Mark Shapiro – Getting started with call center outsourcing
Last updated August 28, 2019
We are joined again by Mark Shapiro of EB Call Center. That’s Executive Boutique Call Center. We were previously joined by mark in episode 239. You can go back and listen to his origin story there.
In this episode, we deep dive more into his outsourcing service and how Mark differentiates it and how he can add value to your business. I really enjoy talking and sharing ideas, outsourcing ideas, business ideas with Mark.
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.
Outsourcing to a call center
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.
Derek Gallimore: Hi and welcome back. This is episode number 246 we are joined again today by Mark Shapiro of EB Call Center. That’s Executive Boutique Call Center. We were previously joined by mark in episode 239. You can go back and listen to his origin story there. But this episode we deep dive more into his outsourcing service and how he differentiates it and how he can add value to your business. So a great episode and I really enjoy talking and sharing ideas, outsourcing ideas, business ideas with Mark. So I hope you enjoy it too.
Derek Gallimore: Hi everyone. We are joined by Mark Shapiro again of Executive Boutique Call Center. Hi Mark. How are you?
Mark Shapiro: Hi Derek. I’m doing great. Thank you. How are you?
Derek Gallimore: Absolutely fantastic. And I mentioned previously in the last episode that we met in New York for the first time, funnily enough. And at the moment now you are, you’re back in New York. and I’m in Manila. and this is often how the outsourcing relationships work aross the countries and time zones. But Mike, it’s good to have you back in this episode.
I want to deep dive into Executive Boutique Call Center. And the reason why I’ve got you here and the reason why I see value in it is because you know, to have a good conversation with seasoned professionals, and the owners of outsourcing suppliers, then I think there’s huge value and a lot of insight that we can really draw from this for, for the listeners, for business people, for people in outsourcing. So I really appreciate your time with us. And, I suppose just a brief recap for those that didn’t listen to the previous episode. How on earth did you find yourself outsourcing in Cebu, Mark?
Mark Shapiro: In a strange way. I practiced law for about 14 years in New York City as a commercial real estate lawyer and was looking to do something else. And my now partner, had been working in Cebu sourcing furniture we store furniture manufacturers there and saw the outsourcing and call center business growing up. And we started a virtual assistant business and realized very quickly that was not a great model and have over the last 10 years morphed from having a small handful of clients to having over about close to 700 employees and about a thousand seats and somewhere around 30 clients that we support. So yeah, it’s really been a great trajectory over the last 10 years.
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Derek Gallimore: Incredible. And you know, again, the differences between the countries, you mentioned your heading up to about a thousand staff and it’s just incredible, really, isn’t it? You know, that that’s really a huge organization within the US and in the Philippine sets that, I mean, it’s obviously a good size organization, but it’s more the norm in the Philippines, isn’t it?
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we do not compete with the big boys of the world, which these names probably won’t mean a lot to everybody else, but companies like Convergys and Sykes and Teleperformance, which have tens of thousands of employees across the globe and in all of the English speaking countries, whether it’s Central America, the Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, India, and they really provide services to the fortune 500 of the world. And we really focus our efforts on the small and medium sized businesses.
Derek Gallimore: But you know, I see incredible value in the services that the collective outsourcing sector provide because it’s, you know, you have a thousand staff, which means you do a hell of a lot more hiring, HR staff management, performance management than probably any average SMB in the US you know, if a company’s got maybe 15-20 people, and they look into outsourced services, then I think they can get a lot of confidence that, you know, by having a thousand people running smoothly, it shows a lot of kind of operational sophistication, doesn’t it?
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. And keep in mind that it’s our clients range. It’s not like a thousand people working for one client. Our clients range in. So everything we do is on a dedicated basis. Instead of you hiring five people to do a particular function and office, you’re hiring five specific individuals who had been screened and interviewed and have the criteria that you know, our clients are looking for.
So our clients are ranging in size from having five dedicated people to several clients that have over a hundred people. And then everything in the middle of, you know, 10, 20, 30, 50 people. So we’re essentially becoming an expert in each of those processes for each of those clients. So yeah, it is a lot of work, but there is, you know, a framework that we, that we use for each of the clients.
Call center outsourcing Philippines
Derek Gallimore: And how does it work then because you are a trained lawyer, you’ve spent many years in that field in New York, you went on your journey of the, you know, what started as a call center, you yourself did Sandler sales training and you did a lot of call center training yourself. There’s a huge amount of executive experience there. People come to you, they have dedicated agents. Can you explain the relationship between the employer and their agents or staff and then you, the outsourcing supplier, but also the person that is there with them on site. How does the relationship work in terms of process design, process management or do you stay away from that end of things?
Mark Shapiro: No, absolutely. I’m very involved because I am the front line of, of our sales team. And My, one of my most important jobs is to screen out people who I think would not be a good fit within our organization.
So I take calls all day, explained to people, you know, you know, why I can’t work with you. And I’ll quite often refer them to somebody else who might be able to help them. But so in that interview process with the potential client, we’re really learning what their needs are, why they’re looking to outsource, what challenges they’re currently having, and to see if we could really help them. And that, that intake process of understanding, you know, what services they’re looking for really becomes the foundation for the services we ultimately provide.
Obviously we get into much more detail once they sign up with us, but each account essentially has a, you know, there’s an operations manager for the whole center. There’s for larger accounts, there’s campaign managers who oversee the whole campaign. Individual agents are managed by a team leader. And there’s typically about anywhere from 10 to 20 people on a team managed by a team leader who’s managed by the campaign manager who’s managed by the and kind of peripheral to all of that.
You have quality assurance peoples, you have trainers who focus on the training and you have subject matter experts who kind of walk the floor and make sure that the people can get their answers quickly if there are issues.
So there’s kind of a whole plan of people who are involved in the process.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, it’s incredible sophistication isn’t it? And I think people in the West as well, they don’t quite realize the hierarchy. There’s more of a hierarchy structure in the Philippines isn’t there? And I think the rank and file workers appreciate that support more and that structure. But you know, that’s then a lot of reliability to the clients knowing that there are these systems, structures, processes in place that help augment the results for them.
Mark Shapiro: Sure. And the clients are intimately involved in this. We have video conferencing rooms that allow the clients to see and talk to their, their managers and their agents. Many clients, certainly larger clients send representatives out to do training just to oversee the team and to meet the team and, and understand the process.
I mean, our biggest and best clients are call centers in the US or companies that have call centers in the US and they’re either, you know, looking to shift some of those people in the Philippines, they’re looking to expand, instead of continuing to hire in the US, but that doesn’t mean that, that all of them are like that. Certainly, you know, there are some clients that just have a small staff and they’re looking to expand or replace that staff by people in our office.
Derek Gallimore: Fantastic. And what is the breadth of services that you offer them? You know, you have foundations in call center, but I think that’s, excuse me, because the industry itself has, has, you know, very deep foundations in the call center. But what are you finding demand for now and what sort of services do you offer?
Mark Shapiro: Well, they kind of fall into three big categories. You have inbound calls, outbound calls and then non-voice work. And we certainly saw the bulk of what we do, the traditional inbound customer support and technical support for companies like eCommerce companies.
We do work with law firms and medical offices. We do a lot of patient support for doctors and hospitals. But some of the, the largest clients typically are the outbound clients. Where we do a lot of lead generation for, we do a lot of work in the home improvement leads, for the education industry, for the insurance industry, for the real estate industry, where we’re talking to consumers about things that they need. But on the back office side there’s certainly a fair amount of work to be done and things like data entry and accounting and bookkeeping.
We work with a large insurance company where we do report writing and proofreading. And what’s amazing is to get the job as the report writer and the proofreader. I guarantee that most Americans could not pass the grammar tests necessary to get that job. And then certainly we do for many companies we’ve done database building where we do a lot of online research and filling in databases.
Companies come to us and they have hundreds of thousands of people in their database or their CRM. They want us to go through and clean it out. And when I say clean it out, meaning call everyone, check to make sure that person is still alive or check to make sure that business is still there. And that’s their number.
So there’s, there’s a pretty broad range of things that we do.
Sales call center outsourcing
Derek Gallimore: That’s incredible. So Mark, I get a few inquiries for this and maybe you can shed some light on a bit. If I have a recently just built a widget and I would love a thousand widgets sold. Can I come to you and outsource that? Can you, can you sell my widgets for me?
Mark Shapiro: You know, it really depends what it is and you know, a lot of times when people call me up and they say they want to sell something and it takes them 10 or 15 minutes to explain to me what it is they want to sell. That’s a sure sign. That is probably not a good fit for us. Cause if you, the founder can’t explain to me in a few sentences what it is you want to sell, but let’s assume that is something you could sell.
We have a number of sales campaigns, but there are certainly, typically multi call complex sales are certainly very challenging to do on an outsource basis. Not saying it can’t be done. But the things that we, we do call on typically are, you know, more consumer product things, not complicated business products.
Derek Gallimore: And how long does it take? I would imagine there’s a lot of iteration, there’s a lot of testing. Can you set up, you know, I see you as an expert in the field for sales and not just sales but lead gen and generating interest. You know, there’s a lot of BPO’s that do more generalist things now, so it’s really good to find true specialists and what is the life cycle like of setting up a team so that they are humming and is it kind of a three months, six months time investment to really sort of test and iterate things? Or can you find that you can, because of your history and your experience, you can now build a team and get results pretty quickly?
Mark Shapiro: Well, one of the biggest factors in figuring out how quickly you can do it and how successful you’re going to be is, is the company that is doing the outsourcing, have they been, if companies call me and they say, listen, we’ve been doing this process for 10 years, we know exactly how to do it. We have all the training material, we have the trainers who could do the training, we’ve got the scripting and we really know how to do this. And they’re just transferring that information to us. Typically that can be ramped up pretty quickly. And I’ll talk a little bit about the timeline and what goes into that.
For companies that have never outsourced, they don’t have any training material prepared. They’ve never done any of the actual training themselves. They’re going to need to do a lot of leg work on their end to be prepared and we have been in the situation where someone says, ‘yeah, yeah, I’m ready to go.’ And then all of a sudden we get, you know, five or ten agents in a room ready to train and you realize that the company that’s trying to do that training really isn’t prepared and that is a recipe for disaster.
But in terms of the time, it really does take to ramp up a team. Typically teams start at at five or 10 agents with us, bigger companies, you know, which is why we don’t handle it. If you’re the AT&T, you may ramp up a team of a hundred or 200 people at once. We’re not geared to do that. We’re going to start at 20 people would be pushing it for us. But typically the typical ramp up sizes, five to 10 people, there’s usually a, during the contract process, you know, we’ve signed an agreement, usually takes us anywhere from one to three weeks to put together the team.
Quite often we let the agents, so after we’ve identified them, interview them, talk to them, we think this is an appropriate group of people. We’ll give the, some of our clients are happy to let us make that decision. Other clients want to talk to them and interview them and make sure they’re happy with their team and we’re fine doing that. and we’ll do that even before they give us any money. That is you know, as long as they signed an agreement, we want to make sure they’re happy with their team.
Once that team is in place, we really want to start their training quickly. Obviously you can’t, we can’t hire people and then start a training two weeks later. Those people might not be around. So we want to start that training quickly. And then in terms of the time, you know, for simple processes, sometimes training can take two to four days. For more complicated things. It could take two to four weeks. That’s not normal, but for a a dedicated customer, we have a, we have a potential client that it sells.
I’ve got about 10,000 things that they sell all related to a do it yourself product that’s sold in home depot type stores, but the agents are really going to need to know a lot and we would expect the training to take probably, you know, two to four weeks to really become an expert in what they do.
Outsourcing call center pricing
Derek Gallimore: Incredible. And cost then, let’s just focus on the sales. Maybe it’s the same structure for everything. But you know, you do see a lot of different price structures within sales itself. Can people pay you just for results only or are they paying for staff time? How does that, how does that work?
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, we don’t take on any purely pay for performance. In fact, we don’t take on any performance work at all. Whereas we’re looking to get a flat hourly rate per person. And anything that has a sales component or even a lead generation component, it’s mandatory for sales.
Less so for lead generation, we ask that the clients to put together a bonus program for the agents, for us to be able to go out and hire seasoned sales people with experience, sales people are sales people, because they want to make what would theoretically be the big bucks in the Philippines. People who are happy being a kind of, they show up for work, they do their customer support service and they go home are usually willing to it.
They understand that it’s not a big commission structure that they’re going to be working on. and we typically have to pay a higher base rate for those sales people. They typically need to be more conversational. Have a sales mentality. One of our more successful sales program, we work for a company that sells first discount first-class or business class airline tickets for international flights and the agents make a lot of money.
But you know, they work really hard and it’s a great program for them. It’s a good program for us. But we make our hourly rate and we let the agents make their commissions along with their base salary.
Derek Gallimore: And there’s a transparency to that, isn’t there? I mean, I think people need to realize that it takes an up front investment by the business owner or whoever they are. Because you’ve got to build a team. There’s no way of getting around it really is there.
So it takes that up front investment in training, in salaries and also you need to onboard people so that they, there is a culture there. They see a future and they have the motivation, you can’t really sidestep the general needs of the employees to feel they belong and feel secure and feel excited by their roles.
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the first week of sales is never going to be as good as the second week or as good as the second month and as good as the second year. So it certainly takes time in any campaign, you know, there’s a learning process and an ongoing training process that that has to be adhered to. And we look for continuous improvement.
Future of call center outsourcing
Derek Gallimore: Yeah. That’s incredible. And where do you see the future of all of this going? Do you see it continuing to grow? Do you see a building awareness of outsourcing in small and medium size businesses in the US, where do you see the trajectory of all this?
Mark Shapiro: Yeah, I see certainly is the wave of higher wages and wages are definitely getting pushed up throughout the US which is great for the u s economy. Great for the US worker. But there are some businesses that just can’t be profitable at that level and they are going to continue to see outsourcing as a way to squeeze more profit out of their business and leave the higher paying positions to positions that somebody has to physically be there or it takes a specific skillset.
If you read the papers, you would think that artificial intelligence is going to put us out of business. And maybe it will in 10 years, hopefully there will always be some role for humans on the telephone, at least in escalated calls. But I would imagine that a lot of the simpler roles that we do will be taken over by computers at someday. But hopefully I’ll be retired by then.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a concern for outsourcing, but it’s really just, it’s a generalized global concern, isn’t it? You know if kind of 60% of the general jobs go, that’s not really just a concern for the Philippines or outsourcing isn’t it?
Mark Shapiro: it’s an issue for the taxi business and trucking business and you know, anything that they claim is going to be able to be done remotely or through computers. I do think that the business will continue to grow. We’re certainly seeing lots of calls and lots of demand and having a lot of conversations and so, yeah.
Derek Gallimore: Incredible. Thank you so much Mark. So if anyone wants to get in touch with you or learn more about Executive Boutique Call Center, how can they do that?
Mark Shapiro: Well, the easiest way to get information is to go to our website, which is ebcallcenter.com and all of our contact information is on there and certainly they can put in a form or call us directly. I’m happy to talk and give information any time.
Derek Gallimore: Amazing. Thanks for your time, Mark. It’s been fun.
Mark Shapiro: All right. Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Derek Gallimore: Okay. That was Mark Shapiro of EB Call Center. If you want to get in touch with Mark, then of course go to the show notes which is www.outsourceaccelerator.com/246.