When the CIO of an American insurance company traveled to India to evaluate a prospective service provider, he was astonished to learn that the firm’s sprawling facility was built from scratch within six months. By comparison, his own office had taken well over a year to get completed, which prompted him to ask the service provider whether it would consider taking on the job of managing his facility in Illinois. The prospect of such unexpected turns makes a field visit so crucial during the decision-making phase of outsourcing.

“A field trip is akin to a face-to-face interview with a potential candidate when you are hiring somebody,” says Piyush Singh, CIO, Great American Insurance in Cincinnati. “When you make an outsourcing decision without a field visit, it is like hiring a person by looking at his resume.”

After presentations by service providers and a detailed analysis of your organization’s outsourcing needs, it is during a field visit that small details emerge that can tell an awful lot about a service provider and the outlook for your relationship with them. Besides, buyers of services tend to notice very little difference in the sales presentations of service providers.

Inexperienced buyers of globally delivered services may not prepare extensively or go through the same detailed checklist beyond so-called hygiene factors such as location, infrastructure and training facilities. “What we focused on during our site visit was: Do they have a business-continuity plan, what kind of disaster-recovery plan do they have, will they be able to scale up according to our needs?” recalls Soumitra Rathod, VP, Worldwide IT Sourcing, Corporate Information Management, McGraw Hill companies, who has visited multiple providers.

How do you know when you’re ready to pack your bags and go? Going unprepared for a site visit is as bad as skipping a site visit. But the first site visit should ideally be made before short-listing the candidates, contends UK-based CM Insight, an advisory firm. However, site visits can be a resource-intensive process, and therefore, most companies make a field visit after doing the initial screening.

The most important thing to do before embarking on the journey is to study the culture of the target country. Getting a grip on the country’s current events and political environment is important. Imagine, there is an election in the country – or a holiday – and you are not even aware of it.

Next up: Understand the geography of the country and know in which state the provider’s facilities are located. Tax rules, prevailing wages and labor laws may differ in various regions. Reading up or asking a colleague from that country about the socio-cultural fabric of the country would be helpful in placing the service provider within a context.

For instance, if a buyer of services is visiting India, it would be of interest to know that the Northern part of the country is culturally quite different from the Southern region, which impacts the way English is spoken among other things. Most contact centers in India are situated in the National Capital Region while Bangalore and Hyderabad are positioned as the destinations for technology outsourcing. Chennai, a city in the Southern-most tip of the country, offers abundant opportunities for claims processing while Pondicherry, a small town in the Eastern coast specializes in offering BPO services for the publishing industry. While some of these clusters have a historic legacy, others are the result of the socio-cultural fabric of the region.

For customers who are looking to offshore for the first time, it’s a good idea to get a crash course in understanding cultural differences before embarking on the journey. For instance, while speaking to service providers in India, it’s important to put your organization’s requirement in a business context so that they have the big picture about the company’s history, its roadmap and where the new initiative fits in.

Talking to a cultural or change management specialist can also help. “We advise our clients to remember three things while conducting business in India,” explains Dr. Karine Schomer of Change Management and Training. “First, remember to place the business conversation in context. Second, build a relationship; find out more about partners in a relaxed environment before getting down to business. Third, be flexible. Be prepared for an unexpected opportunity or an unscheduled meeting. Sometimes the most important part of your business conversation will emerge toward the end of the visit when you are about to leave the premises.”

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