Mark Shapiro – From New York law to Cebu outsourcing – EB Call Center
Last updated August 28, 2019
We are joined by Mark Shapiro, founder of Executive Boutique Call Center. Mark is an American from New York and started his professional career as a lawyer. He now has a substantial outsourcing service here in the Philippines with over 700 employees. So we get to hear about Mark’s origin story and we hope you enjoy this episode.
Executive Boutique Call Center
Executive Boutique Call Center is an American and Australian-owned call center service and BPO provider located in Cebu IT Park office complex in the Philippines. Being HIPAA and PCI compliant, EB Call Center can manage back-office and non-strategic business processes at highly-competitive prices, thereby freeing internal resources for more critical tasks.
Derek Gallimore: Welcome to the Outsource Accelerator podcast. This is a short format podcast where we explore business and outsourcing mastery. My name is Derek Gallimore and I am really excited to bring you the leading podcast in outsourcing. Welcome back. This is episode number 239 and we’re joined by Mark Shapiro, who is the founder of EB Call Center, which is a Executive Boutique Call Center. Mark is an American from New York and started his professional career as a lawyer. So he now has a, substantial outsourcing a service here in the Philippines. So we get to hear about Mark’s, origin story in this, in this podcast episode. Really good episode and I really enjoyed talking to Mark and sharing his sensible views on things, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy as well.
Derek Gallimore: Hi Mark. Thanks for joining us today. How are you?
Mark Shapiro: I’m great. Thanks for having me.
Derek Gallimore: It’s an absolute pleasure Mark, we actually met for the first time in New York when I was, when I was visiting there and that it’s your, your home. So you, run Executive Boutique Call Center. You are the CEO and founder there. but you are also a, New York originating lawyer. you can maybe share a little bit more on that story, but, I suppose, you know, do you want to just introduce yourself and let people out there know how a New York lawyer came to found themselves, running a outsourcing supplier in the Philippines?
Mark Shapiro: Sure. Thanks Derek. yeah, my name is Mark Shapiro. I’m a CEO and founder of Executive Boutique Call Center, which is affectionately known as EB call center, which is our website as well. And Yeah, I found myself, in the call center business through kind of circuitous way a up until 2007, I was a commercial real estate attorney in New York City for a big law firm. And after sweating it out for 10 years and finally making partner, and working for a few more years as a partner at 45, I just was hating that New York City, big city lawyer lifestyle, which just really grinds you down. I don’t know if anybody out there as friends who are lawyers in big firms, but it’s, not a lot of fun except for the few people who just really love it. And I was really looking for something else to do. my partner who had my now partner had been working in the Philippines, actually sourcing furniture since the early two thousands and saw the call center industry kind of growing up.
Mark Shapiro: And we started, I started working with him. I’m in the furniture sourcing business, but we saw, we started using a virtual assistant as part of that business and we thought, you know, wow, we could start a virtual assistant business. And we realized really quickly that that was not a great model for scaling up, at least for us. I know there’s some companies out there that it find the virtual assistant model to work well, and that they are able to scale it. but I essentially went back to school in 2008 I went to the Sandler sales training program, which really focuses on B2B telemarketing or B2B cold calling. And I also went through the, a call center management training program through the call center school, which is an online school and really learn the fundamentals of, of running a call center. You know, everything from staffing and training and coaching and workforce management. And God knows I’ve become a no more uranium.
Derek Gallimore: Definitely bring back to basics and light foundational
Mark Shapiro: Really had to, I’ve been practicing commercial real estate law for for 14 years and, you know, wanted to, to do this right. And, um,
Derek Gallimore: and when you were, you know, see your bright guy well educated, sitting in New York with a good number of years professionally behind you. what did you know of the Philippines? What did you know of call centers back then? You know, when you, when you first started out on this journey, what was your awareness like as a, you know, as a layman
Mark Shapiro: Zero, I really knew nothing about it and it was only, you know, after working with a virtual assistant that we found who happened to me in the Philippines and how terrific she was at the time that we really discovered this resource. So I really only discovered it in 2007 had never been to the Philippines. now why essentially commute monthly from New York to the Philippines. Um,
Derek Gallimore: incredible. And then, so how did that evolve then you, you started, I mean, you obviously went through all the training and then, and then, and as well, where do you see the difference between a virtual assistance and outsourcing then? because, you know, I see it as a bit of an educational gap as well. There’s a huge amount of awareness of Va’s, and I think, you know, in part, thanks to Tim Ferriss and the four hour work week, but there’s a whole kind of industry professional services industry above and beyond virtual assistance. Yeah,
Mark Shapiro: yeah, absolutely. I mean in terms, and I’ll come back to the virtual assistant, but in terms of evolving, I mean in, in 2008, we rented a part of a floor Cebu city and and IT park, which is a big office park that was growing up and we had a handful of very small clients and a handful of, of employees. And over the last 10 years we just celebrated our 10th anniversary. We now have almost 700 employees. We are building out an additional 250 seats, which will bring us up to about a thousand seats. So we’ve really obviously come a long way in terms of the types of clients we work with and the types of services we provide and our expertise that we’re able to, to, to offer. But in terms of, you know, the virtual assistant business and why we, we, it’s certainly a necessary, and we do it in a sense that if a client has 20 agents with us and they need one or two people to do a function, of course we’re going to absolutely do that because it’s, it’s kind of integral to their business that they already have.
Mark Shapiro: But the problem that we found with the virtual assistant generally is that, you know, when somebody finds a person and they train them and they work with them and they finally get to, if you lose that person, if that person gets sick, if a family member gets sick, if they don’t show up, you essentially saw it last 100% of your staff and you’re really starting at zero again. And we found that just to do that over. And it literally takes as much time and energy to train one person as it does to do, to train 10 people. and you know, managing one person is, is a lot of work. And so that’s really why we, we only do it in conjunction with bigger clients that have some other function in our office.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, sure, sure. And then so to the average Joe sitting in New York, ideally you sort of running a business, owning a business or having, having sort of input into how businesses run, what is outsourcing, for the average New Yorker and how can it best be harnessed?
Mark Shapiro: I think it really depends on what industry you’re in and what you do. If, if, if your services or your, your business requires a lot of people where it does not have to be a face to face interaction. Obviously if you’ve got people going store to store and they’re meeting in person yet you can’t outsource that. But if it’s a telephone function, if it’s a back office function, you know, whether it’s inbound calls for customer support and sales support or making appointments, or you’re making outbound calls for lead generation, or, or appointment setting or surveys or data verification. And those are all things that are great functions. We’re doing a lot more back office work as well. And in fact the, a lot of the, their requests are getting is for a lot more skilled labor, things like bookkeepers and accountants and financial analysts and people who know SAP software for ERP type functions.
Mark Shapiro: and so we really see that as a, as an opportunity going forward. But certainly the bulk of, for, for, for the average company, there’s generally some functions that can be done, through outsourcing. And it’s, let’s face it, it’s a, it’s a huge cost savings in New York City. They just raised the average minimum wage to $15. They just raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour. So to have somebody sweep the floor at Burger King or Mcdonald’s is $15 an hour. So certainly for the services that are available through outsourcing at, you know, usually represents a 50 to 70% savings. So and quite often you’re getting a bed for the type of work we do, you’re getting a better caliber of person. Everybody who works with these are all college educated Filipinos who quite often have worked at another call center and other business for, you know, any from one to five years. that’s just not available.
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Derek Gallimore: Dedicated to it processes and outsourcing is called business process outsourcing because it’s people continually just working on a process of refining it and kind of optimizing the output. people, you know, the obvious attraction is that things are cheaper, but really it has to be without the compromise, the quality and still maintaining output and results. Yeah. So it’s, you know, I think people very commonly, they can, they can, you know, say that they weren’t try outsourcing because they, they can’t tolerate a drop in quality. But actually, you know, what can you say to the quality and delivery capacity of, of the Philippines?
Mark Shapiro: You know, I think for the types of things that we’re doing, whether it’s the, the simpler tasks of data entry or, or some of the telephone work, even in the more complex things, that 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, just the, the cost of living is less there. 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. You know, certainly we try to, let people move up within the company and we certainly, my operations manager started as an agent and now he’s, you know, essentially running the company. so these are, you know, really hardworking, educated people.
Derek Gallimore: And as you say, is the, the, the value add grows as the sort of skill sets grow in the pool of resources grow than outsourcing is no longer just about call centers? Is it? It’s about every, professionalized role in business ready, as long as it can be done in front of a computer is, is really now being outsource, which I think gives the industry more, credibility for prospective employees in the Philippines. So I think you now, I mean, you, do, you, you see graduates from the best universities going into outsourcing because it’s not necessarily they’re going to work for a call center. It’s because, you know, outsourcing is really just the conduit between, Philippine employment and, west and businesses really.
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we are, as we speak, we are recruiting people with Erp skillsets that is enterprise resource planning for companies that, that were, our client happens to be a big, steel manufacturer and they manufacture various products than they use SAP and net suite and some other services. And they’re looking for people that have those skill sets and they teach that in the Philippines, in colleges, and we’re interviewing now. So it, it really isn’t just, call center work. It is everything and you know, bookkeeping.
Derek Gallimore: How do you find you get people to start outsourcing? You know, I think there’s often this really big hurdle because there’s, you know, uncertainty, lack of awareness. The whole thing is a little bit opaque because it’s in a different country. how do you get people just taking that first step?
Mark Shapiro: Well, thankfully most people, by the time they reach me, they know they’re calling and outsourcing company in the Philippines. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have to do a fair amount of education for some of them. Some of them have heard about outsourcing in the Philippines and they call, but they have never outsourced anything. They’ve never been to the Philippines. They ask questions like, do they speak English in the Philippines? And, and some very kind of fundamental things. So there is an education piece that goes along with it, explaining to them that these are college educated people. A lot of the things that we just talked about a few minutes ago. but generally speaking, the people that come to us, and I know that there are a lot of the work that you do thankfully is kind of that outreach and that education, that we typically don’t have to do because by the time they found us, they have found us, but certainly to, as the market. it will be as a result of the type of outreach in education that you’re doing.
Derek Gallimore: Mm. And do you find that, you know, people might, gingerly start with I a sales role, but then they realized the potential of outsourcing and it kind of expands throughout their organization?
Mark Shapiro: Oh, absolutely. We work for a large insurance company in California and they started with kind of in an outbound lead generation role and then they went to, you know, taking inbound calls, but now they’ve expanded to having us, you know, do all the data entry and do, you know, follow up calls for a doctors appointment setting. they’re looking at some other back office work, but it absolutely typically think of it as call center, but then they realize there’s so much more that we can do.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, it’s exciting isn’t it, when people sort of realized that there’s this incredible resource there and it’s, it’s just really about the, the implementation isn’t it, to ensure that there’s a lot of success around the organization?
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was just talking with a medical group today and, and, and explaining to them, and they had an outsourced before and they have about 20 different offices that were going to be medical offices throughout the New York City area. And, you know, I explained that really the key to making this happen and the frustration that some people might feel is typically tracked right back to training and here are not really prepared and really thought about the training that you need to put people through to make them successful. then that’s really where the failures can be. And the other piece of it is just, you know, constant communication between us and the client. You know, if there are any issues that, you know, we ought to hear about them up front and not, by the time they kind of become a bigger issue. So, so that’s really good.
Derek Gallimore: What is the climate like there now in the US is, has Trump had an impact in terms of hiring? I don’t want to get too political here, but you know, is, is there a sense of jobs are coming home and inverted commerce or you know, do you think it’s going to continue on the trajectory that it is?
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, I really do think it’s going to continue on the directory. I don’t think that, I think certainly the, the jobs that are available in the US, and by the way, I just heard on a different podcast, that there’s 7 million vacant jobs available in the US and these are not low level necessarily jobs. These are jobs that are 40, 50, 60, 70,000. There’s only 5 million people did I say? Yeah. 7 million jobs available. There’s only 5 million people looking for jobs. So even if they all to in those, I shouldn’t say there’s only you got a 5 million. But anyway, even if they all took the job, there still be 2 million people. So, you know, certainly between the, the need for immigration to fill those jobs and the need to, to outsource in order to, to fill those jobs, it’ll always be there. I mean, the only company that can think of that, that brought work home, was Verizon. They had hundreds, if not a thousand people in Cebu, and they, they brought those jobs back to the US but, I, you know, yeah, all indicators are that, you know, and, and once again, not to get too political, but you know, Trump, we’ll talk about steel jobs and put steel tariffs and we’ll talk about coal jobs. But I mean, you know, coal is not coming back. There’s 50,000 coal miners in 300,000 solar installers. So a, I think to the future of, uh,
Derek Gallimore: yeah, it’s kind of tokenism isn’t it?
Mark Shapiro: You know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s about getting votes and in certain states that, that, that resonates with and it’s not so much about reality.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, absolutely. And then, you know, concerns, because I, you know, I was in New York, I think I have maybe spent too much time in Manila to actually, not really relate so well to the, to the general fears and concerns and uncertainties that people have when they start this journey. What are some of the friction points that you see people, feeling and then sort of realizing that actually that’s not so bad kind of thing. One thing that comes to mind for me, you know, I don’t want to like put words into mouth, but, but people are always concerned about security but also not just security, but you know, how do I know someone is working? Do you, do you commonly, come across those apprehensions?
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, I mean, I think the big apprehensions are, you know, some clients are very concerned about it, especially if it’s a, you know, somebody on the telephone, you know, they’re concerned about how someone’s going to sound and whether they’re going to have an accent. And some clients are fine, with their customers knowing that people are in the Philippines and other clients, you know, to the extent that they could avoid that conversation would like to, and we’re able to recruit, you know, for those clients that are willing to pay more. And there’s certainly plenty of Filipinos that could literally pass for Americans or they’re going to know they’re just, and then other people, you know, a slight accent is not a big deal. Security is a huge concern. we are one of the few call centers that have gone through a, a third party PCI compliance audit by a US auditor. We got, it’s called an AOC, which is, audited something compliance. and we, you certainly have all of the data security policies in place in many clients, you know, have, ask us to send them over, you know, things having to deal with our firewall and password security, computer security and, it’s a big deal. But you do have to be prepared to, to deliver that information.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And people, you know, people, people aren’t aware. I think that there’s an incredible level of sophistication here and you know, they’re not the first people to have asked that. Yeah. Like there’s this incredible security measures in place in the Philippines, and also very strict, what does it Gdpr, like they, they’ve heard very strict in terms of their data privacy here.
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing that just from a physical security standpoint, the standard in the Philippines for office buildings and office workspace is so much tighter than in your typical New York City office. you know, where you have a guard at the door and you’ve got to show an ID just to get in, and then you’ve got a, we’ve got a biometric scanner, in our doors. They have to, you know, thumb print in and then they have to go into a locker room and, deliver their cell phone and get rid of everything. And they really work. We have a clean workspace and then they’ve got to go by the security guard to see that they’ve done that work, that they’ve, they’ve gotten rid of all that stuff. So, from a physical security standpoint, it’s tighter. And from a, certainly from a data security standpoint, you know, you have to run a tight ship.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, yeah. Incredible isn’t it? Thank you so much Mark. Sorry. I want to get you back for another episode so that we can actually deep dive into Executive Boutique Call Center and really explore the value proposition for your clients. but in the meantime, if they want to, get in touch with you, will learn any more about, EB. How can they do that?
Mark Shapiro: They can certainly reach out to us on our website at ebcallcenter.com and put in a form or the phone number is right on the website as well, and they can call us directly, during US business hours.
Derek Gallimore: Amazing. Thank you so much Mark. And all of that is in the show notes. Of course. Thank you.
Mark Shapiro: Thank you Derek. Really appreciate the time.
Derek Gallimore: That was Mark Shapiro of EB Call Center. If you want to get in touch with Mark, of course, go to the show notes, which is that outsourceaccelerator.com/239. See you next time.