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This study examines the nature, manifestations and causes of communication problems in international outsourcing engagements. Specifically, it explores a case of business process outsourcing (BPO), which is the transfer of a number of business processes, such as payroll, supply chain management, and customer relations to an external supplier. In this case, a company based in the US outsourced its business processes to a company in India. (1) If widespread proficiency in English is the reason for India's predominant position in outsourcing, then why do we hear about communication problems? (2) What are the causes of such problems? (3) In what forms and situations do they manifest? (4) How could technical communication offer solutions to ameliorate or minimize some of these communication problems? Similar cases studied include previous studies of call centers in the Philippines and outsourcing relationships in software companies have identified challenges in those relationships to problems of intercultural communications, such as language use and differences in culture. Three areas of inquiry informed this study. Intercultural communication theories provide frameworks and touch points for assessing the role of culture in communication. Previous studies of outsourcing and offshoring provided definitions of the broad range of arrangements that comprise outsourcing. Although these studies all concluded that communication is a crucial factor in the success of outsourced projects, they offered few details of communication problems, their causes, manifestations, and possible solutions. Accounts of India represent India as a rapidly-growing, dynamic economy with certain typical communication problems. The study was designed as a mixed-methods, single-case study with a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative data were gathered through surveys that helped develop a picture of patterns in areas such as communication problems, preferred methods of communicati- n, and patterns of escalation while qualitative data from 45 personal interviews and one group interview provided insights into the nature and resolution of communication dissonances. The case studied ABC Corporation, a captive Indian company that performed BPO for a major American corporation. Communication problems that arise in the outsourcing relationship include differences in corporate culture and differences in linguistic and rhetorical choices. Issues causing these problems include differences in education and training. Ongoing training in cross-cultural communication is needed at all stages of the outsourcing cycle, with an emphasis on communication skills in the early stages of the process, especially the hiring stage. Technical communication can offer solutions to these problems because our field can help structure suitable training applying theories such as Cross' Theory of centripetal and centrifugal forces, which provide frameworks for assessing and addressing communication problems.
Date of Publication: Sept. 2012