A major global insurer employing around 16,000 people and operating in 50 countries in Australia, America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region.
The organisation established a new call centre service hub in the Philippines, outsourcing hundreds of jobs to generate sustainable savings. However, the forecasted savings were jeopardised by underestimating the cultural impact. Filipinos use a ‘high-context’ communication style which tends to be indirect and formal, combining verbal and non-verbal messages to convey meaning. For the Filipinos, maintaining harmony – a Confucian value shared across Asia – is far more important than being openly informative. As an example, remaining silent and not questioning customers’ understanding of the policies would be preferred over checking to confirm comprehension. In contrast, ‘low context’ cultures (such as the USA, Canada, UK and Australia), where most of the insurer’s customers reside, and with whom the Filipinos in the call centre have to deal, use a direct communication style. Not surprisingly, these marked contrasts in communication styles caused havoc. This confusion in customer communication was only part of the story. Internal communications between the call centre in the Philippines and head office were also compromised.
To design and rollout a comprehensive intercultural training program, both for key employees in the head office and the call centre employees in the Philippines.
- Increased mutual understanding and appreciation of cultural differences, and improved communication with customers and between the call centre and head office.
- Positioned culture as a business risk across the organisation.
- Mitigated further risk of globalisation to the organisation due the lack of diversity and cultural awareness.
- Maximised the advantage of cultural intelligence and competence.
- All parties involved learnt the most pervasive dimensions of culture and associated risk in business.