ET-084: A conversation with Mr. Richard Blank
ET-084: A conversation with Mr. Richard Blank
and your host Wayne Brown on January 23, 2024
and your host Wayne Brown on January 23, 2024
Episode notes: A conversation with Mr. Richard Blank
Hello and welcome to the ET Project. I’m your host, Wayne Brown, and as usual, we’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET.
It’s a special day today as I’m off to Costa Rica, baby! Pura Vida to all! I think it’s my fourth virtual visit to a country that sits so high on my must-visit list. And we’re equally pleased to be chatting with none other than Mr. Richard Blank who’s somewhat of an icon in the capital city of San Jose, and you’ll understand why more in a moment.
Richard’s vision quest journey is filled with twists and turns. When he was 27 years old, he relocated to Costa Rica to train employees for one of the larger call centers in the capital. With a mix of motivational public speaking styles backed by tactful and appropriate rhetoric, Richard shared his knowledge and trained over 10,000 bilingual telemarketers. Today, Richard is the chief executive officer for Costa Rica’s Call Center which he founded in 2008. And here’s a fun fact, and to my point about being an icon.
Here is an extract from our conversation as we start to get into it…
And so I knew that becoming a linguist might open doors that make me marketable. My favorite TV show of all time is Remington Steel. Do you remember Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist back in the ’80s? Come on, I had to dress like them. You had to do it. That’s my influence. And of course, just in case your mother shows up, Wayne, I got to make sure that I’m ready to go. And also respect for you and your amazing audience. But what’s my drive? My drive is to live life. And the fact that I was able to do this and my stars became aligned. It’s amazing for me and these podcasts that you mentioned, which is interesting. I don’t have a book or seminar. Most people don’t like telemarketers. So I’m trying to shatter misconceptions. All I’m trying to do is uncover one adventure of an entrepreneur. I’d started a company that grew to 150 seats and celebrates 16 years in a competitive industry. But it had twists and turns…
Today’s Guest: MR RICHARD BLANK
Richard has the largest collection of restored American pinball machines and antique Rock-Ola jukeboxes in all of Central America making gamification a strong part of Costa Rica’s Call Center’s culture. Richard holds a bachelor’s degree in communication in Spanish from the University of Arizona and a certificate of language proficiency from the University of Sevilla, Spain.
He was a keynote speaker for Philadelphia’s Abington High School’s 68th National Honors Society Induction Ceremony and in addition, has been inducted into the 2023 Hall of Fame for Business.
Giving back to Abington Senior High School is very important for Mr. Blank. As such, he endows a scholarship each year for students who plan on majoring in a world language at the university level.
So, Team ET, get your pinball stance and your flipper fingers ready then prepare yourself to learn from the journey, experiences, and insights shared by our guest, Mr. Richard Blank as we explore Costa Rica, the Costa Rica Call Center, and why he is to build and lead a team through a genuine desire to support others in their pursuit of happiness.
- Richard Blank | LinkedIn
- CRCC Facebook page
Final words from Richard:
Of course. First, I can’t thank you enough, Wayne. I had the best time and you are my main man. But my best bit of advice for you and your amazing audience is just to never be hard on yourself. Okay? At the end of the day, when you put your head on the pillow and have your moments of clarity, realize this, regardless of the outcome, hopefully you did things with the most honorable intentions. And if you can do that, you can live with yourself. And I learned that lesson a long, long time ago.
There are expectations, but you have your expectations. And the level above that is realistic expectations. And that’s why I like to gather. The more little piles you can gather, the easier to carry. And then eventually it becomes big, big pile. And that’s kind of what happened with me. I have a very large Facebook fan page, Costa Rica’s Call Center. It’s got 126,000 local Costa Rica Ticos. And so when this goes live, you’re gonna have a bunch of new fans. And as I say, I’m just here my friend, to pay it forward. I have no book or seminar. I’m not selling anything. And people most likely don’t like telemarketers. But just to let you know there are people like us out here trying to retain clients, do some upsells, get some referrals, and really try to put some class into this industry…
0:00:05.7 Wayne Brown: Hello. I’m your host Wayne Brown and welcome to The ET Project. We’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET. It’s a special day today as I’m off to Costa Rica, baby! Pura vida to all! I think it’s my fourth virtual visit to a country that sits so high on my must-visit list. And we’re equally pleased to be chatting with none other than Mr. Richard Blank who’s somewhat of an icon in the capital city of San Jose, and you’ll understand why more in a moment.
0:00:41.7 WB: Richard’s vision quest journey is filled with twists and turns. When he was 27 years old, he relocated to Costa Rica to train employees for one of the larger call centres in the capital. With a mix of motivational public speaking style backed by tactful and appropriate rhetoric, Richard shared his knowledge and trained over 10,000 bilingual telemarketers. Today, Richard’s the chief executive officer for Costa Rica’s Call Center which he founded in 2008. And here’s a fun fact, and to my point about being an icon.
0:01:17.3 WB: Richard has the largest collection of restored American pinball machines and antique Rock-Ola jukeboxes in all of Central America making gamification a strong part of Costa Rica’s Call Center’s culture. Richard holds a bachelor’s degree in communication in Spanish from the University of Arizona and a certificate of language proficiency from the University of Sevilla, Spain. He was a keynote speaker for Philadelphia’s Abington High School’s 68th National Honors Society Induction Ceremony and in addition has been inducted into the 2023 Hall of Fame for Business.
0:02:00.2 WB: Giving back to Abington Senior High School is very important for Mr. Blank. As such, he endows a scholarship each year for students that plan on majoring in a world language at university level. So, Team ET, get your pinball stance and your flipper fingers ready then prepare yourself to learn from the journey, experiences and insights shared by our guest, Mr. Richard Blank as we explore Costa Rica, the Costa Rica Call Center and why he is to build and lead a team through a genuine desire to support others in their pursuit of happiness.
0:02:37.4 Speaker 2: Welcome to the ET Project, a podcast for those executive talents determined to release their true potential and create an impact. Join our veteran coach and mentor, Wayne Brown, as we unpack an exciting future together.
0:02:54.4 WB: All right, well, welcome Team ET. It’s indeed, once again, a pleasure to be here with you and with our guest, Mr. Richard Blank. Welcome to the ET Project, Richard. Great to have you here.
0:03:05.7 Richard Blank: Oh, I am so happy to be here.
0:03:07.6 WB: I wanted to kick off with that question. I mean, what is it like living in Costa Rica? First of all, I guess for many of our listeners, they won’t know where Costa Rica is. So, if you could give us a little bit of a geography lesson and what’s it like living there. What’s so incredible about this country?
0:03:24.9 RB: Look at the smile on my face. I’ve been here for 23 years. I married the girl of my dream. So, that answers that question. But where is Costa Rica? Where is this rich coast they keep talking about? Well, it’s north of Panama and it’s south of Nicaragua. We’re the only democratic society in Central America. There’s no standing army, Wayne. So, they put all of their money back into education and boast a 95% literacy rate, the most neutral English accent, best infrastructure, and companies such as Amazon, HP, Intel, and Oracle are here.
0:04:00.0 RB: And our proxemics to the United States makes it a very powerful player in the BPO industry. But living here, my friend, you’re talking about the best weather, the most beautiful people, really, just an hour away from the closest beach, and you have hot springs, and you have flowers, and gardens, and all this exotic fruit. And so, for me, every day is like a dream. It’s kind of funny, growing up in Philadelphia, you’d come to vacation here, and then when you go back home, you’re like, oh, man, I’m here now. So, it’s great. Every day to me feels like a Saturday, Wayne. And so, sometimes you have to get past your parents’ skill to make certain sacrifices in order to fill certain life’s dreams and goals.
0:04:46.5 WB: So, you mentioned you’re from Philadelphia. So, my connection with Philadelphia is through sport and Rocky Balboa. So, when I was younger, Rocky Balboa and the music from Rocky 1, 2, 3, all the way through to 5, I think, was my theme song that I played while I was grinding it out. What’s your experience coming from Philadelphia?
0:05:11.4 RB: Well, I’d like to refer to Rocky Balboa for a minute. I thank you for bringing that up. We’re talking about Chuck Wepner, who went 15 against Ali and didn’t drop. The Bay team leader. And this guy was a real champ, and all the naysayers were against him. And so, Sylvester Stallone watched that fight, created his Rocky. But as much as people say Rocky’s not real, he’s not from Philly. Come on, man. You ask anyone from Philly about Rocky. We love Rocky. Rocky represents heart. There’s a statue there.
0:05:38.4 RB: And so, we run the stairs. We go through Kelly Drive. We run all around the city to the Italian market. And so, it’s Philly pride, super Philly pride getting up early when it’s cold and you don’t want to. That’s Philly pride. And so, I got you, and I hear you. And where I grew up, fortunately for me, in Northeast Philadelphia, I graduated the proud Abington High School back in ’91. I had some real players that came out of this place. I got to play Stephen Schwarzman from Blackstone Group, Amar Bose, Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defense. Eddie George, he was with us till 10th grade.
0:06:15.9 RB: Shawn Wooden went to the NFL. Michael Buffer. I mean, come on. These are some great people. Bob Saget and me. I mean, some of us are in the Hall of Fame in this place and we’re proud of where we came from because we grew up with some amazing people that had vigor and courage, but also empathy. They’re the ones that could knock you down on the playing field, but also pick you back up to get you stronger. So I’m devoted and I love my friends. And even though I left Philadelphia at 18, it was the perfect spark for me To continue on this vision quest of studying Spanish, moving abroad and studying life. And so it had to start somewhere, my friend.
0:06:55.6 WB: Yeah, very good, very good. I’m an observation guy, I have to say, and by that I mean I notice things. During my research preparing for this conversation, there’s a number of things that jumped off the page at me about Richard Blank. The first is that you’ve done a lot of podcasts, but you speak very articulately. You’ve got a high degree of knowledge on various topics. And one thing above everything else is you dress impeccably. You’re an immaculate dresser. You know, certainly the best dressed guest that I’ve ever had the pleasure to chat with. So I’m curious, what is it that drives you? What’s your value, your belief system that gets you up every day? And you obviously have this, I don’t know, inner pride, I guess.
0:07:47.4 RB: Thank you, my friend. I appreciate the due diligence. Well, you know, the first thing is the drive to do this, it really is paying it forward. By coming here to another country and learning Spanish, and you’re mentioning about being articulate. Well, I didn’t have the grades nor the discipline and maturity for medical school or for law school or engineering degrees. And so I knew that becoming a linguist might open doors that make me marketable. My favorite TV show of all time is Remington Steel. Do you remember Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist back in the ’80s? Come on, I had to dress like them. You had to do it. That’s my influence. And of course, just in case your mother shows up, Wayne, I got to make sure that I’m ready to go. And also respect for you and your amazing audience. But what’s my drive? My drive is living life. And the fact that I was able to do this and my stars became aligned. It’s amazing for me and these podcasts that you mentioned, which is interesting. I don’t have a book nor seminar. Most people don’t like telemarketers. So I’m trying to shatter misconceptions. All I’m trying to do is uncover one adventure of an entrepreneur. I’d started a company that grew to 150 seats and celebrates 16 years in a competitive industry. But it had twists and turns.
0:09:14.9 RB: But the beauty of it is, and I will say this, and I’m very fortunate, I have a luxury trade. I really do. Not because I’m an owner of a company. That’s the price you pay. The fact that we study rhetoric and I deal with English second language employees, I get to focus on soft skills and have the infrastructure to study and really concentrate on these phone calls to crack some codes and to develop certain skillsets. And it’s been fun. I haven’t lost my fidelity towards it yet. I just get disappointed with the attrition and the sort of things that happen within this industry. But I still love what I invested my life, my time and my chances in.
0:09:55.9 WB: Did you study Philadelphia or you studied somewhere else?
0:10:00.3 RB: It’s an excellent question. I left Philadelphia once I graduated high school in ’91. And so when I was growing up, we had the option of three languages, Spanish, German and French. Now, all three are great languages but I felt the one that was most realistic for me was Spanish. And I gravitated towards it. And so I got an intermediate level when I graduated, a college recommendation letter from my dedicated Spanish teacher and from the principal of the high school to offset my poor grades because I was having too much fun I really wasn’t studying. But they got me into University of Arizona and that was great. Spent five years there. I had to do a super senior year. So, but you want to know the cool thing? The fact that I did five years meant that I could take less credits a semester. And so what I did with that extra time was I interned for Telemundo for two years. So I got some work experience there and I sold ski trips and trips to Mazatlan so I could earn some money there too and get that experience. But at 27 out of one a million opportunity, a really good friend of mine owned a call center here and he said, “Richie, come down for two months just to teach some English.” Well, two months turned into working there for four years and I learned it from the top, from the inside out with the proletariat. I sat with them. And the one thing I learned more than anything, Wayne, is empathy. You extend that, you’ll get it back in spades.
0:11:26.6 WB: You spent, I believe, a couple of semesters in Spain. So Spain is one of my favorite countries. I’m heading back over there in February, I’m happy to say. Where in Spain were you studying?
0:11:41.0 RB: My good friend, that was the year that I shed my skin. [laughter] I was 21, I bought a Vespa Scooter. But I first started off in El Puerto de Santa Maria, which is right next to Cadiz in Andalusia. So I spent three months there at the Estudio Internacional San Pérez School. It was a really nice private school. And then I spent one month in Madrid, right near El Corte Inglés. And so I was right there for one month. And then for two months during the Christmas break, I traveled. I went as far east as Prague, as far south as the Pink Palace in Corfu. I spent a week in Amsterdam and I was also a week in Tangier. So I just went all around with that URL. I’d call home once a week, let them know I’m still alive. But I, my man, I read more books, I had more conversations, and I also learned something about myself. When you’re a child and your parents want to take you to a museum, you’d rather be off playing sports with your friends. But at this stage, when I’m in Paris or Prague, Brussels and Bruges, and Milan, and when you’re at the youth hostel and you’ve been out all night having the best time of your life for the 10th night in a row, most of these cats are sleeping in and they’re waiting for the next party. I got up, I went to that museum. I saw those ruins. I went to that church. I’ll catch you in 3, 4, 5, 10 hours. But there’s no way that I’m not going to these museums in the most beautiful places in the world.
0:13:13.6 RB: And you know that when you do something for yourself, it’s 10 times better. And I really slowed down and really appreciated this art compared to just glancing at it. I’m learning languages, I’m in Europe, I mean, it was almost like a renaissance for me. And so all these things that I did in Philadelphia, and in Tucson and everywhere else I was running around, really didn’t matter where I was in these small towns.
0:13:40.5 WB: Those were special.
0:13:40.8 RB: I know, and the Costa del Sol and Torremolinos just running around. You really need to show your essence and just begin again because there is a lot of places in the world. And what I found in common is just being courteous and having respect and learning culture and accepting second plates of food. And by doing so, I was embraced and it just made for a wonderful experience.
0:14:07.3 WB: If you can remember back that far, coming back to the US, What’s the core lesson that you brought back from that experience?
0:14:16.8 RB: It’s the hero’s journey, as they kept talking about in history. Those that leave town with the shield and the sword, slay a dragon and come back with stories. Depends on how it’s received. I mean, the second half of that year I spent at the University of Sevilla. That was the best. I lived on Cayo Betis. I was with one of my best friends in a really small apartment. As I say, I mean, this is a family show so I can’t tell you all the stories that we had out there, but I got to let you know, Spain rocks. You guys have so much fun. I ran with the bulls. I mean, that was cool too, in Pamplona and San Sebastian and Ronda and Granada.
0:14:53.4 RB: I mean, what a place to travel and see. So I’m coming back after living in Europe for 10 and a half months and my Spanish is tight. I was working out even more. I was really healthy. I was falling in love. I learned to dance to Silviana, seeing these paintings and ruins. And I’m coming back. And even though Tucson’s cool and the rec center at Arizona and all that fun stuff at the Wildcat House and dirt bags, I felt a little out of place. Everywhere is fun when you smile and have friends, but I was really drinking life and I wanted to be out of my element. I wanted things fresh. It was getting stagnant. And so I thought I was back there again. So I almost made myself that second promise that if I do get a chance at a mature age, post-grad to have this opportunity to be an expat, boy, you better take it. Yeah, but people are going to say you can’t do it. And your parents and your family and your influence, hero’s journey.
0:15:58.3 WB: You’ve come back from Spain sometime later, you get this opportunity to head south down to Costa Rica. What’s going through your mind when you first arrived?
0:16:08.7 RB: Counting seconds, wishing that this would never end. Once the honeymoon stage wore off, which usually does on a vacation by the second week, you realize where you’re at. And I said, “I don’t want to go home.” And I only had two months. It’s not a lot of time. I lost a lot of sleep. But I was on such endurance and energy that I didn’t need it. I was really just bringing it on ’cause it could end at any time. And after those two months, because there are seven of us that came down originally, not just me. And just like the real world, we all live together as five guys and two girls in this cool house. And that’s for another podcast at another day. But one by one, they would go back to the States, they didn’t make the eight weeks, or they weren’t producing well where we were volunteering and working. They were just not taking it seriously. And I realized, man, if you don’t do this now, it is never gonna happen, even though it’s your boy, step up. I mean, really, I mean, you guys are having fun and there’s a lot of yucks and everything but let them see a different side of you. Let them see that you’re the ace, you’re the eyes and the ears, you got his back. It took me just a couple of weeks to be number one.
0:17:23.0 RB: In regards to retention and customer support, talk time, I was crushing all the metrics that they had in regards to conversions, in regards to the note taking and updating the third party information and even making suggestions to the CRM. I was learning, I was learning. And then after those eight weeks, I went to see my buddy and I said, “Listen, Joey, you mind if I stay?” And he goes, “I was going to offer that to you as well.” And I was starting crying. You can’t cry at 27. But I almost did. And I said, “Thank you.” And I go, “You’re not going to regret this.” And so I worked with my friend for four years. And that was my graduate school. And if I didn’t have that experience, there is absolutely no way that I would be in the position that I am today for the impulse control maturity and the experience, it was the perfect time at the perfect place. Those stars became aligned.
0:18:16.3 WB: So, you know, as they say in the movies, the rest is history. You go down and fall in love with the country, with the people. You find the woman of your dreams. You marry that woman. But I’m wondering, before you went to Costa Rica, did you ever have the ambition to start your own business, to be the entrepreneur? Or were you just exploring life at this stage?
0:18:37.7 RB: What a wonderful question. Oh, there were such expectations for me. I should have been working at Honeywell or something, or at my family’s business. I was supposed to find the company that was offering the most benefits possible and the best salary you could get. And I think that’s great, but it also caps you. I mean, I’d prefer to be a hunter than a fisherman, because I feel that you have more flexibility compared to just being in one place of stagnant and hoping that you’re in the right spot.
0:19:07.3 RB: You can zig and you can zag. The sky is the limit. And every day is fragile. So, no, I was in a box. There were such expectations of me. In fact, I hate to say, between me and you and your million-person audience, they thought that my Spanish was a parlor trick. It was cute. And the fact that my great-grandparents came from Europe at the turn of the 20th and spoke Romanian, Russian, German, and Polish, that’s one thing. They made their moves. They were the nomad. The fact that it skipped a couple generations and I’m the one that took the spark again and had this vision.
0:19:43.5 RB: Was it laughed at? No, but people fear what they don’t understand. And they were supposed to compare me to their friends from the country club and the bridge and when they play bridge with and their girlfriends and buddies. You kidding? How do you compare a nose to somebody that doesn’t have the same vision as you? How do you? And so I think the best thing you can do is encourage somebody with good intentions. And I’m not the kind of guy to say, look at me now, look at me what now? I just did my thing. And I’m proud of that. And I think most people when they look in the mirror, can’t look back ’cause they realize they should have been something else. But there were so many things that were pressuring them to make these decisions.
0:20:28.5 RB: Some of them they have to, they have children or other responsibilities, but when it comes to choosing a career, investing your time, or even your self pride and respect, you don’t need to sell yourself for a dollar. And I just remember the old videos of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury Under Pressure. And it shows the people getting stuffed into the Japanese train cars, or in New York City, the thousands upon thousands of professionals walking those sidewalks. It’s exciting to look at, but I don’t wanna be that. And I was almost willing to die with my boots on and that’s kind of scary if you really think about it. But you have to realize you got to live with yourself and times are ticking. Now, I started my business at 35. This didn’t happen early. And I wasn’t prepared for it then. There are certain things that happen at certain stages of your life, which I believe naturally will give you the foundation to be successful. It’s almost like a false start, or you don’t start at all. You really have to time that wave so you can ride it.
0:21:42.0 WB: You start your business around 2007, if I’m correct. Was there a trigger?
0:21:50.0 RB: No. When I left my friend’s center after four years, I did decide to work in my family’s real estate business for about two and a half years. I brought in a couple seeds, started growing it but then when the market fell out and I had a lot of pressure to come back home, I decided to once again, double down on that. And so I had a little bit of savings but I was also getting older and reality was hitting. And it wasn’t funny or cute anymore and I can’t just pray and hope for it. But I didn’t really have that sort of mentor to take me to the next level and so I said to myself, well, why don’t we just collect things and see if I can figure it out like MacGyver with duct tape. And so slowly but surely, the Richard trunk got branches and roots. Let me explain. I didn’t have the capital to be where I am today. I have a three floor, 300 seat center. How do you start with no cash? Well, in my industry you can rent a turnkey station at a blended center, or for a couple hundred bucks a month I can get that computer, some coffee, some lights and an IT guy at a place that could hold 400 but there’s no privacy, but you can grow. And it’s reliable. And so that was great.
0:23:06.0 RB: I mean, it’s just when I can do this and there’s no outlay. And so I had to do that for about two and a half years until I had the stable clients. And also was realizing I was paying way too much money for this, it’s time for me to rent space. And I did that for six and a half years where I built out the server room, got used equipment, ’cause there is a turnover and you can get great equipment for a fraction of the cost same with used furniture. And so I scaled as we grew, like monopoly, where you start with houses and you grow to hotels. I didn’t overdo one area or another, I like things in layers, so it’s controllable. And I was responsible with my money and I had the accountants and the attorneys. And then just seven years ago, we moved into this building, built it out, and here we are. And so it’s always cash, never an overextension, never bad partners. ‘Cause when you are in that sort of situation, you might be forced to make desperate decisions and you don’t want to do things like that. And so grandma taught me, if you can’t do it with cash, don’t do it. So I just made sure that I lived in a very conservative way, made sure to pay the taxes and to do the right things. Is it glamorous? No. But guess what? My plane got off the ground and it never touched zero again. And so how exciting. Look what happened when you create something from nothing. It’s like magic. And so I was just going to do that.
0:24:34.4 WB: Well, let’s talk a little bit about business because it’s a call center business, but maybe not the traditional sense of what people think about a call center. And I’m curious, back in 2007, is the business today the same line of business telemarketing what you were doing back in 2007?
0:24:56.8 RB: It’s been such a great podcast. What an intelligent question. When I first started, I launched the website in October 2007, landed my first account February 6th of 2008. It’s a lot different. The CRM systems, the predictive dialers, even the sort of accounts that came in, COVID destroyed the call center culture. It allowed us to survive because we could have people working virtually and I was very fortunate. Once again, I’m humbled by that. But then again, our culture was about the synergy and feeding off of the energy and being there. But I do understand travel, distance, money and convenience, but what are you gonna do? But today, a lot of companies are preferring omni-channel, non-voice support, IVRs, Integrated Voice Response, pressing buttons, voice activated. And that’s fine. But let me ask you a question, my man, how many times are you pressing zero?
0:26:00.4 RB: I want to speak to somebody. I’m sick of repeating this and I’m sick of all your options that have nothing to do with me. I want old school A-plus concierge service where you’re holding my hand and letting the feather fall. And so I’ve seen that when we do get certain accounts that blend those sort of options, when they do get our people on the phone, their guns are blazing. They’re frustrated. They need to decompress a little bit. And so as much as they might be saving money by having self-checkout, they’re also saying that they’re losing a lot of money because people are ripping them off and it’s not working out and the time is not working. And so I think that if you want to retain a client, you got to give them the best service possible. And if it’s just one by one, you might not be making a lot. Well, how about if they recommend you to five people? Now you’re making your money. And so slow down and calm down.
0:26:53.7 RB: I like the old school way. I like fireside chats. I like when people know first names and can get right to the point because they know what drink you have. And so I keep going back to cheers. And so for me, I can’t stress enough old school soft skills. And I don’t want ethics compromised. I don’t want you to rush our agents when we’re building rapport. And you must allow us to do our craft. Because if you do, you’re not going to get the sort of fulfillment that you’re looking for. And morale will be low and Billy is going to quit. And so it’s a very delicate balance that we have here. But what an interesting industry that Hollywood really glamorizes it with the Wolf of Wall Street and Boiler Room, Glengarry Glen Ross. And I mean, you can name a thousand movies. And I love glib speech, artists of speech, but just like fire, it could be used for warm, life and health, but also can be used to burn you. And some of these exceptionally talented individuals really should be focusing their energy and attention to things that have better faith, you know, and better intentions. He’s great. But then again, you can make money a lot of different ways. You don’t have to do it by angling.
0:28:12.5 WB: I can sense the passion. I’m sure everyone listening can sense the passion that you have. What are some of the memorable moments that really stand out that shaped the company and perhaps even shaped you as a senior executive leader?
0:28:29.4 RB: I can name you three. How does that sound? We’ll go introduction, body and conclusion. February 6, 2008 when I closed my first account, it was for one seat for one week. Best day of my life. Okay, I got a kiss at the dance. Yeah. And so, all right. What’s the second thing that happened? Well, back in 2010, I lost my largest clients. I went from 89 seats down to four. And I learned a couple of very strong lessons then. But the one lesson that I really learned was that I’m not a one trick pony and lightning does strike twice. And if you really have faith in yourself, you take a hit and keep moving forward. So I’m very happy that I continue doing that. Am I happy that I lost the account? Of course not. The character is judged during chaos. So when I look back on how I handled myself, I’m not disappointed or embarrassed. Now, what’s the third thing. Being on your podcast today, my man, look where I’m at. Oh, yeah. So these are three milestones, the company, the spark, the dip and then the apex. And so your clients need to know that there are cycles in business and some people might have the best run ever and they’re the greatest. But most people have their spikes and dips.
0:29:48.5 RB: And as I say before, just don’t break windows and scream at people. Really just handle yourself in a balanced way so you can make your best decisions.
0:29:57.3 WB: And as you mentioned earlier, the industry is notorious for high attrition rates.
0:30:04.6 RB: Yes.
0:30:06.0 WB: That, I believe, is not so much the experience for you. I’m wondering, what is it that you do different to the general populace within the call center BPO industry?
0:30:18.7 RB: Well, let’s look at it in a very candid way. There’s two types of attrition when you have natural and forced attrition. Let’s do forced attrition. Billy showing up late, smoking weed at lunch, not making his phone call, a cancer, a jumper and a disruptor. He’s got to go. It’s jus, t I know he’s got great English, but he’s the worst. So what are you going to do on that? But secondly, you have natural attrition. What happens if somebody is studying at the university to be a doctor? It might be a scheduling conflict about transportation. It could be closer to their home. Maybe their girlfriend works there. And if you’re highly marketable, maybe there are more lucrative opportunities. Do I take it personally? No, but yeah, well, if you just leave here without a two weeks notice and can’t even look in my eyes and say, “Richard, we had a great run.” That’s nice. I’d like to still bump into you one day and be proud to know you. I mean, you started strong can end strong, so at least through my accountability to my client, it allows me the time.
0:31:24.8 RB: That’s why that’s two weeks to do that transition. But I tell you what, if I do get the peace out, not show up on Monday because Amazon is hiring and it’s a better schedule, those are the times that I will call my client with no surprises. I always have a solution. Let them know what’s going on. And as much as you think it might set you back one, it’s only because of Billy. What it’s really doing is pushing you forward nine because your client trusts you, knows you are a straight shooter and you got the plan. And so if they think that these people are going to tattoo the name of the project on their forehead and work here for the next two decades, they’re sadly mistaken. There are things that happen outside the office that affect this industry. Plus, they have leverage. There are so many centers here that compete. He could be hired tomorrow. And so what do I do to keep them? It’s the basics. I can’t sometimes compete with the bells and the whistles of Amazon. But when I know your name prior to making a phone call, we’ll do a two hour soft skills class.
0:32:27.7 RB: What about playing pinball and Pacman in my game room so we can bond and you can meet other people, break bread together, give you dignity and respect. Yeah. But Richard, how do you compete? I’m only 150. These guys are 10,000. So I can be exceptionally selective through natural filtering. So the people that wanna be here, that wanna stand out, that want me to give them additional responsibilities, be a page to a knight, that is the sort of company culture environment that these people feel like they finally found. The coach, the teacher, the best friend or the mentor that they never had ’cause I’m a straight shooter. I’ll call the balls and the strikes and give you some Philly guilt and I will praise you and get you to the next level. And so it’s interesting, you see people with chivalry still, and I like that. And so I’ve been able to survive in this exceptionally competitive industry, Wayne, because of the way I’ve treated these people. Because if not, there’s a guy that’s gonna pay him another 30 cents or be close to his home or who knows. But I get him and I get him the old fashioned way.
0:33:38.9 WB: So it sounds like you’re a very empathetic, almost compassionate, boss. So you really create that environment where the staff enjoy coming to work rather than just seeing it as another paycheck.
0:33:55.1 RB: Let’s slow down for a second, my brother. Have you ever made phone calls before in a call center for 160 hours a month?
0:34:01.0 WB: I have not. I haven’t had that totally.
0:34:03.0 RB: Well, good. Have you ever been on a predictive dialer that makes you make four to 600 phone calls a day where you’re in constant ready status where it’s like a batting cage? So do I have empathy towards them? Of course I do. I’m one of them. But instead of burning out, I thrived. And instead of just being once among, I rose to the occasion and said I could do something differently here. So are they carrying weight? If they want to, let me explain something. If somebody enjoys making calls, enjoys speaking with people, understands positive escalations, company name spikes, turn-taking, transitional sentences, rhetoric, the thesaurus. You choose much more diplomatic and strategic vocabulary. It’s a beautiful dance. Time flies. You make a ton of money. Just like in the Wolf of Wall Street, when Leo was making that phone call in front of everybody, it was, I think one minute and 46 seconds.
0:35:04.0 RB: And everyone looks at him and he goes, “Hey, how did you do that?” Really? Listen to what he’s saying. He’s not speaking Greek. He’s not doing anything that we all can’t do. The man was living in the now, he was using his hands as illustrators. I mean, watch it without sound. This guy is exceptionally animated. His back was to everybody else ’cause everyone else is the peanut gallery. They’re wasting time eating pizza, smoking cigs. I don’t know what they’re doing. This guy was facing the wall like the pros do. You want that corner to put your rhetoric on the wall and just get in there and bang it out. And so the real pros look at that and they realize that he wasn’t better than anybody else. He’s just trained. He has discipline. He had structure, he had certain mentors. And so that, when I watch those videos with individuals, I pause and I start yelling at the people in the back that are standing and watching, why? They should be making phone calls.
0:35:57.7 RB: Well, go over your calls during QA class. You shouldn’t be off the call. You wanna watch them them live. I got the call recorded. We can listen to it a thousand times. Why are you ruining your pace? See, that’s the sort of difference here. It’s leapfrog, it’s baton passing. It’s the kind of people that you only get better when you work with people that are with you or better. That’s why I like to play golf with people with a better handicap. I play better golf that day. And so you surround yourself with greatness that don’t stop that momentum. He looked surprised when everyone was looking at him. He is like, “Why isn’t everyone working?” And I agree with him. I agree with him 100%. And I agree with Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross. He still called the people gentleman, even though he told Shelly Levine he can’t have coffee.
0:36:45.7 RB: It’s not the point. He said, the leads are out there. The money is out there. You got insurance. If not, I have no sympathy for you. God, he made $970,000 in one year, but he made it. He didn’t force people to sign. And so you might not like him, but you have to respect the art of someone that can convert sales and do things at a certain level. And so maybe through a certain medium, a conversation or just a certain approach or due diligence prior to knowing somebody, you might shatter that misconception. I’m an owner of a company and a lot of people don’t know me, so they may judge me on what happened to them at their last job. And I don’t think that’s very fair as I’m not judging this individual what seat they’re replacing or adding to. I think everybody deserves a clean slate. And if you can start, then everybody leaves something on the table, Wayne.
0:37:41.8 WB: Richard, as expected. It’s a great conversation. Final words of wisdom. So our listener base traditionally, or primarily leaders, final words of wisdom for our listeners.
0:37:54.7 RB: Of course. First is, I can’t thank you enough, Wayne. I had the best time and you are my main man. But my best bit of advice for you and your amazing audience is just to never be hard on yourself. Okay? At the end of the day, when you put your head on the pillow and have your moments of clarity, realize this, regardless of the outcome, hopefully you did things with the most honorable intentions. And if you can do that, you can live with yourself. And I learned that lesson a long, long time ago.
0:38:30.9 RB: There are expectations, but you have your own expectations. And the level above that are realistic expectations. And that’s why I like to gather. The more little piles you can gather, it’s easier to carry. And then eventually it becomes big, big pile. And that’s kind of what happened with me. I have a very large Facebook fan page, Costa Rica’s Call Center. It’s got 126,000 local Costa Rica Ticos. And so when this goes live, you’re gonna have a bunch of new fans. And as I say, I’m just here my friend, to pay it forward. I have no book or seminar. I’m not selling anything. And people most likely don’t like telemarketers. But just to let you know there are people like us out here trying to retain clients, do some upsells, get some referrals, and really try to put some class into this industry.
0:39:22.7 WB: Richard Blank, thank you for being on The ET Project. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
0:39:27.9 Speaker 2: Thank you for joining us on The ET Project, a show for executive talent development. Until next time, check out our site for free videos, ebooks, webinars and blogs @coaching4companies.com.