Quality Versus Cost

I have been engaged, over the last few days, in a discussion with someone who runs a business in the United States. He finds work there and then hires Israeli and Indian employees to deliver the product. He charges more for the work that comes out of Israel; less for what he outsources to India.

The interesting part here is that he is now encouraging Israelis to charge less, warning us that we have to compete with Indian prices. In his sometimes less than polite posting, he suggests that perhaps I “don’t understand our business model (or, indeed, much about the economics of outsourcing).”

That’s kind of funny, since I have been dealing with such economics for almost 20 years. I think the problem is not in my lack of understanding. Quite the opposite. I understand very well. As I explained to him – there are three sides of the triangle that is his business. There is this man’s business, there is his end-client, and there is the writer he hires.

Two sides of that triangle benefit when he manages to push the Israeli writer to lower his rates. His client gets exceptional quality for below standard rates and he gets the credit for delivering quality. The loser, in this scenario, is the Israeli writer who he pays below the rate of a cleaning woman.

By far, the most “telling” of his comments comes later in his email. He explains, “I prefer sending work to Israel – not just for ideological reasons but because mother-tongue English speakers with US (or equivalent) educations typically do a better job than their Indian counterparts.” His words, not mine.

And, another of his comments – again, his comment, not mine:  “most clients acknowledge that what they get from India is inferior to what they get from Israel but they can’t pay the premium for Israel and opt for the India work.” My take on this was, perhaps, surprising to many.

I am not afraid of work that is outsourced to other places. I welcome the competition and the challenge. Yes, it hurts financially when a company chooses to work with someone other than WritePoint, or even my Israeli colleagues. And, yes, it bothers me when companies settle for documentation that isn’t of the highest quality. But it also makes us strive to be better, rather than cheaper.

My first job as a technical writer involved the documentation manager handing me a manual on how to use an application (Guide 3, if that helps). I’m pretty sure the product no longer exists, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor quality of the documentation lent a hand in its demise. I was given a task to do. It was in the early days of hypertext and my job was to “fold” text into an online manual that consisted of a series of books and pages and text that was used by a technician.

I followed the directions in the Guide 3 User Manual. The information didn’t “fold.” I did it again and again. I highlighted. I selected what they told me to select. I clicked what they told me to click. Nothing.

My first task and I was already failing. I read the instructions again. I held the book on my lap and step by step, I followed exactly what the manual explained was required. It did not work.

I went to the documentation manager. I was embarrassed; I was intimidated; and I was upset with myself and the manual. I explained the problem. She made a comment about it being very easy and came to show me. What she did was different than the manual. Luckily, she was an excellent manager and had the patience to review the manual with me and realize that the flaw was truly in the document and not in the new person she had hired.

Quality versus cost.

Let the documentation projects go where they will. Let companies hire cheap. In the end, those same companies eventually realize that cheap often costs a lot more than that slightly higher rate someone else with more experience might be asking.

Another example here in Israel. I once went to a large company for an outsourcing project. In the end, they hired a cheaper writer. A few months later, I met the documentation manager and she apologized. “You don’t have to apologize,” I told her. “It happens. It’s fine.”

“No,” she answered, “you don’t understand. I’m really sorry. I hired him. Paid him less for a lot more hours than it would have taken you, and then I had to redo it myself anyway.” Her company paid more than double my asking price. Quality versus cost.

I won’t get into the India versus Israel debate. I think there are amazing writers in many places. What I will say is that my grandmother was right when she taught my mother, “you get what you pay for.”

No, we won’t lower our rates below standard to compete with international communities that live under different socio-economic conditions and can afford to work for so little. But we will deliver better. 

We will deliver faster. We will save you hours of technical support. We will not frustrate your end-users with incorrect documentation that doesn’t properly explain how to use your application.

Quality versus cost. In the end, what you’ll find, is that quality is often cheaper.