Beware men in gray suits: Clients want more senior women, more real client stories and less automation hype

August 27, 2016 | Phil Fersht

We set out a few weeks' ago, with support from NASSCOM, to test the views of service buyers, advisors and providers on what the BPO industry needs to do to make the leap from delivering mere efficiency to one that can provide genuine strategic value to clients (if this is indeed possible).  

As we filter through the first results, what immediately leaped out at me was the following:


Clients want more women leaders and real case studies... more than anything else

"Why are these providers and advisors dominated by boring men in gray suits?"  bemoaned several clients at one of our HfS Summits recently (where more than half the buyers executives present were actually female).  This is a serious issue, folks. Our industry has - somehow - become dominated by too many dinosaur service provider executives with their lavish air-miles accounts and two iPhones* (why do some people insist on having more than one iPhone?  Are they really that popular?), who have, at the same time, somehow lost all records of actual client success stories that justify their new vernacular around "digital transformation" and "automation".

In fact, during one service provider briefing last week (which will remain nameless), we asked an executive to explain how he defined "Digital Transformation" (after many utterances of said phrase) and the poor chap was positively floored that he was asked to define what he was talking about. These people seem to be obsessed with recanting the vogue buzz phrases, without the need anymore to know what they really are. Can we just call it "technology" again and go back to sharing real examples of how technology can enable and transform client performance? Can we just explain what all this hype is surrounding automation and emphasize that most of today's RPA technology has actually been around for more than a decade in many shapes and forms?

Here, it's abundantly clear that we need to see more women - and, dare I say it, more youthful executives, who can simply connect better with the clients.  Everything has become so dominated by the men in gray suits, who talk in increasingly more impressive riddles that are becoming increasingly distant from reality.  Moreover, we need to dispel much of the hype surrounding automation and jobs impact:  Gartner's unsubstantiated claim that "more than three million workers globally will be supervised by robobosses in just 18 months' time", is simply irresponsible and unprofessional. It's time to make it real and drop the hype and scaremongering...

The Bottom Line: It's time for progressive change from within to break ourselves out of this legacy holding pattern 

The industry has spoken, and it's not pretty - clients are fed up with the same old selling, the same old unsubstantiated hype and the same old cronies dishing it out. Change only comes when we look at progressive change, not successive change. This means we must stop making the same old mistakes by replacing jaded middle managers with more faceless middle managers with a hype-upgrade; this means we must stop plastering out turgid marketing that was really a rip-off of the other ten competitors, with a different logo slapped on it.

We need real people selling and delivering our solutions, who can listen to what clients need and can really empathize with them, who are diverse across the genders, the age groups and the ethic backgrounds. We need to start talking real English again, and less of the manifested garbage we can't resist spewing out to mask our insecurities. As our whole 2017 research theme at HfS is centered on... it's simply time to start making everything real again and redefine our industry as something that is geared up for our clients' real needs, not needs we are trying to convince them they have! 

*In full disclosure, the author of this article has been seen once sporting a gray suit and did possess two iPhones for a brief period of time.  He has since changed his ways...

Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)HfS Surveys: All our Survey Homepage

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  1. Allison Sagraves
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 08:59 AM | Permalink Reply

    I cannot believe this is still an issue. I joined this industry in 2005 and have been saying this since then - both the diversity piece and the need for real stories. And you mentioned a critical word - listen. You can't help someone when you don't take time to understand their problems and instead just talk at them. Great opportunity for women and others to take on leadership roles in these firms and help drive culture change. Collaboration is the new innovation and there are some of us who already know how to do it.

  2. Joe Bragman
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 04:02 AM | Permalink Reply


    A very appropriate piece here - the industry is clearly stuck in the mud and still left dealing with these age old issues of poor diversity and a lack of realism,


  3. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 11:13 AM | Permalink Reply

    @Allison - am definitely seeing more appetite for promoting women om the client side; the bigger issue seems to be with advisors and providers, who still favor the gray haired dudes or the former cheesy ERP salesmen... but yes, I agree, we have to have more listening and collaborating all aruond, or we may as well shut up shop and focus on doing something else with our lives ;)


  4. Gina Fratarcangeli
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 07:07 PM | Permalink Reply

    Really interesting and thanks for sharing. I still think far too many executive leadership teams just don't yet see the importance of diversity(or choose to ignore it) at the executive levels.

  5. Christine Smith
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 09:13 PM | Permalink Reply


    Thanks so much for sharing this - it's great to see such a strong desire from the client side to have more women in the power seats!


  6. Ramesh
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 09:56 PM | Permalink Reply


    The refusal of many leading providers to promote women into leadership roles is an increasingly issue with clients, and this data is no surprise. Hopefully this is a wake up call!


  7. Paul Smith
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 09:59 PM | Permalink Reply


    I can picture you with 2 iphones, but a grey suit? Never -:)


  8. Kristin Johnson
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 10:36 PM | Permalink Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. The BPO industry has become so fake - and I concur with Allison that we were talking about many of these issues years ago.

    The gravy train is over and these service providers and advisors need to address how they operate if they don't want to see this industry get left behind. This is a serious issue that needs addressing urgently.

  9. Naomi Bloom
    Posted Aug 28, 2016 11:25 PM | Permalink Reply

    This is great news, and a big thank you for sharing your research findings here, Phil. As know and I both, wanting isn't getting, and organizations of all kinds will have to work hard to improve gender diversity in their senior executive ranks. I'll add my two cents worth to this discussion from my own experience:


  10. Jyoti Singh
    Posted Sep 04, 2016 07:55 PM | Permalink Reply

    Couldn't agree more with the findings. Pithy, unvarnished & real commentary on "real issues". Good read Phil.

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