October 24, 2005

Nihonshiki Offshoring

Japanese executives have long been jealous of U.S. and European counterparts who can outsource customer service and other admin activities to countries such as India with relative ease. While Japan has been a pioneer in offshoring manufacturing activities, up until now most companies have shied away from setting up overseas call centers, citing concerns that the intricacies of the Japanese language are too subtle for foreigners to truly master. These execs worry that an inadvertent linguistic blunder by a Japanese-speaking foreigner could be disastrous. A casual "domo!" or "okini!" in place of the customary "domo arigatou gozaimasu, itsumo osewa sama de gozaimasu, shitsurei itashimasu," could wreak havoc on their business by alienating prissy Japanese consumers.
But as the Japan Times
reported today, a few companies are forging ahead. In May 2004, Livedoor Communications--a Japanese internet services provider owned by corporate rebel Takafumi Horie--set up a call center in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian to handle calls from Japanese customers.
So how did he overcome the language and cultural barriers? Easy. The company imports Japanese workers to man the phones but pays them Chinese wages. Company sources say that this Japanese-style outsourcing has reduced costs by 60%. We can see the recruiting posters now: Move far away from home to work for little money in a third world country! Hmmm, maybe this new outsourcing "trend" doesn't have much further to run.


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