At a software development facility in Bangalore, trainer Saparna Jain is filming a conversation among Indian software engineers that she will play back to them with tips for improvement.
"Indians often do not look others in the eye, and that is often misunderstood by their customers or colleagues abroad as a lack of interest in the conversation," said Jain, who runs TrainCraft, which trains software staff on "soft skills," such as communicating effectively with colleagues and customers in the U.S., the U.K., and other countries.
Although these software professionals have been educated in English, their native tongue still has a strong influence on the way they write and speak English, according to Balakrishna Jayasimha, behavioral consultant and founder of Wynnwood Consultants in Bangalore. "They are usually translating from the mother tongue into English, when they speak or write," he said.
Wynnwood and TrainCraft are two of a growing number of such training outfits in Bangalore. Their key clients are software development and business process outsourcing (BPO) subsidiaries of multinational companies, as well as Indian outsourcing companies whose business comes primarily from the U.S. and Europe.
The training often does not stop at improving communications skills and "neutralizing" Indian accents, but also includes coaching in Western culture and etiquette, which in training industry jargon is called "cross-culture sensitivity."
Indians have very elaborate etiquette codes. But Western etiquette is a mystery to many of Bangalore's workers, who have traditionally preferred to eat with their hands, have avoided formal Western suits as unsuitable for the city's climate and shunned toilet paper as less hygienic than plain water.
The new business in training staff in Western communications skills and etiquette has attracted a number of entrepreneurs, many of them former employees in the hospitality industry.
"Our training includes practical dining sessions to train the staff on how they should eat with a knife and fork, choose the right wine and so on," said Jayasimha, who learned Western dining etiquette during a hotel management course and while working at an Indian hotel chain.
The money in this training business is good by Indian standards -- the rate per day for a workshop with about 20 trainees ranges from between $200 to $600, depending on the scope of the training. The investment required to get into the business is low, according to Jayasimha, who like most other trainers operates from his home and conducts the training at the client's facility.
The demand for training in the skills of a foreign culture is particularly high from call centers and companies that handle back-office processes. "The art is to ensure that the customer [in the U.K.] does not distinguish between a call that was taken in the U.K. and one that was taken in India," said Sudheesh Venkatesh, head of human resources at the IT and business support services subsidiary in Bangalore of Tesco, a U.K.-based retailer.
For example, employees at Tesco are advised to be current on political developments and favorite U.K. sports, so that they can talk about those topics with customers, Venkatesh said.