Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inducts Atelier Lumikha

Dumaguete City, Philippines— The Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NOCCI) inducted Atelier Lumikha during the Chamber’s Annual Christmas Party at Bethel Guest House on December 12, 2016. The NOCCI includes Negros Oriental’s entrepreneurs, establishments, and businesses.

Along with last year’s newcomers, Atelier Lumikha formally inducted to the Chamber at the annual event. Previously, Atelier Lumikha’s Harry Fozzard met with NOCCI President Edward C. Du when they discussed developing regional human resources and BPO growth in Negros Oriental.

NOCCI Executive Director Juan Agustine V. Jalandoni, said, “We are looking forward towards a new year of providing advocacy and policy to the business community and resolve issues that may confront it. We are also planning of more training and development of the business sector giving emphasis in training our constituents to be more employable to the BPO sector as will be in coordination with the ICT-DGTE group.”

Lumikha’s membership is in line with NOCCI’s “purpose … to serve as a proactive catalyst for the development and sustenance of an environment conducive to business to improve the quality of life for the people of Negros Oriental.”

About Atelier Lumikha

Atelier Lumikha is a Dumaguete-based BPO company that develops software and delivers services that help small business engage with people better. The company combines traditional BPO process rigor with a design studio sensibility of craftsmanship and elegance.

About Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The NOCCI takes a proactive role in shaping the growth of the business environment and serves as the voice of the business sector lkwihsq. NOCCI, has long been a partner of the Negros Oriental Investment Promotion Center and the Province of Negros Oriental in its efforts to spur economic development in the Province. NOCCI has been awarded as the Most Outstanding Chamber in the Visayas and in the entire Philippines, and recently as the Most Outstanding Chamber of Asia and the Pacific by the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CACCI).

Reservior Dogs Suppression

Suppression for Contact Center Lead Management

Context for Application Development

We’ve been elbow-deep building a data model for some time, and I’ve managed to commit a neophyte mistake in offshore management — to paraphrase Mr. Pink, “I’m acting like a first year f***ing manager.”

All too often, we, as managers, provide specifications to developers and expect them to build tools without any context. Context helps developers make better decisions because they can reference broader business rules to develop logic and write code. Contextual information is also critical against the background of offshore outsourcing where teams consist of people with varied backgrounds absenting the underlying cultural assumptions we often take for granted. Giving developers clear direction and the rationale behind the work — business objectives, underlying business rules, etc. makes software faster and better.

Data Suppression

We’re working on data management module for a platform designed to help us manage call center campaigns more efficiently. Part of this process is describing a set of patterns for restricting bad data to sculpt a reasonably effective list — data suppression.

Interestingly, data suppression has two meanings. For government data (the original big data), data suppression refers to withholding information from public records to protect individual privacy. has an entertaining definition: “Data suppression refers to the various methods or restrictions that are applied to limit the disclosure of information about individual respondents and to reduce the number of estimates with unacceptable levels of statistical reliability.”

But I digress.

Bad Data Begone

We use various methods and restrictions to limit the number of lead records that are self-evidently unsellable or statistically unlikely to result in a conversion. Data hygiene and discernment are critical to contact center operations because:

  • Clean, fresh data results in more connected calls, a necessary condition for right-party contacts
  • Obviously, unsellable entities retard floor momentum, thereby hurting agent morale.

Lists Are the Foundation for Good Campaigns

The direct marketer’s adage about campaigns, “there are three components to any campaign: the list, the offer, and the creative,” provides some context to our lead suppression discussion.

The List

Marketers ascribe two-thirds of a campaign’s success to a good list. Good lists result from the portmanteau of smart data procurement and effective data management.

Smart list acquisition identifies characteristics that signify prospects with the means and motive for conversion then assembling enough data about those prospects to contact them. Broadly, there are two techniques for data assembly: compilation and response. Compiled lists are derived from a variety of sources like online data collection and data broker purchases. Response lists, by contrast, include opt-ins and/or people with the predisposition to accept your offer. Response lists exchange higher data costs for higher conversion rates.

Compiled lists’ less targeted data works for volume techniques like telemarketing. For most telemarketing campaigns, it’s not feasible to rely upon response lists exclusively because the volumes required to feed the dialer are too large for all but boutique programs. Often telemarketers associate new connects — newly formed or moved businesses — as a responsive list as those businesses are assumed to require extensive business services and will re-evaluate existing vendor relationships.

The Offer

The offer, not the product or service, is what the recipient gets for responding. Price can be the offer. For example, inducements like “50% off” or “two for one” drive conversions. Infomercials create a sense of value and urgency by piling on items (“wait…there’s more”) and urgency (“act before midnight tonight”). Online services use free trials to great effect.

This is where the line between product development and sales approach breaks down — offer structures for broadcast direct response, online marketing, and telemarketing all integrate the offer into their product design.

The Creative

Where the offer is often defined as part of the product/campaign design, it’s expression obtains in the script. A compelling script must present the offer clearly and effectively within 30 seconds of reaching the decision maker. As the call unfolds, the script deploys language to build perceived value and mitigate risk (“look at everything you get”, “you can cancel anytime”).

Working from a well-defined, compelling, properly-scripted offer, agent skills are a major component of the creative. Conversions arise from effective presentations, objection handling, and closing skills.

List Management

There are a variety of activities that make lists easier to manage and optimize: using response data insofar as it’s possible, working with reputable data brokers and frequent opt-out culling. The most effective techniques for lead management, in our experience, are detailed suppression tables that remove bad records before introducing them to the campaign database and outside validation to remove bad and non-compliant data. In this section, I’ll present the basic process for suppression and our dialing cycles without delving too deeply into the actual suppression logic.

Ecosystem Nomenclature

To keep things straight, we use the nomenclature defined below. It is essential to maintain a strict discipline on how data is described among the development team, the operations team, and the ecosystem centers. This keeps all parties on the same page with data movement and management.

  1. Lead — individual record.
  2. Batch — leads categories by source.
  3. List — leads distributed to each center for 2 week dialing period.
  4. First Import — one-time event where new leads are added to the database.
  5. Distribution — share lead list with center or email application.
  6. Recall — return lead list or conversions for processing.<
  7. Standard Load — the lead count supplied by center calculated at 500 leads/agent/day
  8. Alpha List — (by center) the first export we provide the center to provide ample leads for dialing This Site. This is double the standard load.
  9. Omega List — (by center) list supplied bi-weekly and recalled after two weeks of dialing.
  10. Zulu List — alternating list supplied bi-weekly and recalled after two weeks of dialing.
  11. Conversion — the campaign’s key event: a trail, opt-in, request for information, set appointment, or a sale.

Suppression Events

We run suppression at three points in our lead process. These work in conjunction with update protocols, which define how we manage records on recall, and distribution protocols, which define how we sort records for export. For reference, I’ve included definitions for the import and recall events.



Lead Suppression Protocols

The following protocols provide the high-level logic for data suppression. We use these when we introduce new or recalled data into our system. Recalled data has been active at a call center or in a mail campaign, and we run suppression before we allow this data to enter our system with updates to the record’s history.



Duplicate suppression is self-explanatory, whereas category and keyword suppression are the results of internal tables gleaned from general and campaign experience. We’ve found that small government agencies can resemble small businesses and specific SIC/NAICS code restriction combined with keyword restrictions handle most of the inconvertible leads. Our tables are also manually updated when we encounter import dispositions for data that cannot be sold. Finally, we use RealValidation to handle our last suppression protocols by removing bad or regulated data.

Geeking Data Tech for Call Center Operations

Data Management Meditation

Our development team is on fire building a next-generation platform for customer support and billing management. Before now, our support teams work by opening several browser tabs for our cloud applications. This isn’t ideal because each application requires a separate workflow and so the logistics of getting at information ultimately detracts from addressing customer needs as smoothly as possible.

We are starting with a smartly-tuned, self-service lead machine that will supply data on demand for sales and track the data downstream. At Lumikha we’ve experimented with this in the past, conceiving of a sort of lead-o-matic where we can smartly import and sort new data, dynamically suppress leads by campaign, retrieve dialed leads from our call center eco-system, as well as maintain a complete history on the data from the lead source to the last touch. I’m pretty sure this kind of platform can be had for a huge sum and requiring intervention by managers and a DBA (or two).

Many campaign managers use Excel to manipulate data; assume that their DBA has a handle on import, distribution, and recall of data; or give their ecosystem center free reign to acquire data — either explicitly or by turning a blind eye to agent data mining. Depending on management’s stance toward the campaign, they simply opt to throw unmanaged data at their centers under the assumption that they will either sink or swim, after all, there are plenty of BPOs in search of projects.  In all cases, managers sacrifice data history for expedience.

The Lead-o-Matic

This first module fulfills the requirements for cyclical data distribution and recall. This is typical for centrally-managed call center campaigns but applies to any project that requires data to leave the system and return enriched with additional information. Email campaigns work in similar fashion because they rely on specialized services like Mail Chimp or Campaign Monitor and the updates returned to the core data repository track opt-ins, opt-outs, click-throughs, conversions, and the like.

In the case of call center work, data is distributed and recalled because too much data will slow a predictive dialer down to the point where the predictive algorithms no longer result in speed gains for the center. To prevent overly frequent dialing, leads must be returned and rested. There is a side benefit to ensuring that all centers have equivalent data by periodically randomizing the leads. Finally, the dialing data should be reviewed and frequently analyzed to return insight to use for campaign optimization. Constant analysis is critical to campaign management as data strategies must continually evolve for optimal performance.

The Prime Directives of Data Management

Unlike Star Trek characters who frequently violate the singular commandment of non-interference, we rigorously observe a few prime directives that we’ve encoded into our data management business rules. These apply to business-to-business data since we are a B2B shop.

1. Never remove a lead unless the business is closed.

2. Comprehensively maintain every lead history.

Use leads in serial fashion. No lead can be marketed by multiple campaigns concurrently.

Procure Data – First Import

This process is familiar to any list marketer. Someone or something bounces new lead data against their current list to remove duplicates and run an initial suppression. Suppression (also called scrubbing) occurs on first import and when we distribute lists to our centers. Our suppression for fresh data restricts businesses that are unlikely to convert for a variety of reasons and rejects incomplete or improperly formatted data. We also suppress based on TCPA compliance requirements.

Once we remove the rejects and send them back to our data supplier, we conduct a series passes on the data to append and update it to make our operations more efficient downstream. Our SIC/NAICs decoder tool is a good example of this process. It allows us to use our own method of business classification by making SIC and NAICs codes we receive with our data buy more actionable. We align this to Google Business categories for the United States (each country has their own business categories) to accelerate our provisioning process somewhat for an online marketing campaign targeting small businesses in the United States.

To keep the semantics clear, we refer to acquired leads as batches and distributed leads as lists. Each has a unique designation. Batches are named by quality source date and vendor. Loosely, we have five grades of data based on cost, data points supplied, and the vendor’s track record. To be honest, this is pretty subjective, but it’s useful in terms of providing a mix or adjusting quality for specific scenarios.

procure data

Distribute Data – The Cycle of List Distribution

Generally we find that sending leads to our ecosystem is a weekly affair where the call centers receive half of the data they require for a two week cycle. We send a second list the following week with the balance. Each week the contact centers will return the oldest list for import, update, and analysis. We receive daily files of DNC and conversions and those records are updated accordingly.

Most of the steps in this process are self explanatory except “Designate List Parameters.” This effectively gives us control over the list we send by filtering or suppressing to remove or add data based on the campaign requirements as they unfold. Business rules are fluid as the data requirements evolve: if we add centers quickly, we must then open data to accommodate new agents; certain business categories are seasonal and are thereby adjusted based on the calendar; a glut of new data may permit a longer resting period between dialing cycles.

The data management aspect of the platform, known affectionately as the Data Schef, provides granular data filtering so we can maximize control over the leads on every cycle. This is important because we can use the empirical data collected on the prior data cycle to influence performance.

distribute data

Recall Data – The Chickens Come Home

When the lists are collected from our call center partners, we update the records in our database. Our database is currently on AWS (Dynamo), but we are moving to Google Cloud for speed and economy. Each record maintains the full history of source, activity, conversion, post-conversion activity related to provisioning and support.

We typically use two resting periods for active data based on their last disposition and dial count. For most dispositions, we rest a lead for six weeks. This reduces the likelihood of complaints and negative social media commentary. If, for example, the final disposition reflects “No Answer” after ten dials, we rest the lead for twelve weeks. We also use this duration for not interested dispositions and after we have distributed three times.

recall data

Here Come Da Schef

While our platform is hardly unique, we have managed to tune it sufficiently to move data management out of the IT group and into operations where insights built on our reports give us powerful tools to continually optimize for performance based on demographic data, center and agent effectiveness, dialer parameters, scheduling and the like.

Contending with data entropy is almost as important — using the Data Schef we maximize our lead investment and we can understand what’s happening to our data as it evolves over time.

Why the Virtual Assistant Business Sucks (but we do it anyway)

Virtual Assistants – The Best Bad Idea

The movie Argo is a fictionalized account of a CIA exfiltrator’s rescue of marooned embassy workers during the Iranian Revolution. The plan posed them as a film production team scouting Tehran for a low budget science fiction movie called Argo. The CIA director interrogates the equally audacious and harebrained scheme here:

Tony Mendez: [proposing the Argo idea to the DCI] There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.
CIA Director Stansfield Turner: You don’t have a better bad idea than this?
Jack O’Donnell: This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.
CIA Director Stansfield Turner: The United States government has just sanctioned your science-fiction movie.

The best bad idea is my take on offshore virtual assistance as a service. The best bad idea for the businesses and entrepreneurs. The best bad idea for the offshore providers that offer the service.

The Good

The rationale for virtual assistance is fairly obvious. For lean teams, start-ups, ‘preneurs of all stripes, and so on; a virtual assistant can handle time-consuming and/or process-oriented work. This liberates people from difficult, distracting, or low-value activities that siphon time away from creative, high-level, or core activities.

In most cases, these services can be delegated to a virtual assistant less inexpensively than a making direct hire. Since a virtual assistant is, well, virtual, she doesn’t require contracts, government contributions, office equipment, office supplies, or benefits. Offshore virtual assistants yield greater economy since they command lower fees. Both domestic and offshore assistants promise payment exclusively for productive work rather than breaks, travel, social networking, and the like.

With the advent of ubiquitous internet connectivity and better tools for remote management, communication, and collaboration like Skype, Trello, and Goto Meeting; hiring a virtual assistant has become a relatively common affair.

A typical example is a group of three developers who design and create an app for business that becomes modestly successful. In the early going, they probably handle tasks based on “what needs doing now.” When a customer needs support, any one of the three might handle the call, email, or chat. Someone will be nominated to audit their revenue periodically checking remittances from iTunes, Google Play, miscellaneous income from direct downloads received through PayPal, etc. Perhaps the group decides to try some direct marketing to drum up business, up-sell existing customers, or develop a community of devotees. Then one of the trio will have to collect and review data, add it to a CRM, then manage an email campaign targeting potential and existing customers.

Because the app is successful, these and other myriad tasks mount over time and distract the team from:

  • building an online knowledge-base to give customers direct access to support information,
  • working through user requests to improve the app with updates,
  • developing a new app that addresses new opportunities discovered when they deployed their current product.

The Bad

It all sounds pretty good, especially if you read Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded, and Updated with its rosy depiction of your life designed and styled. The book (which is worth a read) explains how to free up time for important pursuits by hiring a virtual assistant who can handle life’s many mundane tasks in this fashion. Things like bookkeeping, data collection, answering email, or correspondence. Ferriss quotes Esquire’s editor-at-large, AJ Jacobs, “…why should Fortune 500 firms have all the fun? Why can’t I join in on the biggest business trend of the new century? Why can’t I outsource my low-end tasks? Why can’t I outsource my life?”


The author lays out some important rules for outsourcing success: learn to delegate, be clear on outcomes, and try before you buy. The outsourcing model is an important aspect of the 4-hour Workweek. As Ferriss suggests, “[Outsourcing your life] is also a litmus test of entrepreneurship: Can you manage (direct and chastise) other people?”

Sounds great. Except when it sucks. The reality is often a far cry from delegating a series of tasks and waiting for the results to arrive.

We Explain Virtual Assistant Commerce

Before I enumerate on ways that outsourcing tasks can suck, let’s take a quick look at the things you might find when you search “virtual assistant.”

  1. Freelance Marketplaces — These are online markets where workers post profiles of their capabilities, and people who need work done can post jobs and solicit bids from the member professionals. Each has a slightly different take on payment and bid structures. Usually, there is a mechanism to hold funds in escrow to guarantee quality and performance. These services include Fivrr, Freelancer, Guru, and Upwork. These are typically funded by transaction fees and subscription fees paid by the providers.
  2. Virtual Assistant Recruiters – Because quality among freelance marketplaces is quite variable, and because trust can be a major issue for certain assignments, there are a quite a few companies that position themselves as agencies that locate suitable talent and present them for interview. Recruiters may also handle ongoing payment and secure (often steep) transaction fees along the way in addition to a flat fee for locating the agent.
  3. Virtual Assistant Providers – In the offshore outsourcing world, many providers offer VA services for several reasons. Often this sort of work will emerge from other projects or because a customer needs something beyond an original assignment for tasks like customer service, search optimization, or online management services. Since the general business zeitgeist and open sourced technology makes entrepreneurs of us all, the market for virtual assistance has blossomed in the last decade. In this spirit, business process managers understand virtual assistance as sort of competency buffet of services they currently offer. Rather than strict focus on a single task, VA’s use a range of best practices to deliver the goods.

Back to the Dark Side of Virtual Assistance

Using a Virtual Assistant can become very cumbersome when you don’t have clear, achievable outcomes; aren’t ready to embrace consistent, granular instruction; and generally assume that common sense will guide a VA’s work. This naive view supposes that common sense is a universal notion where people should just fundamentally understand how things should work. Of course, common sense is a cultural contract and not a universal constant.

Take, for example, booking international travel using an independent offshore VA with no organizational operating procedures to govern this activity. Say you want to plan a trip from the United States to Eastern Europe and look in on your coding team. On the way, you decide to take a short sojourn in Dubrovnik. Because your VA is somewhere in Bangalore or the Visayas and hasn’t traveled internationally, they probably don’t know that you need three hours at a minimum to connect in Heathrow. The Heathrow minimum connection time challenge is an extreme example, but one I’ve seen happen to a personal assistant working for a colleague. The ensuing phone call wasn’t pretty.

Disconnects arise in any number of ways unless the VA is highly experienced, competent in the assigned task, and fluent in your flavor of English. Experience provides some sense of context for daily communication. Americans can seem brusque via email. Our bluntness often seems obnoxious to people from high context cultures like the Philippines or Japan. Task competency either through direct experience, organizational SOP, or independent learning on the job is mandatory. You want things done faster, better, and cheaper than you can otherwise manage. Why else hire the VA? If you require email correspondence work or content marketing, offshore workers will inevitably have global English (Globish) “tells” that must be managed to avoid confusion, inappropriate word choices, or broadcasting your use of an offshore VA.

The above customer issues are manageable, and many, many happy VA customers pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, save money, get more work down using Virtual Assistants.

And Now the Ugly

Consider the businesses that provide VA support. Depending on their arrangement they are either: hands-on with mechanisms for project governance or sport a more laissez-faire approach wherein clients deal with their assistant directly with no management overlay. The latter is dicey in my opinion and prone to customer dissatisfaction.

When a customer builds a close relationship with their VA, they may opt to hire their assistant away by paying them directly —and usually under-the-table using PayPal or direct transfer. For organizations that offer little in the way of managerial infrastructure, direct hiring is pretty common. Hence the recruiter model discussed above.

This is generally a bad idea because the assistant loses any access to government benefits. The approach circumvents local taxation with long-term negative implications for the assistant’s home country. Unless the relationship is the black swan of unusual duration, the assistant will find himself unemployed in a few months or, at most, a couple of years, trying to get back into the job market without local references. Moreover, this structure means that the worker commits to an unsupported relationship with their client — no organizational resources like redundant internet, labor protection, and domain experts for complex activity.

From a managerial perspective, mapping the innumerable processes that VA must routinely execute is a nightmare. Dealing with everything from efficient online research practices to event planning requires extensive forethought, planning, design, documentation, and training (if you’re doing it right).

The time investment is necessary for VA work that scales efficiently. Otherwise, you are stuck relying on someone else’s training or letting the VA’s just figure things out as they go along. This kills efficiency, silos knowledge, and runs the risk of massive faux pas downstream. Just imagine the calls I might get from a customer waiting (with clients) for a phantom dinner reservation.

From this discussion, you can conclude that the system has inherent flaws from everyone’s perspective. I didn’t even cover the downsides from the individual assistant’s perspective — just start with all the reasons that working for a racially entitled tyrannical asshole and imagine the rest.

The Best Bad Idea — Managed Offshore Virtual Assistants

With all of the above, I suppose Virtual Assistance is a best bad idea. That’s because VAs generally work well enough to justify their cost. Of course, this model works best for people who, for whatever reason, place a premium on their time.

For Atelier Lumikha, offering a competency buffet of services deducting hours as the tasks are accomplished and quality checked is a solid model. Centralized task management using a single management/customer portal to track performance work handled, assess quality, and solicit feedback presents a useful fulcrum for vending out work based on skills and availability.

This approach offers flexibility and permits us to leverage best practices gleaned from BPO fare like SEO, customer service, lead generation, and data collection. It also gives us access to a wide range of interesting and dynamic customers who require quality services at low-cost services.

Read a fun review of Argo here.

Read the book by the CIA officer who organized the rescue here.

Atelier Lumikha Joins ICT Dgte, Local Information and Communications Technology Industry Association

Dumaguete City, Philippines – Atelier Lumikha, a Dumaguete-based BPO announced its acceptance into ICT Dgte. ICT Dgte, or the ICT Association of Dumaguete and Negros Oriental, is an LGU-accredited, non-governmental organization (NGO) comprised of BPOs/KPOs, the Academe, ICT Professionals, and Partner Government Agencies.

ICT Dgte envisions the ICT Industry as an Asset of Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental linking the ICT Industry with academe, government, and business. Among the association’s goals is “to establish strong academe-industry-government linkages for relevant and up-to-date education and training, for better skilled and imminently hireable human resources.”

Harry Fozzard, Atelier Lumikha’s Managing Director, said, “We welcome our admission to ICT Dgte as Dumaguete’s ICT develops into a significant part of the local economy. Our ICT membership is an excellent venue for exchanging ideas, discussing current trends, and sharing best practices. Today is a great day for Atelier Lumikha.”

About Atelier Lumikha

Atelier Lumikha is a Dumaguete-based BPO company that develops software and delivers services that help small business engage with people better. The company combines traditional BPO process rigor with a design studio sensibility of craftsmanship and elegance.

About ICT Dgte

ICT Dgte is a group of BPOs/KPOs, the Academe, ICT Professionals, and Partner Government Agencies in Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental. It is a Board Member of the National ICT Councils Confederation of the Philippines (NICP). It is also the Industry Representative to the Department of Trade & Industry-led MSMED Council and promotes several programs of the Department of Science & Technology’s ICT Office.

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