The secret weapon of the Chinese BPO industry
Mr. Yang raised several reasons why China might beat India on the BPO arena. Some of these reasons I had heard before: lower employee churn rates, lower effective salary, and better infrastructure. While China may have these advantages today, either India will be able to address them over time (as in the case of better infrastructure) or China will face the same problems as its own BPO industry develops further (as in the case of employee churn).
Some of the competitive factors Mr. Yang raised (such as an ability to provide end-to-end services or more sophisticated operational procedures) are quite possibly valid for his specific company but I can’t imagine that they are true for all Chinese BPOs. Moreover, I can imagine conversations with CEOs of Indian BPOs who would raise the exact same factors as competitive advantages that the Indians enjoy. An analysis of who is right is beyond the scope of this blog. Most probably, only time will tell who is right on this issue.
One point that Mr. Yang highlighted however may turn out to be the secret weapon of the Chinese BPO industry. Contrary to popular perception, the Chinese BPO industry has existed for many years and quite possibly is as old as the Indian BPO industry. The reason that the Chinese have stayed under the radar is that they primarily serve the Chinese market. As Mr. Yang pointed out, because their customers are also Chinese they could never count on labor cost differentials as a critical factor in their business. Thus, out of necessity, they have had to be incredibly cost conscious. He believes that because the Indians have enjoyed a large labor cost differential relative to their customers, they have been much less labor efficient than the Chinese BPOs.
I must admit that many Indian BPOs often have an attitude that labor is cheap so we can always throw a lot of bodies at any problem. This has in many cases led to inefficient use of labor. If Chinese BPOs have truly figured out a way to be profitable in the absence of a labor cost advantage and are now shifting their attention to the US market then Indian BPOs may have cause for concern. An industry that is used to running lean and mean in their own country would have a huge advantage once they gain the additional advantage of the labor cost differential between China and the US. Look out India!
In reality, if the Chinese BPOs can truly bring labor-efficient solutions to the market, that would only spur Indian vendors to respond similarly. Due to the high employee churn rates and salary increases, Indian BPOs have already started to become more labor efficient. The entry of labor-efficient competitors from China would only accelerate the trend. I would expect to see even faster efficiency and accuracy improvements primarily via the adoption of new technologies and consistent processes across customers. This competition from China may just help spur the Indian vendors to the next stage in their evolution.