Michelle Bubke, Chief Operating Officer for Offshore Intelligence operation in the Philippines, joins Derek and shares her journey into the offshoring industry.
Michelle founded a start-up of her own, an independently operated debt collection agency. She struggled in looking for talents to join her growing business, with no better options left, she ventured into offshoring.
- For the scarcity of human capital, Michelle visited India and the Philippines to conduct her due diligence, and the potential of setting up an offshore office for her debt collection agency in Brisbane. She ended up with a shop in Eastwood City, Philippines with her first five agents, and is now growing her own empire
- At first, Michelle thought that outsourcing in the Philippines is only suited for the big industry players. She’s proven herself wrong and discovered many more reasons for doing business in the Philippines like the cultural alignment, English communication skills with the clean accent, and a pool of trainable talents.
- Offshore Intelligence offers boutique model of outsourcing services particularly for offshore recruitment companies experiencing scarcity of the human capital by matching talent with the company’s requirements and seeing to it that the clients understand what the talents need in order for the relationship to succeed.
- The biggest barrier for small players, and SMEs is the fear of the unknown and misconceptions of the industry. Offshore Intelligence encourages potential clients to dip their toe in the industry and get rid of their fears because they are there to hold their client’s hands as they build their offshore team and set that up to succeed.
- Michelle testifies that the issues that beset the outsourcing industry ten or more years in the making are now things of the past as big industry players are investing on modern solutions, education, technology and infrastructure to support their own growth and the industry in which they operate.
- Offshoring or outsourcing offers solution to the scarcity of human capital on one side of the globe, and the scarcity of employment on the other side. It is the place where the demand matches with the supply.
- It is the fear of the unknown, the perceived industry risk, and misconceptions that deter companies particularly SMEs to deep their toe into the BPO world, so it is important that providers keep holding these hands for as long as required.
- Over the years, the outsourcing industry has matured tremendously and the successful journeys of companies in the outsourcing world.
Hi, and welcome to another episode of the Outsource Accelerator Podcast. My name is Derek Gallimore, and this is Episode No. 197. So today I’m talking to Michelle Bubke of Offshore Intelligence. This is a boutique outsourcing firm here in Manila. So, Michelle though, goes back long before Offshore Intelligence she started outsourcing in 2006 with a pretty interesting business model. So, we talk in this episode with Michelle about her whole background in outsourcing and we dive into her vast experience, and there’s a lot of learning here for anyone that’s interested in outsourcing, new to outsourcing or even an expert in outsourcing already. So, I’m sure you will enjoy this. If you want to get in touch with Michelle or know any more about this episode got to our show notes which is at outsourceaccelerator.com/197. Enjoy!
Hi, and welcome back everybody. Today, I’m joined by Michelle Bubke of Offshore Intelligence. Hi, Michelle, how are you?
Michelle: I’m great Derek! How’s yourself?
Derek: Fantastic! And thank you for joining us. So, Michelle, we have known each other for some time now. We are both banking around Manila here, spending a bit of time in the Philippines and you have vast experience in all types of offshoring. So, I really want to kind of into your personal background and professional background. And you also founded, I believed, Offshore Intelligence, so really excited to hear about that. Initially to better introduce and recapitulate it, how do you find yourself in Manila?
Michelle: Well, it’s kind of a long story, so I give you this short version. About 2006, I earned a debt collection agency in Australia. I had a lot of privilege with clients and banks, and Telcos globally but mainly service the Australian market. And we actually hit a non-employment where unemployment were as low as it should be. So, I was really struggling to find talents and in the out of text like we only make money per collected debt, we need people to collect debt. So, I was grateful enough, lucky enough [inaudible 00:02:45], a couple of my clients had just started offshoring in India and one of my other banking clients had just built a very small test team in the Philippines. So, I had a bit of chat with those and I went and did some due diligence in India and also in the Philippines. And then I jut started to set up shop in the Philippines, and I started with my first five agents out of Eastwood City.
Derek: Wow! And previously you were doing debt collection I supposed in a traditional way in Australia with Australian correspondence.
Michelle: Absolutely. So, I had a team of a 100 in my call center in Brisbane. And we had, like I said before, a lot of the blue chip clients, the banks, and the Telcos in Australia, in the Australian market. So, my entire workforce was Australian based at that point in time, yeah.
Derek: Right. And this is about 12 years ago then. So, it’s kind of, you know the younger days of outsourcing. It wasn’t as quite developed as now, and the Philippines was sort of slightly more rough around the edges I suppose. What was your initial thought about outsourcing in the Philippines compared to maybe your experience a year later?
Michelle: Initially, to be honest, I thought it wasn’t for the medium businesses, which I was. I thought it was only for the big banks and the big players. So, the first time I landed in the Philippines, is that the culture is extremely aligned. I think the accent or something that I knew that wouldn’t be a disadvantage to communication, which debt collection relies a lot on. And I think you know the challenges that I had to start with were definitely, just debt collection is not an easy topic, it’s not an easy art or an easy skill set. So, I call it an art really, and art needs to be taught. So, I would definitely say that finding the training times took a lot longer than I anticipated. There were a few connectivity issues few years ago, which now don’t exist. And you know I think also, allowing the Australian market to understand the viability of utilizing the Philippines you know 12 years ago it wasn’t that accepted. And I believe that the Australian market has gone through a lot of issues with the, you know the Do Not Call Register wasn’t out then, and we were getting bundled into all of that. So, there were several challenges that we just don’t face anymore in the sector, yes.
Derek: You say you are a medium sized business. You had big business with a 100 Australian staffs, and your impression of outsourcing back then, you were kind of excluded from the benefits of outsourcing because you were not kind of big enough. And I think now still, even though it’s becoming accessible to even smaller businesses, even one-person start-ups, everyone can get involved, but I think there’s still this impression that people think outsourcing is just for the big boys, for the international conglomerates. Was it just your impression, or when you got here was it the fact that infrastructure was really only set up only for the big boys still?
Michelle: I think it was a bit of both. Like you know my impression was how on earth did I do business in another country. I didn’t have, my company, it grew organically, so there weren’t investors and deep pockets. So, I had to do it really on a budget. And the flip side was that, was the telephony and also the risk. Risk played a huge part for me, because I had to, because many of my blue chip clients, I had to demonstrate that we had mitigated risk from a myriad of things, from privacy, data protection, all of those kind of things. So, the perception was I think partly infrastructure, partly in my sector there was not a lot of talent already trained in debt collection, so I really had to bring that to the Philippines. It wasn’t very common. Then the infrastructure was not the latest, it was quite a bit of an issue years ago, but it’s not that of a problem anymore though.
Derek: Right. And has that changed now? Twelve years later, do you still see that there are, there’s kind of the same barriers for start-ups and smaller SMEs that want to get into outsourcing, or do you see the industry has provided a whole spectrum of services now?
Michelle: I think the reluctance of people to consider it is now perceived in terms of, they still have these same concerns that I had years ago. What I believe the difference is now in my personal experience with Offshore Intelligence, I’m able to hold their hands. I’ve been here, I’ve done that, I’ve made the mistakes, I understand the risk. I’m able to help them work out not just how to hire the right staff, but also how to run process, whether it’s a blended model or they want to put a lot offshore, they want to put some of it offshore. So, I think that perception is still there, but the solution is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago.
Derek: Yeah, because I think, you know I preach this as well as I think you do, but you know it’s not just people just get a bum on the seat.
Derek: Or whatever it is, call center operative. They’re actually buying into the 20, 25 years of executive experience that the Philippines has, and equally with you know your BPO, Offshore Intelligence, it has your direct experience, has your oversight, and your input into the processes and the expertise of those agents, yeah?
Michelle: Correct, exactly. And I think the biggest barriers that we’ve come across, really is, it’s a fear based barrier to be completely frank. It’s often about, it’s a fear base, and fear of the unknown. So, I think once we find clients to dip their toe in the water, so the world opens for them and they grow quite rapidly inside our organization. But it’s a lot easier to be safe, because we take care of all of that for them. They just have to worry about the output. That wasn’t the case when I was around. It was a lot different.
Derek: Yeah, I agree. And I think this is what the industry needs to do. It just needs to make it a lot easier for people to dip their toe and get engaged and try a little bit of outsourcing, so that they’re kind of on that journey. And I think it’s the initial apprehension, the initial unknowns, the initial kind of perceived risks, as you’re saying.
Michelle: Absolutely. And a part of that is the education. You know the clients that we have seen that succeed extraordinarily well, they don’t just see this as a set and forget. It’s not like as you say, it’s not, “Oh, I’m just going to have five bums on seats”. They’re committed to training, they’re committed to their culture, of their ethos, and they’re committed to choosing the right talent that matches what they’re looking for. They see it as a long term investment and a solution versus, I’m going to give it a try for three weeks and see if it works, you know. So, I think that when we partner with clients that feel safe we’re holding their hand, they will likely to actually see this as a long term journey and invest in those critical key points, that will then lead it to become a success.
Derek: Yeah. Absolutely. And I suppose that sort of segue ways into one of my kind of pet topics at the moment, what is the difference between outsourcing and things like Upwork, and Fiver and Freelancer? You know I see it as worlds apart because there’s a professionalism there, there is the oversight that you provide. And I think unfortunately people can try a bit of Upwork, they can get a bit of a dodgy contractor experience and then say all of outsourcing is broken. Do you get those kinds of experiences where people are dipping their toe in but maybe not in the right waters?
Michelle: Absolutely. And this is a question that you know, we got asked quite often. Like you know the Upwork of the world have their place, but I think personally that they’re better for microbusinesses and project based work, not building a solid workforce to grow and expand your organization. And I think that’s the difference. And offshoring model means that we get very heavily involved in finding the right match. We take care of all the payroll, all of those kind of things that people don’t have to worry about. The other thing is we make sure you get into the right price. I see a lot of clients that have tried to build teams on Upwork and these freelancer sites, and they’re paying rates that are just insane. And it’s a, so you know, they have their place, but I think they’re more for quick project works versus wanting to build a solid talent offshore. And the investment and the actual execution model is extraordinarily different. They are worlds apart as you said.
Derek: Yes, it’s kind of a short term view, short term project versus long term, kind of scalable spectrum plan, isn’t it?
Derek: And your thoughts on staff being within an office environment versus remote staffing?
Michelle: Great question. I personally, and you probably correct me on this, Philippines culture is very much family orientated and bonding. It’s something that, it’s similar I guess to Australian you know organizations. A lot of people love the camaraderieship, they love the thick tight of being around a lot of their colleagues. So that’s the one thing, it’s definitely the culture. The second thing is it allows us to keep an eye on productivity and compliance. Compliance is one of the critical things that I think they sometimes overlook a little bit when they are selecting how to build an offshore team. You know, we in Australia needs to be compliant to the privacy data, data protection, all those kinds of things. So, you know we don’t allow cell phones on the floor, mobile phones on the floor. And that’s just not about increasing productivity of agents, that’s also about making sure that privacy is protected, intellectual property is protected. So, you don’t get that in a way, from home employee as a rule of thumb. So, a lot of our clients are heavily I guessed governed around legislation. So, having them within our environment and within our biometric, and you know the physical security that we have, and then also you know the policies and procedures around mitigating risks and protecting IP and branding all those kind of things, they all get taken care of, which is something that is a lot harder to manage if it’s a work from home employee.
Derek: Yeah, and again there’s a sort of scalability issue, isn’t there?
Derek: I think just you know trying to train disaggregated staff, it’s kind of a nightmare, isn’t it? Whereas things happen more organically if everyone’s in the same office together.
Michelle: And not to mention connectivity. As you know, everyone has backup to their backup inside an office. Whereas a work from home employee, they have one connection. If that goes down, they’re down, they’re offline.
Derek: Yeah, of course. So, kind of harking back to your history. It was, I mean you are a leader in terms of the debt collection functions, but you know, a lot of outsourcing started in the kind of call center and voice functions, and now it’s expanded a lot from there. But there is, there’s quite a hangover from this voice thing in that you know, you’ve mentioned that in the Philippines, you’ve got you know “rolled their eyes” and they remember back to that conversation with their bank, and they just weren’t able to have their needs met. Do you think there’s a hangover from this thing 20 years ago with these call centers that weren’t properly trained and didn’t have the skill sets that they do now, and there’s kind of a hangover and a stigma that the industry needs to work hard to remove?
Michelle: There is a little bit. When I come up against it, I use the same analogy as, if you get a bad cup of coffee, you don’t stop drinking coffee, you find a different coffee provider. And you know offshoring and building offshore talent, so much on the key to making it work is in the execution. So, you know, and I literally came across this just last week in a conversation, where I was saying, “Oh, you know back five years ago iPhone didn’t have this, and it also happened in Australia. It happens anywhere. I think that we tend to lump it on an offshore excuse, but the reality is it’s got nothing to do with the talent in the Philippines, America, Australia. It doesn’t really matter. It’s up to the organizations and the execution and their internal infrastructure to make sure that their customer experience is aligned with their company ethos no matter where their employees are. So, there is a bit of the hangover, but I find that it’s easily overcome by putting a lot of the onus back on the organizations to understand that they need to invest their time in their people, no matter where they are placed in the world.
Derek: Yeah, absolutely. And I think again, the industry has matured so much in the last 15 years.
Derek: And that has markedly improved, hasn’t it?
Derek: And so, I want to get you back and deep dive into Offshore Intelligence. Your website really is great. I’ve commended you on that before, but there’s a lot of moving images and lots of tech that’s keeping you entertained.
Michelle: That’s my marketing talent.
Derek: Yeah, that’s amazing. I reckon people are going to love it. So, the elevator pitch, what differentiates Offshore Intelligence and what are your, where are your niches and value adds?
Michelle: Look, I would say that were definitely a boutique BPO, and we really do focus on candidate-short markets in the Australian workforce. My business partner owns a recruitment company in Australia, so we get to see what is going on in the market and where they’re short. So first of all, it’s finding you know the industry’s, the candidate-short markets. The second thing is we are very, very heavily involved in setting up the KPIs, and I guess the alignment and holding our clients’ hands to build their offshore team, versus here’s five staff, here’s where they sit, and you take care of the rest. So, we have a lot more operational involvement at the beginning so that it really works. And that’s just not aligning the clients to the Philippine talent, that’s also making sure that the clients are also giving what the Philippine talents need in order to succeed. So, we’re all about setting it up to succeed, and moving forward with our clients in that way.
Derek: Yeah, well done. And I think it’s often underestimated by the clients quite how much training the actual clients need in this new journey.
Michelle: Absolutely. They need a lot of hand holding, which is great. That’s what we’re here for, that’s what our role is, to facilitate that, so their journey does succeed, so they don’t have that set and forget mentality. And you know that takes some education process for them as well.
Derek: Absolutely. Okay, I’m excited to get you back and discuss that. Thank you so much Michell. If anyone wants to connect with you or learn anymore about Offshore Intelligence, how can they do that?
Michelle: Just shoot an email at yes, it’s [email protected]
Derek: Fantastic! And will have them in the show notes.
That was Michelle Bubke of Offshore Intelligence. If you want to get in touch with Michelle or know any more about this episode, go to outsourceaccelerator.com/197. And as always, if you want to ask us anything, then just send us an email to a[email protected]
See you next time!