Guest: Derek Ackary
Presenter: Henry Acosta
Overview: Derek Ackary, the founder and CEO of Kulturoo Consulting joined the podcast and talked about the importance of Australian Culture and Communications training for Australian BPO’s.
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To learn more about the future of work, please listen to our talk below:
Henry Acosta: Thanks for listening and this is the Outsourcing and Offshoring Philippines podcast. I’m Henry Acosta, the host of the podcast and our guest today is Derek Ackary of Kulturoo Consulting. Derek’s been living in the Philippines since 2003 and he has a lot of experience with BPO firms here in the Philippines and we’re looking forward to finding out what Kulturoo Consulting does and all that jazz. With all that said, thank you so much for joining the show Derek.
Derek Ackary: Okay, thanks very much for having me Henry.
Henry: And so to get things started we just want to know, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and what Kulturoo Consulting is?
Derek: Okay, yeah it’s a very good question and it’s got a pretty long answer so I’ll try and keep it as brief as I can. But as you mentioned in the intro, I’ve been living in the Philippines since 2003 and my background is actually finance but when I first moved to the Philippines, one of the first jobs that I had was working for a company that did recruitment of Filipino workers and sending them to Australia on 457 visas. And part of my job during that time was helping to prepare Filipinos for when they moved to Australia so we called it a pre-departure orientation seminar so that was teaching them things about Australian culture, some of the Australian slang, and in the Australian accent and things like that to help them assimilate into Australia. So I’ve had quite a lot of experience in I guess preparing Filipinos with how to deal with Australian culture. And through the years, I’ve noticed the BPO industry growing here. I’ve got a lot of Australian friends who are either owners or managers or involved in Australian run and managed BPOs based here in the Philippines and in recent times, I ended up with a job working for a company called Transcom who’s one of the biggest BPOs in the world. They had the Samsung Australia account amongst other accounts and a friend suggested to me that I should apply for a position that they had there as Australian culture and communications trainer so I did that and I helped to develop a program which they put into their training to do with the Australian culture and communications. And after awhile, I left Transcom and a few friends of mine knew that I’d been working with Samsung and particularly my friends involved with BPOs and call centres expressed a bit of interest in getting me to do some consulting with them. Having spoken to a few people and doing a bit of networking, I discovered that there is actually quite a bit of demand for Australians to train Filipinos particularly customer facing call center agents. Australians, as everyone knows, have got a pretty different accent. Filipinos typically have a more of an american-style sort of accent whereas the Australian accent is obviously very different and a lot of these call centers are taking phone calls from very typical Australians who have a very broad accents and use slang and terminology when they speak. And so I thought there was an opportunity for me there to start helping out some of these BPOs that have got Australian customers and seeing if we can help improve the communication which ultimately improves the customer experience and then that improves the overall service levels for the companies concerned.
Henry: That’s how Kulturoo Consulting came to be.
Derek: Yes, that’s right. So basically it was just catering for the demand. Australians are fairly patriotic when it comes to retaining jobs in Australia as you’ve probably had some of these discussions with other guests on this podcast. Initially when Australia started to outsource and offshore, it was met with a little bit of resistance and as Australian companies have tried their best to keep the jobs in Australia but at the end of the day. it makes more economic sense to offshore or outsource some or even all of your business in order to keep being able to keep the business running essentially say as a result of that. As I mentioned, there’s been a lot of Australian businesses in the last sort of four or five, six, seven years that have started operating in the Philippines and like I said, I’ve been here since 2003 so I’ve seen a lot of this change occurring and not necessarily being from an outsourcing background myself, but having a lot of friends who are involved and obviously understanding the sort of economics of the country in Australia and so forth. Like I said, I recognized an opportunity and thought that I’d explore it a bit more and so far I’ve had quite a bit of demand for my services so it’s all going quite well.
Henry: I just wanted to ask how did you come up with the name of Kulturoo Consulting?
Derek: Yeah, that’s a good question. I guess because what I’m training is about Australian culture and communications, so I was trying to think of some name that would be fairly short and something that would be also be fairly descriptive. And obviously, kangaroos are a synonymous icon of Australia or a symbol of Australia and then I thought kangaroo and then culture because I’m training culture so sort of combine the words culture and kangaroo together. And as you can tell by the spelling, I spell it with a ‘K’ so it’s Kulturoo and got my little logo there with a kangaroo looking happy, so hopefully when people see the Kulturoo logo, it sort of makes a little bit of sense and describes what the business is about.
Henry: I actually got a small idea actually from looking at the flyer that you sent us over and yeah, I like the name a lot.
Henry: So can you tell us about the impact that you guys make with the BPO firms that you work with and how important is it for them to talk to you, so the differences between the Filipino culture and Australian culture?
Derek: Yeah, that’s a very good question. As I talk about with the people, the companies that engage me, there is such a difference between the Australian and Filipino culture, I think Australians and not necessarily Australians but even Westerners to a degree can get lulled into a little bit of a false sense of security when it comes to either doing business in the Philippines or even just if they’re visiting here or whatever, because Filipinos speak English. So I think looking at Australians in particular, we just take it for granted a little bit that Filipinos speak English but we I guess think that Filipinos think the same way we do but they don’t, right? It’s still very much an Asian culture here, having been pretty much all around Asia and being exposed to different nationalities from around Asia or even when I was living in Australia. There is definitely contrast in culture. So basically when I’m training Filipinos, I’m not training them to speak with an Aussie accent or use Australian slang, I’m not actually trying to make them become Australian. What I’m trying to educate them about is when they’re speaking to an Australian, what to expect, okay. So helping them to really break down the differences between Australian culture and Filipino culture, particularly with the language so as you’re probably aware when Filipinos need to sort of converse fluently in English, they call it a ‘nosebleed’ because their brain hurts from having to speak in English, right. So I don’t want to overwhelm the trainees so I don’t expect them to learn a whole heap of Aussie slang and jargon and stuff like that. Basically I give them, I guess some techniques on how to I guess decipher the Australian accent and how to decipher the Australian slang and jargons and then through those techniques, helps them to develop I guess better communication. So it helps to improve their soft skills with a real focus on listening properly because generally, I mean my experience in the Philippines and I’ve been married to a Filipino for 22 years as well so I’ve noticed that when Filipinos, if you’re speaking to them and they don’t understand something they straightaway stop listening like they I guess they get a bit overwhelmed or the nosebleed or whatever you want to call it and they stop listening. Whereas, what do I encourage them to do is even if they don’t understand every single word, it doesn’t really matter. If they let the customer finish speaking, then they can go back and analyze what was said and they still should be able to pick up enough through the context of the conversation to be able to give an appropriate response. So that’s really the core of what I train so I hope to really break down the Australian I guess language and I try to show that the differences between the Australian I guess accent and language compared to say Filipino English and accent. It’s actually not really that different, there’s probably 20 to 30 percent of a difference but that means basically they still should be able to understand 70 or 80 percent of what’s being said in a conversation so that equips with enough information to be able to make an appropriate response to the customer. And then of course because I do have the background of having been here for so long and being married to a Filipino, so when I’m speaking to my trainees as well, I think that I can engage with them a little differently to say in Australian who might be sort of flying in and flying out of the Philippines, who isn’t necessarily really based here and the objective is to I can’t close the cultural gap, I mean that’s impossible – like you can’t make a Filipino be an Australian and you can’t make an Australian be a Filipino. But the objective of what I’m trying to do is just close the gap or just bring the gap closer together, so that’s really what I focus on so I obviously use examples where I compare how Australians might go about doing something compared to say how Filipinos might do it so then that equips the Filipino with a better understanding or a deeper understanding so that they’re able to deliver a better and all-around service to their customers.
Henry: I think that when people get used to talking to let’s say Australians, it gets easier over time and it’s great that we actually don’t have much of a language barrier with your trainees since you understand the culture very well.
Derek: Yes and I still see things every day here they blow my mind about Filipino culture but conversely, Filipinos would look at Australians and think “Geez,” there are things that they would see every day as well that they don’t understand. But also what I’m looking to do as well Henry is develop my training a little bit further so rather than necessarily just train Filipinos about Australian culture. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to also help to train or assist Australians who are either living here or working within the BPO sort of environment whether they’re flying in, flying out or whether they’re based here just to also help them understand the differences in Filipino culture and Australian culture because I think some Australian firms are like us they can get lulled into a bit of a false sense of security. So they get here and they think Filipinos speak English and this is going to be easy and so forth and after a while, I think they really start to get grounded down by the cultural differences and they can get very frustrated and I think that they, I have seen examples, I’m obviously not going to name names or anything but I have seen examples where Australian managers or whatever you want to call it or business owners have actually sort of spoken down to their Filipino staff, sometimes out of frustration. Nothing necessarily personal but just out of frustration because obviously we do things a certain way in Australia and trying to implement those processes and procedures into the Philippines can be a challenge. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I mean it does work but it just requires patience and I have seen occasions where Australians can get a little bit frustrated by some of the little nuances in Filipino culture, not necessarily at work but even just the Philippines in general and some of these are my friends and I just try to say to them “Look, you’ve just got to understand that the culture is different and if you also need to understand Filipino culture. You can’t just come to the Philippines and expect Filipinos to straightaway understand Australian culture and the way that we do things. There has to be a little bit of give and take.” So what I’m hoping to eventually get to with my consultancy, it’s also consulting with the actual managers and business owners of some of these BPOs to I guess help them to fast-track them a little bit into understanding some of the little nuances. Yeah, correct. I think it’s important because they think it’s been proven and I listened to your podcast and you know there’s been some some really good stories, really good success stories of Australian businesses who here are almost dead but resurrected themselves by offshoring or outsourcing so it can work and it does work but I still think that Australian businesses coming here do really need to understand a little bit more about the Philippine culture and the way things are done so that they don’t come here thinking it’s basically like Australia, right. Just because Filipino speak English and they’re highly educated, it doesn’t mean they think the same way as Australians do. While their business processes are the same way as Australians are, so it obviously it requires a lot of education on the part of the Australian company but it also requires a lot of patience as well.
Henry: I was actually about to ask you about that, where do you consult with Australians too who are looking to working in the Philippines. So since we’ve got that covered, I wanted to ask so what kind of BPO firms are you looking into working with or are you looking to working with a bigger BPO firms or maybe one of those startup BPO firms where they have a small number of staff?
Derek: Yeah. At the moment, so I guess I’m really open to anything. I’ve really only had the consultancy going for about the last sort of six to twelve months, so I’m looking to expand that but of course part of any business expansion is being able to make sure that you’re able to deliver, right. You need to be able to keep up with your promises so I don’t want to be able to say to a company “Yeah, I can train a thousand people.” But if it’s just me doing it, how realistic is that? So they’re some of the growing pains and so forth that I need to go through but at the end of the day I mean ultimately when you’re training people, you’d normally want a classroom of around about twelve people, that sort of works pretty well. You tend to get a fairly good cross range of personalities and so forth and that sort of brings a little bit of dynamics to the other group. So at the moment, I do it in groups of 12, so I mean depending, I mean I’ve done training for one customer who’ve got about 130 staff so I sort of did 10 batches of around about 10 to 12. So yeah, depending on certain company’s operational requirements, I guess I can work around that with the customer. Some customers obviously, most customers don’t really like pulling their staff out of operations and putting them into training, so I am flexible so I have done training on Saturdays for example and prepared to do training on Saturdays if that assists the customer. And I guess customers that I’ve done work for, I mean I’ve done all sorts really so I’ve predominantly I guess the ideal target customer that I’m looking for are call centers because it’s really the spoken Australian accents and so forth that Filipinos do struggle with the most. So Filipinos that are dealing on the phone on a regular basis with Australians would predominantly be my sort of target market but I have done training also, because in my training I’ll just cover the modules that I do in my training, so that you get a bit of an understanding. I do start off with the basics, okay the first talk of our Australian history and culture so I just talk about contemporary Australian history so that Filipinos get an understanding that we’re a former British colony, give them an understanding about indigenous Australians, help them to understand that migration from Europe and particularly in more recent times Asia and Africa has all contributed to actually developing the culture of Australia today. So these are the types of people that you can expect to be speaking to on the phone, right. So if someone’s ringing up with a query about customer service or a helpdesk or something like that, these are the type of people that are going to be ringing you, right. They’re not all necessarily going to be white skinned, blue-eyed blonde hair people with an Aussie accent like me, they could look like Filipinos but sound like me, they could be with Indian accent, they could be Chinese with a Chinese accent – these are all the types of different nationalities we’ve got in Australia. So that’s the first module is helping them people to understand the history of Australia and how that history has influenced and developed the culture that we’ve got today. Then the second module the more intensive part of that goes into Australian language which I touched on before, so I basically I’ve identified that there’s three areas of the Australian language that I guess the Filipinos find difficult. So first you’ve got the accent so the Aussie accent, the second part of it is Aussie slang so that’s actual slang and words that are really unique to Australia like ‘true blue’ and ‘fair dinkum’ and ‘beating around the bush.’ And things like that and then you’ve got terminologies, so terminology I classify as for example Filipinos say ‘vacation,’ in Australia we say ‘holiday.’ Filipinos say ‘gasoline,’ in Australia we say ‘petrol.’ Now that’s not slang, okay, that’s terminology, just that’s different things. So I break it down into those three areas – accent, slang and terminology – and then like I said, I give techniques on how they can I guess peel apart those various factors in a conversation so to help with their understanding. Then the third module that I do is about Australian customer expectations. So what I talk about there is how Australians are very time orientated, so in customer service if a customer generally is calling customer service, they’re calling because they’ve got a problem, right, so they generally might not be very happy, they might be frustrated or upset because they’ve purchased a product or a service that has let them down or something. So I teach my trainees how to interact with Australians at that level. Things like time are very important to Australians, like we don’t like wasting time being on hold, wasting time being shunted from one department to another and things like that. So just talking about expectations when it comes to call backs, dead air even on the phone, not just Australians, most people don’t like dead air but I’ll talk about how consumer protection is very strong in Australia. So there’s actually governmental departments in Australia that provide consumer protection so it’s very different to how it is in the Philippines, right. So that’s basically what my course covers so you can see from that outline, it is more I guess geared towards businesses that do have Filipinos speaking to Australians but it doesn’t necessarily need to be retail customers. For example, one of my customers they lease seats, so I guess they’re you would say they more of an offshoring operation so they I guess lease seats, to Australian customers, right, and so they might have two, three, four or whatever staff up here which is basically an extension of their Australian business. And so the Filipinos here might not necessarily be speaking to say retail customers in Australia, like customers who are ringing up because they’ve got a problem with their television or a problem with their cell phone or something like that. They might be speaking to I guess their boss or they might be speaking to co-workers in Australia so they’re the type of people that would also benefit from my training because at the end of the day, they’re still communicating with Australians, right. And at the end of the day, I guess people in that situation, the Australians are actually still their customer, right. So they’re still providing a service as enough showing operation to their business in Australia so they’re the sort of also the customers that I would be targeting. But also, I’ve done training with customers who they deal more in emails so they do BPO processing and stuff so their Filipino staff don’t necessarily speak to Australians but they might be sending email communications. So I do have a brief module, I’m not a qualified English teacher, but I do go over some basic grammar and things like that when it comes to writing emails and things like that so that’s a little bit of an extension I do, once again depending on what the requirements of the actual customer are. So you can see that, but I guess I can offer my services to any sort of Australian company, even if they’re not doing voice, even if they are predominantly doing email communication, they can still benefit from learning the culture side of my training. And even the language side of training because in written format, you don’t necessarily you can’t pick up an accent obviously and you don’t typically use slang when you’re writing but there’s different terminology, right, like I said before, the ‘vacation’ and ‘holiday’ and ‘zip code’ and ‘postcode’ and a few of these different things can still come up in written sort of formats. So yeah, they’re basically I guess the demographics of the potential customers that I’m looking for.
Henry: Since it sounds like you cover a wide scope of things, can you tell us about where you’re based here in the Philippines and how far can you go in the Philippines?
Derek: That’s a good question. So I’ve got an office in Fort Bonifacio, BGC. Now predominantly, I do the training on-site so I’ll go to the customer essentially so as you would be aware, there’s quite a lot of BPOs based around the Fort area so I’ve done quite a bit of training in the Fort. I’ve got some customers in Makati, but I’ve also been speaking to a couple of BPOs up in Clark. So I have a good friend of mine, a former actual business partner who is based up in Clark and he’s introduced me to a couple of people up there, a couple of BPOs up there. So I’ve done a couple of tenders, so I’m basically just waiting to get those locked away so I’m prepared to go up to Clark. But I mean if there was a customer requirement in Cebu or something like that, I mean as long as they covered my overhead, flights and accommodation or whatever, I’m prepared to go to Cebu or Davao or wherever the need maybe.
Henry: And I’m sure at this point a lot of people would want to talk to you already. For those people who are interested in getting in touch with you Derek, what’s the best way that they can do that?
Derek: Okay. At the moment, I don’t have a website. So I’m in the process of developing my website but the email address to reach me on is [email protected]. So Kulturoo, so that’s the best way to reach me or I guess they can get in contact with your program and you could point them my way
Henry: Awesome. Yeah, that’s all the questions for today thank you so much for the time Derek. I really appreciate it.
Derek: Okay, no worries Henry. Thanks very much for having me and all the best.
Henry: And that was Derek Ackary of Kulturoo Consulting. If you want to reach him, please do give him an email at [email protected]. And we’ve just finished talking about how culture is important to a BPO firm and how it’s good both sides are aware of each other’s culture. And if you want to get to know more about the BPO industry in the Philippines, please visit our website at www.offshoring.com.ph. You can also find the audio file and the transcript there. I’m Henry Acosta and this is the Outsourcing and Offshoring Philippines podcast.