Regina Evangelista – How AI Bots affect VA roles
In this episode, Derek is joined by Regina Evangelista. She is the Co-founder and CEO of Mr. Outsource. Join us as Derek talks about Regina’s journey and deep dives into her involvement in the outsourcing sector and promotion of outsourcing and VA services within the provinces of the Philippines
- Regina Evangelista is the CEO of Mr. Outsource where VA agency based in Davao City; the author of the Outsourcing Mastery: 17 secrets on how to outsource to the Philippines; one founding members of the National Association for Online Freelancers.
- She shares her insight on the outsourcing evolvement over the last seven years.
- Regina explains the roles of bots and the impact of AI in the VA market.
- A lot of Regina’s students are going back to their provinces and just enjoying their life while working as a virtual assistant.
- Regina also shares her take on the criticism about Outsourcing.
- According to Regina, we still have an advantage versus bots specially on the role of a virtual assistant.
- More freelancers or Filipinos are going for the Digital Nomad lifestyle where they just leave the country and just travel and bring their work.
- Outsourcing is also improving tourism in the Philippines.
Derek: Hi and welcome to another episode of the Outsource Accelerator podcast. My name is Derek Gallimore and this is episode 148. So today I’m excited to have Regina Evangelista of Mr. Outsource back with us. Regina first joined us in episode 142 and then again in episode 145 so I encourage you to go back and listen to those if you wanna hear more about her backstory but also more of her incredible involvement in the advocacy of outsourcing in the proliferation of outsourcing in the provinces of the Philippines and her many educational pursuits in this sector. So really interesting, and fantastic lady. Today we talk again more broadly about outsourcing, the potential but the future of outsourcing as well and we also touch on the currently common topic of how artificial intelligence and automation is affecting the industry. So interesting chat I’m sure you will enjoy. If you wanna get in touch with Regina or want to know more about Mr. Outsource or anything we mention then go to the show notes which is at outsourceaccelerator.com/148 enjoy.
Derek: Hi and welcome back everybody. Today again I’m joined by Regina Evangelista of Mr. Outsource. Hi Regina, how are you?
Regina: Hi, I’m good, how are you?
Derek: Fantastic, thank you so much for spending your time with us again. Today we have had you on the podcast previously and really interesting conversations and you are so intertwined into the whole outsourcing sector specifically the kind of virtual assistant and freelancer section and I wanna get you on your knowledge and insight today on the future of outsourcing and where all this is going to go. But initially, would you mind just introduce yourself to the crowd out there.
Regina: Yes I’m happy to be back. So I’m Regina Evangelista, CEO of Mr. Outsource we’re a VA agency based in Davao City. I’m an advocate for improving the overall standard of the Philippine Online Workforce and I’m the author of the ‘Outsourcing Mastery: 17 secrets on how to outsource to the Philippines’, and I have trained thousands of digital professionals through Mr. Outsource University, and again I’m one of the founding members of the National Association for Online Freelancers which is DCAP or the Digital Courier Advocate of the Philippines.
Derek: Wow it’s a super long list and it’s amazing you managed to pack all of that into seven years. So you have seen, you started as a freelancer yourself within the content area and you’ve expanded your skillset immensely, you know you’re running businesses and you’re having to sort of muddle through this entire entrepreneurial journey as we all do. How do you see the outsourcing offering evolve over the last seven years? Have you seen a general upskilling? What’s the kind direction been?
Regina: We recently had a Davao Freelancers meetup on this weekend then part of that meetup is just discussing what’s going on, what’s in, what’s not and part of the reason why we met because when you search virtual assistant online it shows a different virtual assistant definition, it says bots, like the literal virtual assistant bots. So there’s that shift from becoming the virtual assistant person to that bot, any bot that can do stuff that virtual assistant can do. Now there’s that shift where one of the freelancers said that one of her clients laid off four freelancers and then remained just have her manage four bots.
Regina: Yes. It was a shock to me in a way where bots can be powerful if we just make sure that we leverage that technology but there’s also that threat where we ran the news the other day where the BPO industry has to shift in their services because most people are now, they don’t call anymore they just interact with bots online.
Derek: But how do you see that in real life though? Because I think this is all blown out of proportion and it’s funny that the first thing that you center on is this whole march of bots and AI and it really is big news at the moment in the outsourcing sector and kinda everyone all worried about it. But in your day to day world, in your business, in the businesses of your VA clients, do you really see that bots could do the complexity of tasks, the agility of roles that you do, and your management do, and your VA’s do?
Regina: Not hundred percent. We still have an advantage versus these bots but there are these bots can do very repetitive work that most virtual assistant in the Philippines, generally. So we have stages of virtual assistant those that are newbies who can do data entry, copy pasting, data scraping, those can also, maybe input, data input on certain CRMs, those can be done by bots already or those bots, those automation bots that, you know virtual assistant use to do that but now bots can now take care of that. You know and there very process based. Virtual assistant really have to make sure of that those bots are working but right now, at least for our clients there’s really no need for that shift yet but they’re thinking of getting that in the way where the customer support side, answering emails on facebook messages, or online or their website.
Derek: It’s interesting because the bots have certainly or AI have certainly had an impact on the top end of the market where there are thousands of people doing highly repetitive task within the big BPOs and conglomerates but I’m surprised to hear actually that it’s kind already impacting the smaller end of the market, the VA market. Do you know what sort of roles those bots were doing in your example of the girl now managing three bots.
Regina: Those bots basically do answering messages on Facebook. So the bots get smarter and smarter every day because there’s only so many questions a customer can ask about your service or about your business so that bot basically will learn, so there are two bots the one that follows the rules and the one that can do, that gets smarter and smarter. So she said, she gets to manage these bots but at the same time she can now update her resume and says I’m a bot manager. So which is also another skill where she can have a higher rate, so that’s another service for her but it’s just unfortunate that the people, the VAs under stage 1 or tier 1, needs to up their game and make sure that they’re not replaceable and make sure that what they provide is more strategic task rather than do this pick an apple, you go pick an apple. So more of lets up our game and just provide more than just those bots can replace.
Derek: And you are right, I mean with the whole sector to protect itself needs to upskill, there’s no longer kind of safety and sanctity in just being like a human robot effectively. The Philippines has got all the skills that are desirable, that are current and as well I think in the SME market. People need to be agile, they need to cover a lot of different roles. Which in itself presents as a difficulty but I think it leaves, if they achieve those things then there somewhat immune from bots and AI for the short term at least.
Regina: Yeah, another change that comes to mind is more and more freelancers or Filipinos are going for the Digital Nomad lifestyle where they just leave the country and just travel and bring their work. So more and more people can afford going to Singapore or those no visa required countries and it’s good that they can get to experience that and other people go, ” how does he do that?” like ok, it piques their interest and say what is your work? why do you do that? so there’s also that side where everyone just traveling and there’s that community as well.
Derek: The outsourcing industry really is upskilling those, there is this risk from the bots removing the copy and pasting kind of functions but twenty years ago the outsourcing industry was just call centers but now outsourcing encompasses literally anything and everything in business from design, production, back office, web coding, it really is now just becoming an all-encompassing kind of, it just works isn’t it. Do you see that in the province, you saw like this kind of people upskilling in Davao further out into the province or are the majority of the people still kind of entering the basic stages?
Regina: Actually no, they are going home now from Davao city they’re now going back to their provinces cause basically if you lived in Mindanao like the main cities where you go work is Davao. So right now they’re going back to their hometown and home provinces and they just make sure there’s internet and yeah a lot of my students are now there and i’m just very happy to see them like working in front of the beach and there’s farm there, there are plants and there’s rice field next to them and you know they’re enjoying the life.
Derek: Yeah. And what do you say then to because we do a lot of promotion into the west and of course into the US and we get considerable amount of kickbacks sometimes by people that accuse of being terrorist, they said that we’re traitors because we’re encouraging outsourcing and they’re gonna lose their jobs but also another kind of criticism that they have at us is that outsourcing is unfair and slave labor and people aren’t paid a living wage. But what is your reflection on that and can you maybe list this out and give an example of what someone might earn as a VA sitting on the beach in their province versus maybe a high school graduate in their province doing a standard job?
Regina: Yes we had an issue where we have to let go one of our staff because he’s just not working well. He said like we feel like we’re not giving you enough salary and he’s earning twenty thousand a month and we just feel like we can pay him more but he needs to step up and he says, well if I don’t have this job I will be working in the government for eight thousand a month. So this is already a huge opportunity for me it’s above average, it’s a great culture, it’s a great working culture environment and it still surprises me where, how, you know the normal wage, especially in the province, is eight thousand, ten thousand a month and although sure we live in the province but at the end of the day you would want to earn more, to send your kids to a good school, to a private school. And so, if you earn twenty thousand in you live in the farm or in the province it goes a long, long way and it’s, you know their earning in dollars and their spending in pesos so it’s a win-win for them. So it’s really just when they find a client they take care of that client and making sure that you know this is it, this is their life, they have given up everything so they’ve dedicated their whole to this client in exchange for living at home, taking care of the family and going back to the province.
Derek: And just to put that into context 20,000 pesos per month is about 400 US dollars and the comparison 8,000 pesos is about 175 dollars per month that the people are earning and again working for the government it’s not high paid but that’s a pretty good job as well so it’s incredible span there. So do you see that people kinda very quickly get used to it all and then suddenly 20k is normal and they kind of rest on the lowest or do you see that generally people with this 20k VA jobs they’ve aware of the luck that they have?
Regina: They kind of see that in a way where they go to upwork there are clients like really offering this amount of rate and there are other virtual assistants who offer lower than 20,000 a month and they may have the same skill set, they may have the same rating and upwork but just a lower value and it just gives them, puts them in the perspective where ok I have client who pays me this so I just make sure I don’t lose it, I just make sure I don’t lose the client and make sure that I provide more value over deliver so to speak and then you know they just take care of that client and they may not get that 20,000 again but at least they’re bread and butter. If the 20,000 they make sure that that’s being prioritized.
Derek: Where do you see all this going then? I have a theory that in 20-30 years time, outsourcing won’t be called outsourcing anymore it will just be called employment because people across the world will be interacting with each other and employing each other just based on meritocracy and skills not on where they’re sitting. But where do you see this whole thing evolving over the next 20-30 years? Are you optimistic? are you worried about the AI??
Regina: Not, not really I mean it’s more and more people, VAs that I know of, they get to know the how to run a business at least an e-commerce business and they start their own e-commerce business. They become entrepreneur themselves, they started baking, they started selling in Lazada, they started selling on ebay, using amazon affiliates at the same time having that opportunity to learn from their client’s businesses and their clients would help them and more and more people are becoming entrepreneur themselves because of the business learning that they know that in the Philippines you need to enroll and go to college for business schools, business courses but with them they get to start their own VA agency or create their own e-commerce business and some of them would retire doing Virtual Assistant work and just focus on becoming an entrepreneur, some of them has finally saved up money and started their own apartment for rent in the province or started their own farm and just doing what they’re passionate in doing. It just gives them more areas where they can grow if their end goal is to really start their own business, the outsourcing has helped us in a way paved our own successes. So it may not be outsourcing but outsourcing is a tool where it helps us provide value at the same time like do what we love to do.
Derek: They are all amazing examples aren’t they and it’s a sector that enables people to better themselves to upskill themselves, to earn money, to save money and then, of course, that money is reinvested in society and to other investments, other businesses employing other people. Again it’s the first time this has really existed because previously if Davao got lucky 20-30 years ago it was because maybe a new factory was built but this was not the same kind of up leveling as a result of a factory job. It’s a really huge potential.
Regina: Yeah and more and more clients wanting to meet their Virtual Assistants, going to the Philippines, improving our tourism, there’s this high rate of people visiting and they don’t care if it’s in Mindanao, they don’t care if it’s like there’s the news of terrorist or whatever they just come here to visit the virtual assistant and their team and they go to the beach and they do team building. And you know it’s such a great honor to be able to meet the person you just see on your computer to finally really invest the time and money to go to the Philippines and it’s also humbling where they say, ‘no Regina you made this happen’, if I didn’t hire virtual assistant I wouldn’t able to have the time atleast to come here because I’m trap, you know i called them solopreneur where they do everything themselves so with that they thank us for this opportunity where they can fly to the tropical country like Philippines and bond with the team and more and more people are coming here which you know which is nice and they see the potential in the Philippines and they wanna start their coffee shops here, they wanna start other businesses so there’s more of that collaboration going on.
Derek: Absolutely it’s really a win-win for everyone. That’s part of our job is trying to get the message out there and promoting the fantastic opportunity for the Philippines, for the workforce in the Philippines but also everyone out there in the west as well.
Regina: Yeah we, like for us also I also wanted to mention where because we don’t have a regulatory body or we don’t have that support system yet we can’t really report it to the Police that we didn’t get paid or anything, so we started a list of blacklisted of clients and their names that didn’t pay, and what happened in their experiences so if ever this person contacted you on Linkedin please know that this is what happened with us, here are some screenshots of our conversation and more and more people. We tried to do those just little things to protect ourselves every now and then.
Derek: Do you get sort of foreign employees and not paying their bills?
Regina: Yeah absolutely, we have clients who asked for a test writing job for twenty articles. And that’s just a test and you know for a Filipino who wanted to, ok it’s ok, it’s just twenty I can just do it and at the end, it’s not. So yes there are just some people there’s always the bad and the good but yeah, I mean we should embrace the good, the bad, the ugly, the everything that’s part of the whole process. Yes, we should just be aware.
Derek: How do you find clients generally? Certainly my experiences of clients are generally very supportive, they’re very appreciative, you would have more first-hand experience than me. What is the true representation of western clients?
Regina: Luckily I have never experienced being scammed or a client not paying my service. I think I also had the skills or the experience or that knack of telling whether this client is good or not. If it’s too good to be true then I advise not to go with it. There are a lot of clients that are looking for your services so don’t just settle with one client, I mean right now we’re in the position where we can choose clients that we work with. Luckily we were in that position but before when we’re starting out it was all a hustle every day, we talked to different clients every day, there was no screening process, there was no interview or a first call it was all we cater to everyone. But then you know, it’s very draining, they don’t have the time, they don’t have the money so at the end it’s not working out so we just said, ok these are the checklist, these are the clients that we need to work with and just be done with it and they don’t match with us then we recommend other freelancers that we meet in Davao city and we just offer it to them.
Derek: It’s a fact point. Everything has both the good, the bad. Ok, thank you so much and I’ve really appreciated our conversation and I’m happy that there’s so much optimism for outsourcing generally. If anyone wants to get in touch with you if they wanna know more about Mr. Outsource how can they do that?
Regina: Yes just visit our website www.mroutsource.com and there’s a form there just fill it in and we’ll get right back via email or via Skype call.
Derek: Thank you so much, Regina.
Regina: Thank you.
That was Regina Evangelista of Mr. Outsource, if you wanna get in touch with her or want to know any more about Mr. Outsource then go to our show notes at outsourceaccelerator.com/148 and of course if you want to email us, then please do. Just email us at [email protected] and we will get back to you. See you next time.