Mark Shapiro is a former New York lawyer who came to the Philippines and co-founded Executive Boutique Call Center. Started in 2008, EB Call Center now boasts of over 700 employees in Cebu City. Derek recently interviewed Mark in episode 239 of the Outsource Accelerator podcast where they discussed Mark’s journey into the call center world and his growing appreciation with the role of outsourcing in both the Philippine and American economies.
About Mark Shapiro from EB Call Center
Mark started his professional career as a commercial real estate attorney in a large New York law firm. He became a partner after 10 years working at the firm and decided to switch careers at the age of 45. He came to the Philippines originally in 2007 alongside his business partner who had been sourcing furniture from the Philippines since the early 2000s and had watched the BPO industry grow during that time period. They quickly realized the potential of outsourcing for themselves when they hired their first virtual assistant.
Mark then went back to school in 2008, first enrolling in the Sandler sales training program, which focused on B2B telemarketing and then took up an online call center management training program at the Call Center School.
Business Process Outsourcing versus Knowledge Process Outsourcing
EB Call Center’s main service offering is business process outsourcing. While they do provide virtual assistants to select clients, they encourage businesses to start outsourcing to teams, and not with individuals. As Mark says, “When somebody finds a person, and they train them, and they work with them…if that person gets sick, or a family member gets sick, you essentially lose 100% of your staff and you’re really starting at zero again.” “It literally takes as much time and energy to train one person as it does to train 10 people…And so that’s why we only do it in conjunction with bigger clients that have some other function in our office.”
Ideally, clients have a backroom function that does not require physical face to face contact with customers. Customer support, sales support, outbound calls for lead generation, appointment setting, surveys, or data verification, these are all great entry-level functions that can be outsourced. Lately, however, he’s seen an increase in demand for more skilled functions like bookkeeping, accountants, financial analysts, and SAP ERP software users. In other words, Mark has seen a gradual shift from business process outsourcing to knowledge process outsourcing.
For business owners starting out, outsourcing entry-level functions alone can bring huge cost savings. The minimum wage in New York was just recently raised to $15 per hour, whereas outsourcing services can represent up to 50%-70% percent savings. “Quite often, for the type of work that we do, you’re getting a better caliber of person. Everyone who’s worked with us are all college-educated Filipinos who quite often have worked at another outsourcing company or industry for 1 to 5 years.”
Very commonly, people don’t want to outsource because they assume a drop in terms of quality. However, consider the difference in culture. “You and I aren’t going to send our kid to college in hopes that one day they’re going to go work in a call center. But in the Philippines, these are some of the best jobs. These are some of the brightest people. And while they’re certainly making less…the cost of living is lesser. So you’re getting, in all likelihood, a more intelligent person, a more hardworking person, a person who really wants their job and looks at it as a career and not as a stepping stone to some other job that they’re going to get in the future.”
Mark then added: “My operations manager started as an agent and now he’s essentially running the company, so these are really hardworking, intelligent people.”
As Derek pointed out, every professionalized role, so long as it can be done in front of a computer, is now being outsourced, which gives the industry more credibility for prospective employees in the Philippines. Graduates from the best universities go into the outsourcing industry because it’s a conduit between Philippine employment and Western businesses.
To take another example, EB Call Center is recruiting people for Enterprise Resource Planning for a big steel manufacturer that uses SAP, NetSuite, and some other services. They’re looking for people that have those skill sets which they teach in the Philippines. It’s not just call center work now, it’s everything.
How to get started with outsourcing?
Most clients start with outsourcing with entry-level functions. Mark works with an insurance company, and they started with handling tasks such as outbound lead generation and inbound calls. Soon, the contract grew to handle all their data entry work and follow up calls for doctor’s appointments. The insurance company realized early on that there was so much more that EB Call Center could do for them.
The key to making all this work, according to Mark, is training. A lot of the frustration people might feel is typically traced back to training. If you’re not prepared and have really thought through the training that you need to put people through to make them successful, that’s a big point of failure.
The other key is constant communication between the client and the managers. If there are any issues that need to be brought up, it’s best to bring them up as soon as possible and not before it becomes a bigger issue.
Trajectory of the American economy
The policy right now in the US is to bring back jobs, but for Mark, that’s unlikely to happen. According to another podcast that Mark listened to, there are about 7 million vacant jobs in the US. These are not low-level jobs and there are only 5 million people looking for jobs. So even if they were able to fill all those vacancies, there’d still be 2 million left over. The only company that he knows of that was successful in bringing jobs back to the US was Verizon. They closed a call center in Cebu City filled with thousands of employees.
Apprehensions about outsourcing
One of the biggest apprehension people have is the accent, especially if it’s for telemarketing work. Some clients are fine with people knowing that their employees are in the Philippines and others would like to avoid that conversation as much as possible. For those that are looking for experienced agents, EB Call Center recruits Filipinos who can literally pass off as Americans over the phone.
Security is also a huge concern. EB Call Center is one of the few call centers that have gone through a third-party PCI compliance audit by a US auditor. They have all of the data security policies in place and can provide information on firewalls and password security.
From a physical security standpoint, the standard for office buildings and office workspaces is much tighter in the Philippines than in the typical New York office. They have guards at the building entrance and you need to present an ID just to get in, they’ve got biometric scanners on the doors, and some companies issue locker areas where employees are required to drop off their mobile phones and other electronic gadgets for data security and privacy.
Click here to listen to the full podcast of the conversation between Derek Gallimore and Mark Shapiro.