The Philippines – Pearl of the Orient
First of all, I’m pretty opinionated about the Philippines. In fact, I’m in love with the country, the people – and need I say the Scuba Diving? Moreover, I was blessed with a beautiful Philippine wife a few years ago so yes, I definitely have a bias.
That said, it’s not only a personal preference. As a sales outsourcing firm, we’ve worked with call center folks in a number of locations around the world. In all of our experience over twelve years of managing call centers, the Filipino performance statistics have simply been the best.
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to walk among these pretty people, be sure to put it on your “bucket list.” All of the Malay peoples – especially the Filipinos – are wonderfully affable, gracious and accommodating. Yes, go to the Philippines for its great natural beauty natural beauty and to check out the business environment but, more importantly, go there for the chance to experience and make friends with some of the sweetest, most affable and selfless people on earth.
In my opinion, the Filipinos possess the world’s most beautiful culture. It is tolerant, inclusive and warm. Neither individualistic or collectivist, the society is more naturally communal than any other, and the traditions of faith (Catholic – 80%, Protestant – 15% and Muslim – 5%) are the glue. Other than East Timor, it is the only predominantly Christian society in Asia and the only one where the vast majority speaks English. English and Tagolog are both official languages of the Philippines, and congressional proceedings and law are all in English.
Relationship with the United States
A highly integrated member of the Asian community, Filipinos love the West, especially the United States. Filipinos understand that America is in the business of freedom and has particular exceptionalism in business. For a Filipino, serving and teaming with Americans is a privilege that they do not take lightly. This attitude and a very high level of personal integrity is at the core of what I like to call The Filipino Exceptionalism Factor.
Key Areas and What to Expect
Since we are a primarily a sales consulting and outsourcing firm, for the purposes of simplicity, we’ll stick with the area of includes lead generation, specifically Appointment Setting, as it concerns this discussion.
Appointment Setting — What You Can Expect
Typical call center-managed appointment setting and sales support projects are quite often failures. This is the case whether the agents are located in Canada, the US, Jordan, the Philippines or anywhere else. There are exceptions of course and good firms do exist, but the traditional call center model itself is not conducive to high performance levels or agent and client retention. Many things have to work together very well for a sales project to work well, especially in a call center environment.
Recruiting the right people is job one. Get this part right and you are half way home. Unfortunately, recruiting is culture specific and psychological testing based on large populations of American employees is fairly unreliable. One can perform a host of recruiting tests, interviews, background checks and the like, yet wind up with annual turnover between 100 and 300 percent in the Philippines just like many US centers do.
Sadly, the hire, train, fire, rehire model is ubiquitous in this industry. It seems to us that if an individual is the right person to hire, then it falls to management to ensure that the agent is well suited for the campaign, well trained and happy. For those recruiting employees or contractors directly, the task of attracting and retaining the best talent is even more difficult, and I generally advise against it.
It’s common knowledge that an unreliable agent can pass an interview by saying the right things, ensuring that their references are positive, etc., regardless of the psychometric testing used. In the end, there are always things about an employee that we can’t know – or can we? We don’t have the science down perfectly yet, but for the past several years our firm has experienced agent turnover at or below 25% per year. How we do this is not a mystery, and we can help you achieve the same results.
Meeting and exceeding client expectations is quite difficult for most call center operations. I believe this is another flaw in the classic call center model. Have you asked yourself how it may be that one agent performs so well, while others on the same campaign just can’t meet their quotas? One could ask the same about field sales personnel. But in a call center environment, do you as the client, or consultant on behalf of your client, know what is actually going on behind that “Chinese wall”? As a client, have you asked yourself how it is that a campaign got off to such a good start and then lost momentum fast after the “trial” period? Could it be that the few top performers are moving from project to project?
While this is a lengthy topic, let me suggest that as client, or client consultant, make sure that your agents are dedicated to your company full time and that you make every effort to make them part of your team. If you encounter resistance or new voices unexpectedly, it may just be time to move your campaign to another firm.
The first month is an important time during the life of the engagement. During this period, a certain amount of patience is needed. Your outsourcing company or consultant should insure that you are allowed to monitor and work with your agents as closely as you can to make sure that they understand the background and service/product materials, the script, and are making effective calls or performing other behaviors that are predictive of success.
Secondly, the high level of stress inherent with appointment setting causes some agents to become discouraged. They also normally tend to have technique issues that inhibit performance. Improper management at this juncture can push an otherwise star performer out the door before they have a chance to reach their potential.
So especially during the first 30 days of a campaign, clients or the client’s consultant should not only work with and support the assigned agent (if allowed by the call center), but also train backup agents who would be able to take over in the case that it becomes necessary to make a change.
Throughout the life of the engagement we recommend that clients continue to monitor the agent to ensure continued performance. An effective outsourcing company or sales consultant will utilize a very structured approach, processes, and a variety of tools for professional development and day to day management. At the same time, we encourage the client’s team to contribute additional training and coaching – especially as it concerns company, industry and product/service knowledge.
Also remember that your agent is a human being and bad things happen to good people such as an unforeseen family crisis, serious illness or divorce. We’ve found it wise to provide certain additional support services that can ameliorate any unforeseen problems and help ensure that your campaign stays on track without interruption.
Training and Accountability:
There are a number of ongoing longer term protocols that we use with our agents. As a general rule, appointment setting campaigns take time to reach optimal levels – up to one month — several script revisions, and good lists. As a client, some steps you can take that will pay big dividends are as follows:
- Provide orientation to your US staff members regarding your commitment to the project. Do everything possible to quell the notion that “this is a test” as that may invite resistance, impatience and possibly a critical attitude toward the project and the agents.
- Expect resistance from any who might become threatened by the project and actively seek to control it.
- Make the agents permanent members of your sales staff by including them in sales meetings, updates and the like. Assume that they Do Not understand you and be sure to repeat directions more than once.
- Keep in mind that Filipinos are a very colonialized people who are, for the most part, not “out of the box” thinkers. Giving them permission to make mistakes without fear of punishment is very important.
- If they know you respect and care for them by taking even the smallest thing as a reason to give a compliment or recognition, this will go a long way to establishing trust and a loyalty which is, in my opinion, the second most important success factor after recruiting well. Knowing they are appreciated and needed by their American big brothers and sisters gives them great joy and satisfaction. Do this and they will do almost anything for you.