with a perfect American accent despite never having been to the U.S.

The team manager at Manipal Informatics, which does call center work for American and Canadian companies, requires his employees learn American and Canadian slang, something that comes in handy when trying to understand angry customers at the other end of the line.

"Telemarkting means listening … and we have to tell our employees that the expletives and 'no's' are not directed against them," he said.

Germany on the outsourcing bandwagon


The booming manners and language sector has yet to realize its full potential, as more and more companies shift operations to India. German companies, especially, are pushing the trend.

All of Lufthansa's global reservations and inquiries are handled from India, and Deutsche Bank, Siemens and DaimlerChrysler have also outsourced international call center operations. Experts nevertheless think the outsourcing between Germany and India has more room to grow.

"It's a win-win situation for German companies. India promises lower overhead costs," said Ketan Shukla, the commerce attaché at the Indian embassy in Berlin.

On a recent visit to Germany a high-powered Indian IT delegation lead by N.R. Narayanmurthy, chairman of Infosys, one of India's biggest software groups, said that between 10,000 and 30,000 employees should be trained in German in the next two years.

Verma is already ahead of the game. On his resume, his recently completed social behavior class sits next to a listing of his certificate in German from the Goethe Institute in Pune.




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