Outsourcing With an American Accent

Outsourcing to an overseas source can provide employees who speak English, but-¦ . Besides the strange accent there is a lack of a cultural connection, the inability to understand the natural shorthand references we all make when speaking to coworkers. A “Hail Mary pass” comes to mind when describing a really long shot solution. Knowing that Los Angeles is three hours behind New York and that you can’t expect to reach anyone there before 9:30 a.m. their time anyway or that much of the auto industry still shuts down for a couple of weeks during the summer so don’t bother setting up sales appointments then.

There may be value in going overseas because of the low cost, but what is the hidden cost in having to overcome a communications gap?

Josh Last in his office in Jerusalem. Clocks indicating his clients’ time zones are on his right.

Josh Last, founder of GlobeTask, seems to have the answer. Based in Jerusalem, where the cost of living is much lower, GlobeTask uses American workers who have moved to Israel to provide a variety of virtual services.

Last says that he used to do high-level consulting and “everywhere I went I noticed that people were missing good administrative support. Some people were missing just a couple of hours of support while others were missing what could have, should have, been done by a whole team of five or six people.”

In today’s economy, administrative support is often the last to come back when hiring resumes, yet the need for someone to help get things done -“ such as researching the competitive environment or responding to routine e-mail questions from customers -“ often doesn’t get done because the staff that’s left is stretched thin just keeping the basics going.

GlobeTask’s approach is to provide administrative services to its American clients at prices that are comparable to those of other offshore suppliers -“ but without the cultural divide that can often lead to miscommunications and potential inadequate support.

[SYSTEM-AD-LEFGT]”A mid-level manager in Israel bringing home $1,500 a month is in good shape financially,” says Last, “and the average entry-level salary is in the $5-$6 (hourly) range. That’s why we can afford to charge what we do while still providing what our American clients need. It’s a different way of living, but it works.”

There are different levels of service GlobeTask provides. “We have our low-level admin which can include research, data entry and recurring processes,” explains Last. “We have a graphics and Web design team, and then we have a higher-level of admin. They’re the people who can answer phones for you, who can do outbound sales, answer e-mails, do creative writing -“ blog posts, articles [editor’s note -“ they didn’t write this article] -“ that kind of thing.”

Each GlobeTask customer gets a single point of entry via a “virtual assistant.” “All of the work flows through that person,” says Last. “Internally, everyone gets the job that they’re best at.”

Last cites building a website as an example. “You have to research the competition -“ that’s a low-level admin. Then you have to write the copy -“ that’s a high-level admin. Finally, you have to create the design and bring it live -“ and that’s the design team. But the customer only has to deal with one person in the office.”

Citing another example, Last explains how an outbound sales effort might work. “We research potential customers online that can be approached -“ again, that’s a low-level admin. Then the high-level admin steps in and closes the sale.”

That sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but what does it end up costing? A ten-page website, says Last, “might cost $500 for the graphics, $60-$70 for the copy for each page but the overall cost would depend on whether the pages were all unique or were based on a master template.”

GlobeTask has about 400 customers, primarily American, with a much smaller percentage of U.K. clients and about 10 percent from other countries such as Australia. Most of their growth has been through word of mouth, says Last. “One satisfied customer tells a friend and things grow from there. We have two types of customers: one who builds us into their business model, so we’re doing their work for them, and those who need 1,000 hours of data entry and we’ll not see them again until they need more -“ one major credit-rating company is like that.”

Another area of repetitive business for GlobeTask is search-engine optimization or SEO. “One client taught us a 15-step process for getting their clients’ websites up to the first page in a Google search,” says Last. “I don’t know for sure if it works, but they come back to us so something must be happening. We don’t take responsibility for the success of a project, just for executing the instructions correctly.”

“Our main focus,” Last explains, “is on recurring projects, like the SEO project. We’re working on a shopping cart abandonment project at the moment that involves being given a database of a client’s customers who have left items in their online shopping carts for some reason. We do an e-mail blast and then follow up individually to see why that happened and try and close the sale for the client.

“We merge ourselves into other companies,” Last continues. “We answer the phones at a virtual extension for a British-based company, for instance. We answer e-mail for a California company as though it were from their address. We can do practically anything because we don’t have accents -“ everybody was born and raised in America. Except,” Last corrects himself, “for our Brits. British clients don’t always feel positive about an American accent so we have people on board who are native to the U.K. For the Americans either accent is okay.”

Last explains there are two reasons why 90 percent of GlobeTask’s business is either from the U.S. or the U.K. “For America it’s just a natural fit. For the Brits, we’re either in the same time zone or an hour off. We know how to think American; we know how to think British. With other countries there’s a cultural breakdown and we lose our competitive advantage.”

“Someone in Singapore might speak excellent English and you might think we could work well there but they have different business expectations. In other countries, time seems to mean less than it does in America or the U.K. It’s just a different mentality, that’s all,” Last laughs.

GlobeTask has a number of clients who are, as Last describes them, “Mom and Pop businesses. They rely on us to take care whatever they need. We also work with, for instance, single moms who have a business but who need administrative backup. It could be for an hour a day or eight, we can do it for them. All we ask is that they use us for a basic amount each month.”

GlobeTask can act like the old “gal Friday” of movie fame, says Last. “We get a call that a client is going to Florida. We have their credit card on file, we rent them the kind of car we know they prefer, we know what kind of room they want in their favorite hotel. You have to learn the person you’re working with.”

With other clients, Last explains, GlobeTask acts in a more supervisory capacity. “We handle one company’s Google ad campaign by farming out work to the writers the client wants to work with, we review their work and follow up on leads; we handle their entire workflow for them.”

Because GlobeTask uses so many Israel-based American freelancers, they decided to conduct a survey of American companies’ hiring practices for this year. Last says, “we’ve seen many more freelancers coming into the market, rather than companies necessarily hiring full-time employees. The workload is still too unpredictable. One Canadian company, for instance, gave us a heads-up that they were going to send us seven hours of transcription a day for the next week.

“For every hour of audio transcription you need about six hours of manpower to do it. So you’re talking about 45 hours a day for the week -“ and then there’s nothing for the week afterward. If you have full-time people there’s no way to keep them busy and keep things affordable. With freelancers I can do that and that’s what I found other companies in the U.S. are thinking as well.”

“What we do, and what other freelance companies do as well to be fair, is provide ‘net work’ -“ there’s no hiring and firing for our clients, no having to deal with personal problems or business downtime. Our clients get what they want, when they want it and that’s all they pay for.

“With an American accent.”