Joeri Timp – Outsourcing success for SMEs
Joeri Timp, Eastvantage co-founder
We are talking to Joeri Timp, one of the co-founders of Eastvantage. It’s an outsourcing supplier here in Manila in the Philippines. Joeri is based now in Belgium. So we get a really good perspective of outsourcing internationally. Joeri has an incredible professional pedigree. He is a lawyer, specializing in HR, and has had a sort of globe-trotting corporate experience.
It’s really good talking to Joeri. I certainly learned a lot and it’s an incredible value that we explore with outsourcing and how that can be applied to people’s businesses. So I enjoyed this and I hope you do too.
Eastvantage business solutions
Eastvantage is a Euro-Filipino outsourcing firm that specializes in the areas of Customer Care, Business Support, and Software Development & Maintenance. Headquartered in Manila, Philippines, they serve multiple clients in Europe, Australia, and North America.
With a decade of operations, they have over 500 happy employees and pride themselves in having crafted a good record in providing a cost-effective, integrated and fully-functional customer relationship management solution, managed by leaders that have a solid understanding of industry best practices.
Derek Gallimore: Hi, and welcome back everybody. Today we are joined by Joeri Timp he is the Chief Zen Officer would you believe of Eastvantage, which is a BPO, outsourcing supplier here based in BGC the new shiny part of Manila. So hi, Joeri, how are you?
Joeri Timp: Hey, good to see you. I’m fine.
Derek Gallimore: And you are, funnily enough in Belgium. And I expected that you were mainly based in Belgium. But you just told me you’ve spent 12 and a half years in Philippines and Asia. So let’s start there. What were you doing in this part of the world?
Joeri Timp: Well, it’s just more of an accident so to speak, I’m a lawyer and labor lawyer by trade originally. And I was doing that I got sucked more into HR management. Eventually, somebody needed somebody to set up a service center in Manila for HR and payroll services to a global organization. And I was crazy enough to take that challenge. And I worked on that for two years until it was up and running into other people. And then I joined Baker Mackenzie in Manila, we have the largest and oldest captive legal service center in the world started more than 20 years ago now.
I managed that as a country manager for five years, grew it from 450 to 650 people. And then at some point, some people came knocking on my door to help them out in outsourcing European companies in my network, also wanted to set up operations and that’s how we came up with the idea for creating Eastvantage. So our first clients came asking for help. The last clients are also still asking for help. And we’ve been doing that now for almost nine years.
Derek Gallimore: Wow. And Eastvantage is about 500 seats as well, you were saying so 500 seems to be your kind of magic number. Yeah.
Joeri Timp: It seems I think I’m going to Yeah, we’re going to break through that ceiling, so to speak. And we’ve always been my target for the last couple of years to overtake the Baker Mckenzie service center, which is still down the street from our office. So it was a healthy competition there.
Derek Gallimore: Right. And Baker Mckenzie, they’ve always been very sort of leading in terms of being a global play, did you learn a lot from their strategy in terms of leveraging the whole kind of global situation?
Joeri Timp: Absolutely. And it’s, they do that very well. They go where their clients are, they are truly a global organization. And they’ve also learned that they need to embrace the local customs and benefits that you can get in any market. So I’ve also completely understood there that even though we were a captive service center, you need to harvest the talents and the skills that are available that are different from what Baker Mckenzie has in the different law firms around the world. So Manila was able to deliver a BPO mindset and a BPO talent pool to Baker Mckenzie that has helped that firm to transform itself as the whole backup back-office organization has transformed. Thanks to the Manila labor market.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, and not wanting to go too deep into that. But Baker Mckenzie, for those who don’t know, it’s sort of a tier-one international law firm. And so they have their back-office resources here in the Philippines, not just servicing the Philippines, but then the entire world network of Baker Mckenzie offices I assume?
Joeri Timp: Yes, that’s correct. 72 locations they service.
Derek Gallimore: And is it many back end administrative? Or are they now moving into the kind of legal research and support?
Joeri Timp: Majority of it is the typical business functions of IT, finance, HR, that’s the meat of it. But they are also, of course, trying to privatize their services, their knowledge across the globe. And even though they never will, they will never bring the legal advisory works to Manila, because they have the best lawyers in their location already. But there’s still a lot of stitching together, that needs to be done for global projects, and they are managing that from Manila.
Derek Gallimore: So then you have taken all of your, very sophisticated corporate knowledge and you’ve brought it into more the SME space, the small and medium-sized enterprise. And Eastvantage obviously, represents that and is doing that at a very professional level. But where do you see the I suppose, the similarities, but also then the differences between how big corporate require resource and staffing and then execute that versus the SMEs and startups.
Joeri Timp: I think the biggest differences, of course, is volume. So large corporates very often require a lot of people at once, or a lot of manpower at once. For fairly well-organized processes. Well SMEs by definition, don’t have the volume. And usually also, by definition, don’t have well-organized processes. So there’s much more work to be done to make outsourcing work for SMEs, than for large corporates, actually, it’s much easier to work with large corporates.
In outsourcing very often, the larger something is, the easier it becomes. For SMEs, we need to work with a lot of individual decision-makers on the client-side, which is, which means that it’s that we put much more focus on the personal relationships between ourselves and our clients and between our staff in the process owners and the workforce on the client-side, those relationships are really crucial, we could have contracts and we can have project plans, but without those personal relationships, it’s never going to fly.
Then because of the lower volume, that means that we have to usually we are involved in many more different smaller processes that require just more documentation and more, more diverse skill set in our teams, and also a certain willingness of our team members to take on new challenges and just to go with the flow and take on the next work that’s coming our way. So we need to be nimble. And we need to respect the business needs of our clients that are changing very fast.
Derek Gallimore: Do you do see that there’s a lot of onboarding, we are an advisory Outsource Accelerator, we help people get into outsourcing and, and hopefully help with the onboarding process. But very commonly, I think it’s business owners no matter really how small or big they are, how new to business or sophisticated they are, it takes quite a lot of hand-holding to bring them up to the sophistication needed to be able to successfully outsource because as you say, it takes process mapping it takes transference of knowledge and processes and metrics over to another center, do you find that there’s a lot of onboarding and hand-holding and, and just sort of bring up, bring people up to speed with how things are done.
Joeri Timp: Interestingly, you mentioned it, and it’s good to see that you mentioned that you help people to move into outsourcing, our quote is that ‘we make outsourcing work’. So once people have made that decision, we’re going to make sure it works. And with those business owners and process owners, sometimes they’re not sophisticated enough, but sometimes they also overcomplicate things. And we have to find that balance and identify where our clients are.
Sometimes people think that outsourcing is a very complicated thing. And of course, when we start throwing words like project plans and onboarding, timelines and stuff like that, then people start to think it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort Well, actually, with our team, we do it every day. And sometimes we forget that other people have never done it before. So we have to strike that balance between running a formal project and having just enough documentation, but not over complicating it and not killing the project by PowerPoint and project plan.
I think most of the hand holding is understanding. What is the mindset of our client? What do they expect? How formal do they want a project to run? Or how an informal because it could also be very informal and very, very hands-on. So we need to strike that balance, and we need to adjust to the culture of our customer organization. And then act accordingly.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. Because you don’t want to sort of force a square peg into a round hole, as my dad always used to say, but it depends on the level that the organization is at, as they enter outsourcing? And also depends on their culture and how they already do their processes. Yeah, so it’s a, it’s a kind of marrying of two separate departments, I suppose,
Joeri Timp: It is exactly and then it’s only after that onboarding is done the in the work is started in earnest, then we can take more of a, say, an approach where Eastvantage or I would rather see the whole of Manila as a BPO center of excellence, can then bring a lot of practices and improvements to the table that the client had never been thinking of, or has never had the time to think about.
We can introduce tools and we can change the way things work to make to drive efficiency to drive down costs or to drive quality and usually both. But we need to not always start with those things on the in the first phase during onboarding because we would be overwhelming the client. So we need to strike that balance. And there’s plenty of time to optimize the operations in the months and years after the onboarding.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, that’s an incredible thing about outsourcing, isn’t it that I think is very commonly understated or underappreciated is that, this is sort of, I suppose, a stigma about outsourcing that. It’s a developing economy, people are sitting in mud huts kind of doing a bit of basic work. But when people come over here, they realize that it’s an incredibly sophisticated industry.
It’s been happening for 25 years and the Philippines is the experts in process management, process refinement, optimizing operations, it really is incredible, isn’t it, and when people use a service like Eastvantage, again, it’s not just getting, people in an emerging economy, it’s getting your mind share, it’s getting your strategy and everything put into that process to optimize people’s businesses.
Joeri Timp: Exactly. And I think in the first phase is very often and specifically with SMEs, business owners and process owners have the impression that they know best how the business needs to be run. And that is true because they know their business like nobody else. But then there’s a lot of things that they cannot put their mind to, and they don’t have the time and the focus like a service center has to optimize the internal processes.
I think we have that balance in Manila in Eastvantage. And we want to put that forward. And we don’t want to make the mistake of know being seen as a body shop with the more people are working there, the better it is for Eastvantage. Instead, we engage with our clients and we promise either verbally or contractually that we will drive up quality or drive down, drive down handling time and improve year on year the operations. And I think it’s a there’s a rule of thumb that even if you don’t do much, efficiencies will increase server 5% a year.
But if you put your heart of it as could be much more. And we, I wouldn’t say we wrestle control away from our customers. But we indeed make a conscious effort to gain the trust of our customers, to allow us to come up with these improvements and changes that will benefit the business of our clients because, at the end of the day, we are an enabler for the business success of our customers. And from that success will also come the success of Eastvantage. It’s not about the number of people or the number of hours that we’re working, the less the better for everyone.
Derek Gallimore: Sure. And how does it work then because Baker Mckenzie is very globalized? Eastvantage is based in Manila or the Philippines, you’re in Belgium. And how do you see the different markets the different client-side experiences and impressions they have of outsourcing, you probably have a lot of firsthand insight into that sitting where you’re sitting now.
Joeri Timp: There are of course some large generalizations that we could make. I mean, the Australians have a different approach than the Americans to outsourcing the Australians aim for the personal, personal touch and are more stuck in a lift and shift type of model. So they bring the process as it is, and they want to keep on managing it from Australia. While Americans have a bit of a different expectation from outsourcing.
They say this is my problem. Take it in, return me the outcomes. And I think that comes from the fact that actually, I don’t know why it is well, probably historically, because outsourcing is there longer. But these are very generic generalizations, and I think most of the time, it depends on the person, the business owner, or the process owner has its drivers as its own needs. And that is what we need to listen to, though I wouldn’t make too many sweeping comments about cultural differences and all that it’s a people business, and it’s a team sport.
Derek Gallimore: Do you see a difference in terms of embracing outsourcing? And do you think as globalization the match, globalization continues that eventually, everyone will outsource? Or do you see different pockets of different activity? Where’s it going in, instead of 10 to 20 years,
Joeri Timp: In 20 years, I may be retired. So that I don’t know. But I think outsourcing will always be there because it is just another way of employing people. So whether you employ somebody at the kitchen table next to you or the other side of the planet, it doesn’t matter anymore these days. And it’s all about, obviously, the costs, let’s be clear about that. But also about the skillset that you can bring together. And then if you need 10 or 50 people doing a similar task, you’re not going to be able to gather them around your kitchen table anymore. And I’m exaggerating with the kitchen table.
But many SMEs are located in locations where either that talent is massively overpriced, like San Francisco, for instance, to go to the extreme or are located in small places in Europe or small cities where the talent just is not there. So you’re going to find the talent wherever you need it. So location is no longer important but when it comes to skill sets, of course, there’s a lot of change all the time on what do people want to outsource? And what type of people do you need to do that, and I think five year period is the same in this industry, a lot of processes have been coming and going.
I mean, call centers for sure voice, the really difficult call center is slowly disappearing, we are not in that category. So we’re not so worried, we do very little voice support, we don’t think it is very desirable, it is something of the dinosaurs and we don’t, we don’t want to be a dinosaur. But still, in any process, there’s a lot of change. I mean, there’s a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and automation. These are somewhat buzzwords, but at the same time, it’s happening all the time, in small ways if you’re using Google Apps there’s a lot of automation going on there and your processes will be running better and smoother because of that.
Any tool, any ticketing tool or any tool that we, any reporting tool that we introduce into the clients processes will fast track the outcomes and therefore are requiring less manual labor and, and there’s a change, that means you move it, you have to move up the value change in the sense that people need higher skill sets, but you need less of them. And it’s a beneficial circle. I mean, eventually, not all businesses are benefiting from that the consumer is benefiting from that.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, I mean, the whole global economy and all of its workforce are going up the value chain. And you see that in the Philippines as well. Yeah, as you mentioned, like voice is now not so bigger part of the pie. And you’ve got more web developers, more analysts more post video production editors and things that are kind of critical. And also as it moves into the SME market, you’re not having 500 people doing the same role. So you need more agility, and flexibility. And it yeah, everything and I think the sort of the workforce that’s left, they need to be very responsive to the environment and working in smaller, more flexible teams, don’t they?
Joeri Timp: Absolutely so that’s why there’s a lot of software development happening also in our, in our company, for businesses who are making either transitioning from an old fashioned way of working into the digital age, or that, of course, smaller organisations that are starting straight, straight into the digital world, eCommerce and the likes, which comes in many, many flavours and many shapes.
But that means a lot of technology is there at the front that needs to be taken care of. But it also means that these businesses can sometimes grow quite fast actually and faster than, then let’s say the core team of the CEO or the CFO and the management team that is it somewhere in the world faster than they can handle and they need to develop their product, they need to develop their platform, or whatever it is that they are bringing to the market. And they need their full attention on that because it’s usually still in design and evolving. even larger organizations realize their products need to evolve quite fast. And they need all their attention on that.
They should not be worried anymore about hiring an additional 10 or 50 or 100 people to run that process, you just should not be worried about it. And you should let professionals handle that. And that’s what we have, we have a team of professionals to do just that. And then feedback the information we get from the process to our customers, so they can then build that into the product design.
Derek Gallimore: And you mentioned some client profiles, they have a problem and they want to outsource it. And where do you see the delineation between you being a sort of bums on seats or a staffing solution provider versus actually taking a business process and either delivering the result or even solving business problems for people? Where is that delineation? And how do you manage that as a service provider?
Joeri Timp: Well, we usually this I mean, these two models, let’s say staff leasing and managed services, as we like to call it. Whatever the client wants, right, we can we can deliver but let’s say, staff, staff extension models are simpler, which is going to hire the right person, train them onboard them, and make sure that they establish a good working relationship and communications with the customer with the customers may keep on having most of the work and the process, which is fine.
But what we consciously do, and without, as I said earlier, without wrestling away control from the customer, we consciously make an effort to get deeper and deeper into the process and come up with ideas and to make we just don’t want all our staff in Manila to be considered as just a dumb workforce whose opinion is never asked or never listened to. So we actively encourage our teams in Manila to, to think through the processes and to come up with improvement ideas that we will then in an orderly way present to the customer for implementation, including the plans on how it will be implemented.
So it doesn’t disrupt anything. And by doing that, we shift from just a staffing solution towards a managed services, business solution provider. Over time, of course, we could also start straight away on that side of the spectrum. But very often there’s an evolution you need to build trust, you need to show what you’re capable of. And eventually, you’re considered a part of the team of the client and you work towards the same goals.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, absolutely. I think every single company out there should outsource, you should at least have a proportion of your staffing within a cheaper cost center. So you can cut costs, but you can also grow, you can look at new products, new markets, and what do you see as some of the stumbling blocks and some of the apprehensions or common things sort of stopping people from outsourcing? Or is it even just awareness, people aren’t generally aware of it.
Joeri Timp: I think that awareness is now no longer a problem. Everybody has heard about it. Most people even though they didn’t know the word, outsourcing, and server, they don’t understand how it what is going on and how it works, which is probably normal if you’ve never seen it in action. And as I said earlier, some people overthink it and think it is rocket science. Well, it’s not it’s people putting their hands and brains together.
I think the awareness of the concept is no longer the problem. But there’s still a lot of roadblocks, of course, and I mean, there’s plenty of articles that can bullet point and for us, like it scares of change, scared of other cultures and other locations. Not having the time not having the top management supports, all these kind of things that we always deal with. I don’t see a lot of evolution there in the sense that these hurdles are still there for people who’ve never outsourced luckily in people do move around in the economy and go from one company that has been working successfully with an offshore team to another company, and then people will bring that idea to the next company. So there’s more and more adoption.
I think for businesses that haven’t outsourced and that are actively refusing to do it, they are making a huge mistake because they are just pricing themselves out of their markets. And even though companies some companies say oh, we can afford it, because our margins are large enough in order these things do not last forever. So you have to think about it, I believe. But yeah, that’s a strategic choice to be made by the C suite of our prospect lines.
Derek Gallimore: Incredible, and where do you see the sweet spot for Eastvantage or the clients you talk to, to have things done? Or where are the sectors or companies that should start tomorrow, hands-down? Where’s the sweet spot to all of this?
Joeri Timp: I think every time and there’s some technology involved a new technology that needs to be developed or rolled out. That requires a new skill set, or that requires people to understand the technology or be able to do some programming bit complicated or simple. Definitely this at that time, it’s very, a very good moment to start thinking about outsourcing because there are talent pools out there that are much better skills for that type of work.
When it comes to some volume when the team sizes start to grow. That’s the time to think about outsourcing. There’s of course also people want to outsource let’s say one or one FTE and it’s not always very useful. The typical thing would be of course the let’s say the secretary, virtual secretary role we don’t do that we are not believers in that, it’s a very ad hoc role that’s very difficult to optimize. You need to be a virtual assistant company doing nothing else. But that’s before you can make that work.
Whenever any process needs some more people involved and that usually happens when businesses are growing. That’s definitely the moment so we really aim at companies that are growing and that have some involvement with technology very often that is then eCommerce and as I said it comes in many shapes and forms it could be to consumers but you can also be eCommerce platforms for B2B products or companies that have been running your operation a brick and mortars forever and that are now building websites or portals to deliver their products just in time to their clients or in logistics companies that are that need a lot of technology to deliver their services and that’s the moment where a lot of talent in Manila can help out
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, I agree with the VA thing the virtual assistant and it frustrates me when there are these lot of people promoting VA’s and building entire organization built off the VA’s and it’s undervaluing the potential here and the opportunities in outsourcing. It’s not just about booking restaurants and kind of making the life of the CEO a little bit easier. There are incredible depth and wealth of talent in outsourcing in the Philippines and Eastvantage and Manila. Yeah. Okay, good. And so if anyone wants to get in touch with you or know more about Eastvantage how, how can they do that?
Joeri Timp: Yeah, of course, you can always shoot me an email at [email protected] or leave a message on our websites. We are monitoring that closely. And of course, we always encourage people to drop by which is not so easy, of course, because in the Philippines, but when you are really serious about selecting a provider, either you’re going to visit that provider before you make a decision, or you’re going to visit them shortly after you start working with them.
Because that is just a best practice. And that just makes a big difference to see people face to face to meet them face to face. So I would encourage anybody who wants to outsource to come and have a look so people can see that. At least Eastvantage is not the dark sweatshop with very nice and very respectable offices with a lot of happy employees.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, it’s incredible. And it’s good you mentioned that you encourage absolutely everyone to come over and see the incredible things that are being done here. I’ve been to Eastvantage offices, they’re incredible offices, within a skyscraper within a sort of shiny, CBD office environment, it’s incredible, isn’t it? And I think people can’t help but be inspired and also get the comfort to take the first step incredible.
Joeri Timp: Yeah, that’s right. And I think for some, it seems like a big step. But then again it’s just an air flight away. Skype call away. And the world is flat now for many years already. And it’s time for everybody to join the bandwaggon.
Derek Gallimore: Absolutely. Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time, and the insight and the years of executive experience that you’ve shared with us, and thanks so much and it’s been a pleasure talking to the Chief Zen Officer of Eastvantage.
Joeri Timp: No problem, Derek, thank you.
Derek Gallimore: Okay, that was Joeri Timp of Eastvantage and if you want any of the show notes, go to outsourceaccelerator.com/252 and as always, if you want to ask us anything, then just drop us an email to [email protected]