Consulting without borders
By Rosa Brigman
From the moment I stepped on the streets in Mexico, I could not believe how magical it felt. Even though I am from Peru, I felt a similar energy and excitement, and it made me feel like I was back home. There were people on the streets selling food, the signs were all in Spanish, and even the horrible traffic (well, they also have that in Atlanta, too).
When my client told me “You are going with us to Mexico,” I couldn’t have been more excited. For a second, I forgot my real purpose for traveling to Mexico. After three months of working remotely via Skype with the client’s team in Mexico, I would finally get to meet this team in person. Together we would continue to launch the pilot project we had begun at the Atlanta headquarters.
When it landed in Mexico City, it was a 45-minute ride to the industrial area of Guadalajara. My challenge had officially started, and I had three days to accomplish my goal: to help the client improve revenue and customer service. However, my trip to Guadalajara was more important to me than this objective alone. I wanted to prove to myself what kind of consultant I am. Some people think that speaking two languages and having the privilege to understand both sides of a conversation is easy. In fact, straddling two languages and cultures requires a great deal of thought and care, particularly in business settings.
To this point, as I reflected on my brief trip, I divided my experiences into four categories, with each of them as enriching and challenging as the last.
1. The Company Culture
As a visitor to a company, you must adapt yourself to any rule that the company has. For me, the challenging part was to see the signs on every other wall saying: “It is mandatory to speak in English” and “Only English after this door, please.” At the Atlanta Headquarters, I had been responsible for auditing Mexico’s team performance to help with more inputs and solve day-to-day customer service problems. I had weekly Skype meetings with the Mexico team before I met them, and many of them had the expectation that we would speak in Spanish when we were in person. It was disappointing for both of us that I had to say, “Sorry, tell me that in English please.” My strategy was to take advantage of my ethnicity to empathize with these employees, but because I couldn’t use my Spanish, I had to find a new strategy to build a close relationship with them for the coming days. As a consultant, you need to look for different solutions immediately.
So while I couldn’t use my language as a point of connection, I noticed during the initial training sessions that my young audience was 18- to 25-years old. This cued me to include some icebreakers and games to engage and connect with them. As a result, people felt more comfortable to speak with me about their experiences in the call center and how to improve customer service.
2. New friends
This company that I was visiting in Mexico is the third-party partner of my client. My client uses this particular vendor for customer service. It was my first time visiting them, and it was also the first time for me to be inside of a call center. Two words to describe it: huge and loud. It occurred to me I never really visualized a call center. There were at least ten islands with approximately 25 cubicles per island, each with a supervisor table verifying that everything was working correctly. Every island corresponded to a different client. What grabbed my attention more than anything else was the central station, which concentrates all the information from the entire call center. IT representatives could monitor how customer service representatives handled time, escalations, and system problems. IT and managers could get any information from any computer in the entire room.
This center stage records video and audio. It also captures immediate data about representatives and customers, including the purpose of the call. It was fascinating to see how the whole place worked, and at such as fast pace. And despite the breakneck speed, they were always ready to solve any emergencies.
One skill that consultants never stop learning and working on is networking. During my trip, I had the opportunity to participate in many external conversations with executives from the customer service company and my clients. In these conversations, I was able to learn about other project concerns, which I could then prepare to solve the next day. It is a fun way to collect thoughts, know more about your colleagues, and at the same time have an excellent time sharing some drinks and delicious food. I was even able to help translate orders for our waitress, who didn’t speak English. It was fun, and I was glad I could help!
If you are a consultant or want to be one, having these conversations is an essential part of your career. I have received some of best career insights so far from conversations like these.
4. The food
My favorite food is Asian, and I am not the biggest fan of Mexican food. However, my personal preferences don’t limit my admiration of Mexican cuisine. Mexico is so proud of its food that, in Guadalajara, 90% of restaurants are Mexican and there are very few options for other cuisines. I was amazed by the way Mexicans want you to embrace their love for their food. They generously offered me to try their dishes.
One dish that I tried is called “Chiles en Nogada.” It is essentially meat stuffed poblano chiles bathed in a walnut cream sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds and parsley. After Agustin de Iturbide signed Mexico’s independence and the treaty of Cordoba, this plate was created in his honor and is thus an extraordinary symbol of Mexican cuisine, It can only be made in August and September because of the unique ingredients it requires. It looked beautiful, but it was one of the most unusual things I have ever tasted in my life!
To sum up, traveling with clients can be challenging, but it is also rewarding. At Golden Source Consultants, I am asked to be a L.I.O.N. (Leader, Innovative, Open to sharing, and Nice) ready to jump to any situation and start problem solving immediately. It was my job to live up to that and represent us well. I believe I was successful in that mission, and I was rewarded with new experiences, new learnings, and new friends.