Philippine call center goes global

After more than five years of operation, Pilipinas Teleserv Inc. is finally expanding its business overseas. But the Filipino-owned call centre operator, which has anchored its business on Philippine-based clients — primarily the government — is not too keen on looking for foreign investors or expanding as rapidly as the bigger, foreign-owned players.

“In this business, it’s easy to make big mistakes. We don’t really need investors right now; our focus is still on providing honest-to-goodness service. We don’t need to keep up with them,” said Raffy David, Pilipinas Teleserv’s director for marketing and quality assurance, referring to other operators that continue to expand and ride on the call centre boom in the Philippines.

Since it started in 2000, Pilipinas Teleserv has built a successful and sustainable business from providing 24/7 call centre support and delivery services to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Statistics Office — the former for passport renewal and the latter for procurement of legal documents such as birth certificates.

The company also launched last November a one-stop clearance service for the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), which is meant for “balikbayan” Filipino overseas contract workers. In 2002, Pilipinas Teleserv branched out into providing call centre support for delivery services of local food chains McDonald’s, Max’s Fried Chicken and Super Bowl of China.

This year, David said the company will focus on its recent expansion into third-party verification or TPV services.

Third-party verification refers to a service outsourced by outbound telemarketing companies to validate customer sales completed over the phone. In the U.S., telemarketing companies are required by law to use TPV services when selling products and services over the phone.

Last year, Pilipinas Teleserv bagged a TPV outsourcing deal with a U.S.-based telemarketing firm, which also counts as the company’s first-ever client based outside the Philippines.

David said the demand for outsourced TPV services in the U.S. is huge. “I haven’t come across Indian companies that are into TPV,” he added, noting that TPV as a service is also relatively new for Philippine-based call centre operators.

Bringing in results

In doing TPV, agents from a service provider like Pilipinas Teleserv simply listen to recorded telephone conversations and check whether the sale is valid or not, and make sure that all the required information was provided by the customer.

The service, however, does not end there. TPV acts as a sort of monitoring mechanism that evaluates how effective a telemarketing program is in bringing in results based on consummated sales. “We have a feedback program that generates comments on how a telemarketing can be improved by, for example, using (the word) “such” instead of “so”,” David described.

Since most companies in the U.S. outsourced their telemarketing offshore to countries like the Philippines, these recorded conversations may actually involve Filipino call centre agents. But as an independent TPV provider, David said a player like Pilipinas Teleserv has a “relationship” only with the principal client (or the one that outsources its telemarketing), not with the call centre that provides the telemarketing service.

TPV is also meant to complement Pilipinas Teleserv’s current business. The company operates a 200-seat facility, located in Quiapo in the city of Manila, which employs around 320 agents that fill up three eight-hour shifts. “Our current services for DFA and NSO takes up mainly our dayshifts so TPV takes up our excess capacity at night,” David said. “We knew we were too small to do outbound telemarketing ourselves.”

And since TPV is not quota-driven like telemarketing, the requirement of the business is not that large in terms of manpower. For every 100 telemarketers, three or four agents can handle TPV, said David.

Pilipinas Teleserv plans to hire at least 60 more agents this year to beef up its TPV unit as the company looks for more clients. David added: “In telemarketing, there is someone else in the equation aside from the client and the service provider. We want (Pilipinas Teleserv) to be that “someone else.”

Closing the gap

Pilipinas Teleserv was founded by David along with business partners Jun Yupitun and Jeffrey Villanueva around the same time the call centre industry was beginning its boom. The three studied together at De La Salle University. But instead of competing during that time with other call centres in getting clients from the US, the trio pursued Yupitun’s original idea of running a call centre-based service for the National Statistics Office, realizing the then-tedious task of lining up for hours, even days, just to get a birth or a marriage certificate from the agency.

David, who later on pursued his master’s degree at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), crafted a business plan out of what was then a novel idea. “I had professors at AIM who wanted to buy into the company but we decided to do it on our own,” he recalled.

Pilipinas Teleserv started with 16 seats, with two agents working on two shifts. The company now processes about 2,500 NSO applications every day. Applications can be done over the phone and payment is transacted through designated local banks.

The company also runs a similar service for the Foreign Affairs department. The service allows people to renew passports over the phone without having to apply for one physically. Last year, the delivery service was expanded for first-time applicants who wish to have their passports delivered upon completion.

David said majority of users who tried these services learned about them through word-of-mouth. By applying the call centre concept to a government setting, Pilipinas Teleserv is hoping to bridge the gap between efficient governance and public clamor.

“There is a huge gap between the kind of service government provides and the kind of service customers have come to expect from private companies,” he said.

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