Q&A: HGS on Maintaining Client Support Consistency Across Multiple Geographies

Sitting down with Nearshore Americas at Sourcing Decisions 2017, Chris Lord revealed HGS's strategies for balancing cultural alignment and technology.

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Automation technologies for contact centers, such as voice to text, voice recognition, or natural language processing, bring clear benefits, but ensuring this tech upholds an established company culture across multiple brands brings it’s own set of difficulties.

Chris Lord is the Senior Vice President of Global Growth Strategy and Marketing at Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS). With over 25 years of experience in IT and BPO services, Chris is currently leading global growth functions for the firm, including strategy, marketing, capabilities, analyst and adviser relationships, and sales operations.

Sitting down with Nearshore Americas at Sourcing Decisions 2017 last week, Lord revealed the company’s strategies and challenges surrounding cultural alignment and technology, and how his firm achieves a balance of the two.

Nearshore Americas: Cultural affinity is a hugely important aspect of the nearshore industry, so, as a global corporation, what are the biggest challenges of instilling a global company culture in the different locales you operate out of?

Chris Lord: With our 44,000 people scattered around the world, we have to balance what we need in terms of a global operating model, procedures, and day-to-day activities, standardizing things like payroll, accounting, finance, and revenue recognition, for example. The flip-side of that is recognizing that are in a local market so must maintain, create, and foster a culture that’s localized.

We might be operating in the same building and same facility for two very different brand strategies, differing wildly in the hiring profile, culture, and agents engage with customers. This might be much more aligned to digital products, digital services, digital capabilities, and the people. For example, the gaming industry hiring profile for support would be radically different to financial services.

As much as our employees work for HGS, it’s more important that they work for the brand and live that brand experience. Our ability to create a brand environment in the room they operate in is a really great secret to success, and a big part of managing that culture in a diverse organization.

Nearshore Americas: I imagine that same brand culture filters back into HGS’s overall culture, resulting in some unexpected changes to the company’s global rule book. 

Chris Lord: Yeah, very much. There is a lot of talk in the industry about “global-local”, which is a motto that a lot of companies try to live by. These organizations lead more of that global view, forcing the global look and feel, the global brand. We’ve been very fortunate to make sure that local leaders from that local market are leading the day-to-day business. Hiring roles like site managers and shift managers from that market is tremendously important to inspire the hard work that individuals do on the front line.

Our model is not to fly in a bunch of people from another part of the world and tell them how to do something, but more inspiring and helping them work towards our vision for them, then helping them to be successful.

Our most diverse single client — a healthcare insurance company — operates in five geographies around the world: onshore in the United States, Colombia, Jamaica, India, and the Philippines. In that model, we have five different operating environments, five different cultures in terms of day-to-day delivery, all living the one brand experience for that corporation. We have to live a global brand culture in which we handle the calls or answer the chats in the spirit of that brand from all places.

If you only try to implement a standard hiring profile, standard recruiting procedures, or standard tests, that can fail pretty quickly. For the healthcare customer, the type of employee profile can be radically different in different parts of the world. Reporting can be the same, as well as the maintenance of quality and service levels, but the look and feel of the operating room is very consistent.

Nearshore Americas: One of the big themes here at Sourcing Decisions today is automation, robotics, AI, and similar emerging technologies. What automation initiatives is HGS looking at to keep it’s cultural approach consistent around the world?

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Chris Lord: We believe we are doing things a little differently, in that part of our strategy is to lead with self-service. That self-service strategy could be on a mobile device or on the web, so we strive to make that moment of truth as simple as possible for the customer to get the answer to their questions. To do this, we are working with natural language processing (NLP) tools and engaging through bot technology to serve up the most likely answers using AI and analytics.

We want to use automation capabilities to seamlessly pivot through to human. This seamless integration means that the customer shouldn’t know the difference between the bot and the human. If you can do that, that’s a great recipe for success, because you get the lever of cost, speed, and directing the conversation to the right person, before continuing that discussion in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s a new person. This is one of the big ways we are looking at it.

Nearshore Americas: What are your strategies for rolling this out globally?

Chris Lord: A lot of the brands and customers we deal with are global or multinational, depending on where they may be. Language plays a large part in this, so as you move further through digital you can interpret the language better and provide the right answers. We’re doing some creative work with multiple organizations that operate around the world, and it’s about incubating and trying it out. We wouldn’t roll something out worldwide all at once, but try some countries, products and services, and then expand based on the success of those pilots.

Try automation, incubate, don’t be afraid of some failures; the fast failure concept isn’t really a failure at all, it’s a learning process that allows you to make it better. With NLP, the more you use it, the better the outputs become and the better the intelligence behind it becomes as well.

Nearshore Americas: What has been the impact of automation for the company so far? What are the higher-value roles are emerging at HGS as this technology becomes more widespread?

Chris Lord: In terms of traditional voice calls, we’re seeing a significant reduction in volume, because those easier questions are pushed out to self-service and digital channels. The direction of those conversations are now becoming much more complex, because you’ve simplified and automated the easier ones, which means the average call duration actually goes up. The skill sets then become more important to really interpret, analyze, and engage, versus just reading from a script and process. The skill set actually goes up, their technical skills become equally higher, because they have to enter data to provide information, or perform research to find the answers.

More importantly, all the IT and analytical skills become even more valuable, which are generally new jobs, new services, higher-end, higher paying, and more impactful jobs, so then you start to run speech analytics and text analytics across a digital conversation. Those are all new services, creating even more sustainable value for the employee to create a more valuable career path and higher end jobs.

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