Despite the distance, the Nearshore has – or had, depending on how Covid-19 progresses – relied on vendor and client representatives meeting in person before working together.
The logic was clear: if a company is about to open a multi-million dollar contract then those spearheading the deal wanted to know well the team that it would be working with. From tech to contact center, meeting face-to-face was an unquestioned keystone in bridge building.
But the pandemic, as with everything else, has made meeting in person more complicated.
While regional connectivity has increased in comparison to last year when flights were grounded as borders closed, uncertainty still lingers. Central government decisions on international travel remain open to quick change and individuals themselves remain opposed to returning to a pre-pandemic normality just yet.
With Microsoft having recently said it can provide no definitive return-to-office date owing to the unpredictability of the pandemic, face-to-face meetings look set to be few and far between in the near future.
So, will the in-person meeting remain the king maker in the post-pandemic world?
“The major differentiator in a relationship between client and vendor is client engagement; how deeply, how fluidly, how interconnected the client and vendor teams become,” Mario Merino, former vice president of delivery at software consultancy company Gorilla Logic, told Nearshore Americas recently.
“The development of social dynamics between the parties is the single most important factor that decides whether a Nearshore relationship is a success or a failure,” he added.
As we’ve all experienced over the course of the pandemic, there’s really no way to replace meeting face-to-face. While video conferencing technologies have seen a massive jump in use in the last 18 months, they still fail to provide an entirely adequate human experience, industry leaders say.
A study by body language researcher Albert Mehrabian in the 1950s found that only 7 percent of communication is verbal – done with words – while 38 percent is vocal, including tone and inflection, while nonverbal communication accounts for the other 55 percent. Though the study’s findings have been questioned, the fact that more comprehensive communication takes place face-to-face appears evident to most. And those face-to-face, on-site meetings lead to better results for both parties, says Merino.
“The major differentiator in a relationship between client and vendor is client engagement; how deeply, how fluidly, how interconnected the client and vendor teams become” — Mario Merino
“Communication increases between the parties and vendors can truly understand what the client wants. That doesn’t mean specifications, but the philosophy behind what the client is aiming for. It brings a closeness and helps build a unitary team from the client and vendor,” he said.
Added to this is the informality that takes place on a site visit outside of working hours. “There is explicit information given during meetings but sometimes, not always, real goals and objectives are shared informally in social settings. That layering of information helps the vendor get a complete picture of the client’s intentions,” Merino said.
Padhu Rao Bonsle, regional vice president at software and contact center services company 24/7.ai, believes that its the ability for a client to see a vendor’s services or themselves that makes an on-site visit important.
“With a webcam, vendors can speak to a limited audience and can control what is being seen. When a client is on the ground, they can see and sense everything for themselves, and can see the emotions demonstrated,” said Bonsle.
Over the pandemic, Bonsle has seen a clear trend when pursuing business opportunities for the company.
“We’ve seen a far higher success rate at capturing new clients when those clients have been able to meet us in person,” he explained, citing the ability for clients to speak directly to team members and to observe feedback sessions or team huddles, rather than have to deal with the constant buffer of a country manager or regional manager. Ultimately, clients want to feel a sense of control within the relationship.
“Transparency is truly valuable, and that’s what we give them,” he said.
New Dynamic, New Challenges
Not everyone is quite so sure that the in-person meeting and site visits will remain a fundamental part of the Nearshore process. Steve Taplin, CEO of software development company Sonatafy Technology believes that the pandemic has produced a fundamental shift in how business can be done.
“The opportunity for clients to be on site was seen as more important before the pandemic than it is now. Certainly, expectations have been reset,” he said.
IT, development and contact center services have seen a leap in demand during the past 18 months and this seems likely only to continue as digital transformation efforts increase and chief financial officers look to reduce expenditure by offload services. Sonatafy has itself seen growth during the pandemic’s course.
“I think companies like ours are proving that Nearshore can continue to be successful and attractive without in-person meetings,” said Taplin.
But, as he points out, even if clients want in-person meetings, the development of new variants like Delta, currently sweeping across The Americas and much of the rest of the world, mean uncertainties remain. Sonatafy has told its clients that in-person meetings are off the table for the immediate future.
“At the moment, even with some borders open, it isn’t always easy to see clients. Oftentimes it depends on how border agents feel on that specific day. We’ve explained to clients that for the next six to 12 months meeting in person might be difficult,” he said.
The virtual aspect of the Nearshore relationship has deepened, Merino believes. Many vendors remain working from home and advice for the return to the office varies between jurisdictions, he points out.
“There is the social side, meaning many people don’t feel comfortable going back to the office, and the compliance side, where companies must decide if there is a reasonable expectation of keeping Covid at bay if employees do return,” he said.
Tech to the Rescue?
In the Nearshore’s technology market, programmers build bots that mimic human emotions and improve customer satisfaction at contact centers. The arrival of machine learning and AI has massively sped these efforts. But can technology provide the answer to the seemingly every day in-person chat?
“The in-person meetings will continue to be fundamental after the pandemic passes,” Merino said. “But if they’re not possible for some time, then a close enough proxy must be developed for them.”