Guest: Mark Shapiro
Presenter: Dianne Grace
About Executive Boutique Call Center
Executive Boutique LLC is a US and Australian-owned and managed company. It was founded by experienced business executives who combined their backgrounds in information technology, law, finance, sales, and marketing to help small and mid-sized businesses be more competitive and profitable by providing them access to high-quality offshore contact center services.
What Executive Boutique Offers its Clients
Along with some of the most experienced Philippine contact center managers, trainers and HR professionals, we have assembled what we believe is the finest in contact center support services. Today, Executive Boutique offers tremendous expertise in training, customer service, technology, creative solutions, and problem-solving.
Mark Shapiro, President of Executive Boutique, joins us in this episode to share more insights about their history as company and the lessons they have learned over the past decade of being in business. Alternatively known as EB Call Center, it has a sister company that markets primarily to Australia called SelectVoiceCom or SVC that operates out of the same space as Executive Boutique. EB Call Center is their US facing company and they are looking forward to the next 10 years in historic Cebu.
Transcript of the Interview
Dianne Grace: Hello and welcome to the Offshoring and Outsourcing Philippines podcast. I’m your host Dianne Grace and today our guest is the President of Executive Boutique Call Center. This company is located in Cebu, very well known as the ‘Queen of the South,’ Mr. Mark Shapiro. So the company has been established since 2008 and they just recently celebrated their 10th year anniversary, so congratulations to them. So without further ado, let me welcome our guests for today Mr. Mark Shapiro. Hi Mark.
Mark Shapiro: Hi, thanks for having me.
Dianne: Thank you for making yourself available today. So first off, can you tell us more about your company Executive Boutique?
Mark: Sure. Executive Boutique, which is also known as EB Call Center, which is our website ebcallcenter.com, was founded in 2008 as you mentioned in your opening. We started with just a handful of people in Cebu, in IT Park in the Skyrise 2 Building. We were one of the first tenants there, and we have since grown over the last 10 years. We have about 650 employees, and we have about 30 or so clients, most of them in the US, though we do have a fair number of Australian clients. We have a sister company that markets primarily to Australia known as SelectVoiceCom or otherwise known as SVC that operates out of the same space. Executive Boutique is our US facing company and we are looking forward to the next 10 years there. We’re growing very quickly and it’s great to be in Cebu.
Dianne: So can you give us an idea or can you tell us the kinds of services that EB Call Center offers?
Mark: Sure. Everything we do is on a dedicated agent basis and what I mean by that is instead of our clients hiring people in their office, they’re hiring dedicated agents trained to do just a particular function that they’ve hired us to do. We don’t do any shared support and everything we do is on a full-time basis, so we don’t do any part-time work. We handle all the traditional call center and BPO services such as customer support and technical support which are both generally inbound, and we do a lot of outbound lead generation, telemarketing, appointment setting, and B2B surveys. We also have a pretty substantial back-office operation for non-voice services such as chat and email support. We also do online research and database building for various clients. Our clients tend to be small and medium-sized businesses. Typically our minimum team size to work with us is about five full-time agents, sometimes we will take on people with three or four but typically five is our minimum, and we have several clients that have built up to over a hundred agents. However, the vast majority are in the middle with anywhere from five to thirty agents.
Dianne: Okay. You mentioned that you also have, aside from call support, you also have the non-voice support. So when it comes to your callers or your agents, do you also provide training for them to have this accent reduction or any training for staff?
Mark: Absolutely. We do a tremendous amount of training, though almost all of our agents that work for us have prior call center experience. We are located in IT park which is the largest office park in Cebu and home to about 15,000 call center agents. Companies such as Google, eBay, Amazon, Expedia and JP Morgan Chase have entire buildings all around us and they’re supported by the really big call centers – the Convergys and the Teleperformances of the world – so all of those big companies hire hundreds and hundreds or even thousands of kids right out of college, sometimes out of high school and they’ll go through six to eight weeks of training, customer support training, language training, soft skills training and then they’ll go work in their specific account where they do their specific account training. So typically agents we’ve hired have been through those big call center experiences. They’ve been through all that training and we hire them after they’ve been there for anywhere from one to five years, and then they come in-house with us. Basically they come to EB because we treat them better, we pay them more, we offer a family type environment and we do a lot of training with them as well. So they start work with us, initially they do about a week’s worth of initial training about our policies and procedures and then they’ll do their specific trainings with respect to the campaign or client that they’re joining. In addition to that, we have trainers that do specific training for our team leaders and our agents. As you mentioned, we do additional language training and it’s usually geared to the specific campaign that they’re on so we’ll look at the script that they’re working with and the information they need to provide and look at what words may need to be neutralised and it seems to work out very well.
Dianne: Yeah, it’s also good to notice that before or about five or ten years ago, when you say a BPO company, it’s usually about making calls but nowadays you also have non-call work for people. They do chat support or emails and other back-office work which is pretty much expanding so there are more opportunities for Filipino workers to get employed. Mark, can I ask you what made you decide to choose Cebu aside from other locations here in the Philippines?
Mark: Sure. At the time we were looking at the Philippines, the choices were limited because back in 2008, there wasn’t as much infrastructure in some of the other cities as there is now. So the choice was really Cebu or Manila at that point and we really liked Cebu. It’s a smaller City, it’s a much more livable city than Manila but they still have a tremendous amount of talent. We found that with the agents in Cebu, their English was excellent, there’s a ton of universities so there was a lot of educated agents looking for work, the space was less expensive and it was a place we’d like to be. We really like Cebu, there’s Mactan Island that’s connected to Cebu, there are great resorts there like the Shangri-la and Crimson and places like that where you can really get away to on the weekend. When you’re in Manila, it’s just a massive city and you just don’t have that get away to the beach in 25 minutes type of lifestyle.
Dianne: Yes, I understand that because Manila is a bit congested so I guess that’s one of the reasons why Cebu is also becoming popular and yes, as you mentioned, huge companies, global companies are also there. Mark, you mentioned that staff ranges from five to a hundred. Let me ask about the clients, have the clients been to Cebu to check out their team and such?
Mark: The short answer is yes, many clients come visit us. It’s more likely that the larger clients that are going to be growing larger and have the funding to do so absolutely send their staff to Cebu to do training and look at our space. Lots of potential clients come to Cebu to look at our space and do some interviews and get a feel for who we are and we encourage our clients to come. We have great training facilities and office facilities for them to come and make them very comfortable. There’s lots of hotels near IT Park where we’re located so it’s very easy for the clients to come and it something we definitely encourage.
Dianne: You also mentioned that EB Call Center, you tend to have this family oriented environment so is it safe to say that with your shifting schedules between the US and Australia, you have staff that probably have families. So how do you accommodate single parents? Do you also have a facility where they could bring their kids or do you adjust the schedule of an employee depending on the availability or whether it’s availability is on the days or they’re on to the Australian company? How is the set up to become family friendly?
Mark: Sure. There are some agents that want to work at night because they have obligations during the day, usually family obligations or school obligations so the agents that want to work at night will take a job during the night shift. They do get a 10% pay differential to work the night shift so there’s an economic advantage but there’s a lot of people that want to work the day shift. We have plenty of opportunity with our Australian clients that coincides with the Philippine day time so we are constantly recruiting for both day and night shift. We have our own in-house cafeteria and we have our own in-house sleeping lounge so we provide subsidized meals for everybody so that they can get from home, they can have a meal that’s about fifty pesos (one dollar) and you can get a whole meal. Also if they want to take a nap, before the shift or after shift or even during their lunch, we have comfortable accommodations for them to do that. We understand people have to catch up on their sleep when they can so we try to be as supportive as we can for families. We realize that people work because they have to work but we also want to make it a great place to work and that they look forward to coming there.
Dianne: That is good to know. Do you also have activities such as team building or any outside work activities such as charity or any anything that bonds the employees together?
Mark: The answer is yes to all of the above. We have four big events every year that are company-wide events outside – we have our Christmas party in December, we have an anniversary party in September, we have a family outing that’s a sports outing so we rent out this whole college near us, University of Southern Philippines, and they have a basketball and volleyball and badminton tournaments and then there’s lots of stuff for the kids to do. They bring in a bouncy castle and magicians and then we have our summer party which we just had in April, so those are the four big events. On top of that, we have management specific management level outings, we sponsor individual team outings where different teams can plan their own outings. We’ve actually hired a person a couple years ago, her title is Chief Morale Officer to organize our events and the in-house activities that we are constantly sponsoring are things like, every month there’s a budget for treats. Whether it’s a Cupcake Day or Popcorn Day or Ice Cream Day or Doughnut Day and then we always do decorating for Halloween and Valentine’s Day and certainly in Christmas. And in terms of charitable things we have done, our website has a long list of all the charitable events we’ve done. Just recently, we participated in this River cleanup in Cebu. There’s a river that runs through the city so there was a big cleanup all along the river. Last year, we built a house, we sent a team of people to Bohol where we paid the money for a house to be built for this very poor family. Also last year, we had a team of EB agents go to this mountainous region in Bohol and we provided flip-flops and backpacks and umbrellas and raincoats to about 60 school children in a very poor barangay and we sent a big team up there. We brought Jollibee and the kids were very excited. Locally in Cebu, we’ve done a dental outreach where we provided dental hygiene and fluoride treatment to 200 school children right near us. So I can go on and on about this, but yeah, we’re very active in the community in trying to do things to help the community.
Dianne: It’s good to know that you are indeed giving back to the community. So moving on to the client experience, Mark, can you give us a story or two about how EB Call Center and selectvoicecom.com.au have helped small to medium business owners in the past years?
Mark: Sure. It’s helpful to look at our largest accounts that all have over a hundred agents each and they all started with five or ten agents each and built up over time. Each of those clients were call centers that were already outsourcing somewhere else in the world. I think one was in Jamaica and one was in Guatemala and one was in South Africa and over time, and some of them actually had call centers in the US as well, and over the last three or four years, all of them have ended all of those relationships – both their call centers in the US and their call centers in those other countries – and really have consolidated all of their efforts in us and they primarily found that we just provide better service, the agents had better success rates and better performance and just an overall good experience. And clients are really looking at the bottom line, they’re looking at what their return on their investment is and they found that they just had a better return on investment at Executive Boutique and SelectVoiceCom and as a result, we’ve seen the constant growth. Most of those clients actually do a number of things with us. They all started with voice accounts but have since expanded to doing things like email marketing and chat support. Some of them or one of them is a big insurance company and we do a lot of data entry of filling out applications. So those are good examples of clients that found a lot of value and continue to expand and we look forward to having a long relationship with them.
Dianne: Well it’s good to know that you’re able to help other companies to expand but we know for a fact that it’s not always good. Can you share a bit about the challenges that you’ve encountered with some of your clients about their not-so-pleasant experience trying out outsourcing in the Philippines?
Mark: Listen, if we were successful a hundred percent of the time, that would just be remarkable. I mean we have had clients that have done an A/B test and this is typically in the b2b setting or maybe they had a sales team in the US and try to set up a sales team in the Philippines and the sales team in the Philippines just couldn’t compete with the US-based sales team and it really depends on what it is they’re trying to sell and so that’s probably a good example. If it’s a really complicated long-term process that you’re going to need to make a long-term investment, I think that it’s the type of thing that we can be and have been successful at but some clients are not as patient. They don’t want to invest, if they’re not getting results in the first month and they feel like it doesn’t work and sometimes things take longer than that. We had a client that was an auto parts company, a big auto parts company, we were doing customer support for them and you really needed to know a lot about every make and model of a car and lots of the car parts and frankly as you probably know, most people in the Philippines that work at a call center don’t own a car and don’t know everything about the cars so it’s very challenging to find people who were real “car people” who could provide that service. Now of course over time, the agents learned it and got better at it but this client felt like they’ll stick with what works and I think they continue to stay with their US based call center.
Dianne: Thank you for sharing that. So being here in the Philippines and having us having a company that’s been here for over ten years which is really, really a big achievement for all the BPO companies in the Philippines, what is your main takeaway message – not just for clients but also for employees who want to be in this type of industry?
Mark: Well I think I’ll speak to the clients first and my main advice for most clients is really know what you’re trying to outsource. You should be doing it in-house first, become an expert in your own thing. If you think that you can just call up and if you’ve never sold a product or you’ve never generated a lead for your product on anything and you think that you can just call up an outsourcing company and they’re going to answer all your questions and figure out your own product, but if you don’t know your own company and your own business, it’s going to be very challenging to train a call center or BPO to do it for you, so you really have to know your own business. And then secondly I’d say you want to really work with a company that takes the time to learn about your needs, if you call a BPO company and they start off talking about their services and how great they are and what they can do for you without having first really understood for you what your challenges and needs are, chances are you’re not talking to the right company because they’re not really asking the right questions. And then certainly if they have the opportunity to go out to the Philippines and visit them and see them and meet them in person and see what the space looks like because there are a lot of companies out there who say they have a call center but they’re really just a call center broker and they really don’t run their own companies and they’re not really in charge and you really end up dealing with a middleman so you really got to know what you’re working with. And then I guess the last thing is don’t necessarily pick the company with the lowest price because typically if you’re picking a rock-bottom price, that means the company you are working with probably doesn’t have nice facilities, they probably don’t pay their agents very well, they don’t provide the type of benefits the agents are going to need to make them happy and stick around long term and so really it’s worth that extra dollar or two an hour to get a company who is going to treat their agents right and they’re going to be around for the long term and they’re going to be happy to be working hard for you. In terms of agents, certainly you want to work with a company that cares about you, that’s going to invest in your training and your growth. I know that we always try to promote from within for almost all of our managers and team leaders. Our operations manager who’s in charge of everything started with our company as an agent, I think in 2010, just right out of college and he is now literally the number one head honcho here. So that’s really what you want to look for. Try to find out if are they promoting from within, are they spending time and money on training and do they care about you personally?
Dianne: Those are very helpful advice and thank you for sharing that, especially the one that you said about clients who want to try out the Philippines, to actually be here. I think you have a good point.
Mark: Yeah but with that said, it’s not necessary. With the available technology, we have video conferencing rooms and they could certainly see their agents and talk to their agents and I would say the vast majority of clients don’t come out before they start with us and a lot of them come out after they start with us but it’s nice if you could do it but it’s not absolutely required.
Dianne: Alright. Also before ending, would you recommend the Philippines, aside from I know there are other countries all around the world who are also focusing on outsourcing – do you think investing in the Philippines would be a better idea rather than going to, as you said, Jamaica, Guatemala or India? What’s your take on that?
Mark: Well of course I’m biased because we’re there. But there is a reason that the Philippines overtook India as the number one outsourcing destination in the world in 2011 and that’s because the Filipino culture is much more aligned with and accustomed to Western countries particularly the US but I assume that would apply to Australia in the UK as well. And Filipinos are hardworking people, they’re well educated, the price is obviously very competitive and most companies see a 70% savings and the Philippines have really invested in the technology so that they now have the internet bandwidth that support all of the needs of BPOs so whether the agent is sitting in the Philippines or are sitting around the corner in your office, they’re really going to have the same connectivity. So for all those reasons, I think it’s a great place and that’s why we’re there.
Dianne: Thank you so much Mark. So for interested companies as well as employees who want to work for you, what’s the best way to get in touch?
Mark: Sure. Companies can go to our website which is ebcallcenter.com or clients in Australia would go to selectvoicecom.com.au. They can also call us directly, our phone numbers are right on the top of the website and we’re always here to answer the call.
Dianne: Alright. So again, that’s ebcallcenter.com and that’s their US company and for folks down under their company is selectvoicecom.com.au. Thank you so much Mark for joining today, I’m pretty sure you’re quite busy but thank you for making yourself available today.
Mark: Well thank you for having me, I appreciate it. Have a great day.
Dianne: You too. Once again, I’m your host Dianne Grace for the Offshoring and Outsourcing Philippines podcast and we thank Mr. Mark Shapiro, the President of EB Call Center or Executive Boutique in Cebu, Philippines for joining us today. This interview will be available on our website at www.offshoring.com.ph and also throughout our social media accounts on YouTube Facebook Twitter Linkedin and Instagram. We’re also on SoundCloud, TuneIn and iTunes. Thank you once again, this is Dianne Grace for the Offshoring and Outsourcing Philippines podcast.