Another “Biggest” to hit Marikina City

Marikina, home of the biggest pair of shoes in the world, would soon boast of another biggest to hit the city when SM Cinema Marikina opens on September 5, 2008.

SM Cinema Marikina has eight (8) luxurious comfy theaters, four of which are stadium-seating for moviegoers to enjoy full view and convenience of watching wherever you are seated.

It has high-tech state of the art lobby and interior designs. What's more? It has a spacious, comfortable and classy lounge area with Wi-Fi capability, how's that for mixing business with pleasure? And for those movie fanatics who wouldn't want to miss a thing, Bluetooth advertising is made available for you.

All these and more at SM Cinema Marikina, where biggest things are seen and biggest fun happens!

SM Cinema Marikina is located at SM City Marikina Marcos Highway, Brgy. Kalumpang Marikina City. For updates visit www.smcinema.com.

See you at the movies!

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For Companies In Need of Capital


Digg!

The people managing and supporting WazzupManila are well experienced in the ways of international business and finance. It is therefore not surprising for them to stumble upon investors, both international and local, who are on the lookout for new investment opportunities. Within the past couple of weeks, they were contacted by two European companies who have the appetite for equity investments in the Philippines.

They are currently interested in tech companies (software, computers, telecoms, etc.) that are in need of more capital. If your firm fits the profile, please send your company introduction to jdcruz [@] wazzupmanila [.] com

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Phillip Morris Defies Advertising Ban. Insults All Filipinos


Digg!

UPDATE: Phillip Morris backs out of the Eraserheads Concert

It seems that some people, multinationals specially, have very little regard for other people.

In the head offices of the tobacco giant Phillip Morris, for instance, cigarette advertising has long been banned and the society has long recognized the justness of such prohibition. For sure, the private school kids of these tobacco executives know that cigarette smoking is dangerous to people's health and if asked, can properly explain why they should not be allowed to advertise.

Despite that, Phillip Morris in the Philippines is acting as if an advertising ban is a new addition to their vocabulary and is acting like a misguided minor. As clearly stated in Republic Act No. 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, Cigar companies are prohibited from sponsoring sports, cultural, and artistic events of individual or team athletes, artists and performers.

Still, the company is sponsoring the reunion concert of the group Eraserheads. To make matters worse, people looking for tickets are being asked to visit the tobacco company's website, declare themselves to be smokers and agree to receive information and marketing materials from the company. Does Phillip Morris really think that they have a just cause, or do they simply have a low regard to the intelligence of the Filipino? do they really think that they can get away with this?

It is a good thing that the government is being tough on this matter. The Department of Health (DOH) has promised criminal prosecution against the officers of Phillip Morris specifically, its president, general manager and board of directors.

I hope that the government, with the help of the private sector remains tough in this instance. In a country where 240 people die every day from tobacco related illness, where the government spends more money to help those suffering from cigarette related illness (compared to the taxes collected), it is time that those who promote the proliferation of smoking is handled the way they should be- strapped with a tight leash.

Related news:
– http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/philip-morris-international-caught-philippines/story.aspx?guid={2F8DE90F-3D58-4BEE-A811-B61E4A19533F}&dist=hppr

– http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20080630-145679/Cigarette-ad-ban-in-media-starts-Tuesday

– http://ph.news.yahoo.com/gma/20080806/tel-doh-warns-cigar-firm-from-sponsoring-284c369.html

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Business Success During Time Of Chaos



Digg!

On 1997, the economy was probably in worse shape than it is now. The Asian economy spiraled downwards. Banks that were pushing money under the door suddenly transformed like evil debt collectors. The exchange rate almost doubled and billions or even trillions of dollars worth of investments failed. Cement and steel plants, which took several years to build at the cost of billions of dollars (apiece), were finished at the time when there was no more demand for its products. Buildings were completed and half finished but there were no more buyers. Most of the companies in the Forbes list of top 10 companies in the world folded. Etc, etc…

Despite that, there is a woman who started a business with a capital of P120. Today, she has a very successful bakery. This is not the neighborhood bread store that we see in every street corner; this is much bigger in terms of daily production and has branches in a few areas.

Her start up capital is much lower than what I spent for lunch in those days. Had I received a financing proposal that will require P120-, I would have willingly invested several times that amount, even without the guarantee of success. Even now, there are hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who can throw at least P1,000 in investments that will probably lose. Many people who lines up (every day) for lottery tickets spend more than that.

This lady tells us that there are a lot that the rest of us can achieve. If P120 ($2.73) yielded a successful bread business after a few years, how much more can most of us achieve with at least P1,000?

This goes to show that lack of money and economic instability cannot stop us from becoming successful. With, without and perhaps, despite us, the government or even Pontius Pilate, those who are determined will succeed.

Keep the faith!

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Swiss President to Visit the Philippines


Digg!

The Philippines has a minimal trade relationship with Switzerland. The European state buys only 0.07% of the Philippines' exports and supplies only 0.49% of the country's total imports. Because of this almost insignificant trade relationship and perhaps, to also strengthen other ties between the two countries, the President of Switzerland is scheduled to come on August 11-12, 2008. Let's hope that the visit will result to more Philippine exports to the distant and wealthy state. This is the first time a Swiss President visits another country.

The acting Swiss President is Pascal Couchepin a member of the Swiss Federal Council since 1998 and President of the Swiss Confederation in 2003 and 2008. Pascal Couchepin has been the head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs since 2003. He started his political career as Deputy Mayor (1976) and Mayor of Martigny (Valais) (1984) and was a member of the National Council from 1979 to 1998.

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Oil Prices Down. Decline May Continue


Digg!

These are expert opinions, which in reality are nothing more than speculation. However, it was also speculations that are widely being blamed for the rise of crude oil to its record high level of $147/barrel. According to OPEC President Chakib Khelil, oil prices could go down and remain stable at $78/barrel given the right circumstances. The critical factors mentioned are dollar stability and improved political situation regarding Iran.

At present, oil prices are down to $121.76 mainly due to fears of reduced demand from its largest buyer, the United States. The US economy is said to be on a slowdown creating a parallel decline in the country's oil requirement.

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Private Sector Scam

At the very least, they are not filing any tax return. At the extreme, there is at least 4 billion pesos worth of taxes that is not being collected. A few years ago, a friend who had his business registered with the BIR more than a month after the SEC registration was charged P50,000 in fines. Assuming that the minimum fine that those companies are liable is P50,000 a piece, the government should be able to make at least four billion from the delinquent entities.

“The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) said about 80,000 companies were not registered with it and therefore were not paying national taxes.

BIR Commissioner Lilian Hefti said her office discovered this when the taxpayers databases of local government units (LGUs) were compared with that of the BIR. The matching revealed that quite a number of businesses that were registered with the LGUs were not in the BIR records.”

Read More…

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Call Center Agent, Are You there? Hello, Hello?



Silence Is Not An Option
(when talking to Americans)

My dog was killed yesterday in a car accident.

I heard on the news this morning that the United States will be pulling all of its troops out of Iraq by June 2009.

Did you meet my comments with silence? Now let me try that again:

I'm going to send everyone who reads this blog two crisp $100 dollar bills.

Did you at least mumble “great”? Then, you've just given me a Quick Reply.

A Quick Reply is the name given by Gerard Counihan to backchanneling, or, as I write on my whiteboard, SILENCE IS NOT AN OPTION (when talking to Americans).

This blog entry will cover the American need for verbal and semi-verbal response during conversations, especially on the telephone, and the reason many of our call center trainees have difficulty incorporating them.

In 2004, I was hired by a large HR firm in the Philippines to provide English training for newly-hired customer service and technical service representatives (CSRs and TSRs) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) staff who render services to North American clients. Our 64-hour, 8-day course consisted of modules on Polishing English, American Culture, Accent Reduction, and Email writing.

English in the Philippines closely resembles American English due to the 1,000 teachers who arrived in 1901-1902 that taught English when the islands “belonged to” the United States (Dolan, 1993). Our trainees came to us with what would be an advanced or superior level of English in other non-English speaking countries. Filipino-English allows them to communicate with each other there are many local dialects–and with foreigners in a common language.

However, in class, beside lexical and idiomatic differences, I noticed a complete lack of backchanneling; no one gave verbal responses yes, oh really, I see nor semi-verbal responses uh-huh, mmm-mmm when doing fluency activities and games in pairs or small groups or during customer service role plays. They listened attentively, politely waiting until it was their turn to speak. Filipinos, when speaking in Tagalog, use backchanneling in much the same way that we do in North America. For example, the word talaga is used exactly as Americans use really? or really!, although less frequently. On the phone, some Filipinos use o exactly as Americans use uh-huh. However, when they made the shift from Filipino English to North American English, they did not provide these verbal and semi-verbal responses.

Backchanneling, AKA active listening, is a skill that I, therefore, introduced early in the program and reinforced in almost every oral activity thereafter. Learning this skill entailed attaining a level of cultural fluency that would allow them to put their customers at ease.

When humans learn to speak, we learn to backchannel by mimicking the way adults around us respond to our talk. However, in the classroom or call center training room, students may be focused on content while listening and on vocabulary, grammar structure and resolving the issue in their response. Because there are no formal rules for backchanneling, those who learn a language learn these verbal cues when they become culturally fluent as well as linguistically fluent. Many cultures use backchanneling, but their customs vary and what might be seen as encouraging conversation in one culture could be seen as disrespectful in another.

For starters, often our trainees had a difficult time adjusting to the lower levels of formality in interacting with North Americans. When we tried to model the informal classroom or workplace commonly found in North America, our students still expressed uncertainty over the relationship between the teacher (or “boss”) and the students. In Manila, many still referred to the trainers as “ma'am”, long after they had been requested to use first names. This reflected a culture that has a long history of respect for hierarchy in the family, schools, and business. This deeply-rooted respect left the students unsure about when it was proper and expected to interject verbal cues when dealing with a North American customer. However, what they struggled to understand is that by not backchanneling, they could increase their listeners' level of discomfort.

Silence is not a meaningful part of the life of most members of the dominant culture in the US (Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel, 2007). The American “inclination for talk” leaves customers feeling unsure because their need for ratification is not met. In fact, the continuation of the communication may be at risk.

Scollon (1985) applies an interesting metaphor to human communication in Western industrialized societies: smooth talk is the natural state of a smoothly running machine, and silences indicate malfunction, trouble or failure. Westerners may have negative perceptions about speakers from a culture that traditionally communicates with frequent or long periods of “non-talk”, and attribute negative stereotypes to both the speakers and to their native culture.

In addition to the elements of cultural expectations on the part of the American customer, teacher or supervisor, non-native speakers may have other cultural barriers that inhibit them from engaging in verbal feedback. For example, it was not uncommon for agents to show unwillingness to give a negative answer to a customer. Therefore, when the answer is no, silence may be the speakers' preferred option.

Brown and Levinson (1978) state that using silence is an extreme manifestation of indirectness. However, other cultures believe that silence expresses verbal politeness, especially in order for the speaker to save face for him or herself or the teacher. If the customer indicates that the silence is unnerving by calling attention to it with a question such as Are you still on the line?/Hellooo?, the agent may perceive THAT as being impolite or as a source of interactive trouble.

As part of the modules on American culture, we discussed at great length the openness that North Americans have to a negative response as long as an alternative or reason is offered. However, even those trainees who were able to backchannel with some degree of consistency had difficulty maintaining verbal feedback when a negative answer had to be given. The least harmful result is that the customer will feel negatively toward the agent (and by extension, the company) when there is no response to a comment or query. What could be potentially more problematic is when the customer interprets the silence to be an affirmative rather than a negative response.

I would like to give you an example of how powerful it is when an agent uses backchanneling properly:

One night, while BPO trainees were doing role plays in one of my first batches of trainees, I had my back to the class while pulling out material for the next activity. My ear focused on the closest pair and I had a type of “out of body” experience for a brief moment, I literally thought I was in the United States, eavesdropping on a call. I immediately wheeled around to see which trainee was playing the agent's role, only to discover that it was the trainee with the heaviest local accent. I was very pleased to note that by using backchanneling, her accent was not even an issue–she sounded more “American” (and more attentive) than the trainees who spoke more fluently, more accurately and with a reduced accent.

As an American consumer, I know that when I'm explaining my customer service problem, I expect the listener to respond so that I am sure I'm being heard and understood and even being encouraged to elaborate. When I don't hear that and am met with silence also known as Dead Air I get anxious. I wonder, “Is the agent there? Does he or she understand me? What's going on?” As I get panicky, I ask the agent, “Are you still on the line? Are you still there?” This silence on the part of the agent may give the speaker the impression that the customer service rep is uncooperative, uninterested, dishonest or unintelligent. There is no question that cross-cultural differences in feedback cues can lead to the wrong pragmatic interpretation of the speaker's intentions because of intercultural interference (Lehtonen & Sajavaara, 1985).

I know when I experience this, I can feel my confidence in the customer service representative ebbing. If I am already frustrated by a difficult problem, if I am in a rush, or if I harbor ill-will because I believe that offshore agents have “taken” jobs from my home country, the hesitation or silence may even cause my frustration level to move up a notch. If this happens, I may become a red-hot caller (irate caller), something that agents and companies want to avoid at all costs and must do their best to neutralize quickly and effectively.

Other factors in a call can build rapport between an agent and caller: use of the polite but friendly modals, a warm non-monotonous voice, empathizing through acknowledging the impact the issue has on the caller. However, hearing the agent respond to every sentence, perhaps even every clause, tells me I'm with you, Ms. Jones, and I understand your concern. This American volubility extends even to comments unrelated to the call itself. I need a response when I say, Oh, I've spilled my coffee! or There's someone at the door.

Anecdotal evidence shows that a customer comment in the most serious vein passes without a response when not trained: One language trainer noted that when an American customer said that her mother had died two days before, the agent reverted to the script found on her monitor. One can only imagine what the customer thought of the CSR's lack of response.

It is worth noting that in business, if the customer is ranting and raving, letting the customer get it all out without interruptions of any kind is often recommended. As trainers, we have to keep in mind that non-native speakers are working hard to listen closely, speak accurately with warmth, follow the client's SOP, document notes, read a monitor and resolve the customer's concern all simultaneously. Remembering to backchannel is simply another task to add.

If you are a non-American agent, take a recorded interview from an American radio or TV interview (or a scene from a film of two people talking) and tally the number of times a Quick Reply is given. I think you will be quite amazed at how many times the American listeners respond.

What adjectives do you associate with the noun “silence” in your first language? Write them down on a piece of paper. What adjectives do you think North Americans associate with the noun “silence”? Frequent combinations are: uneasy, strange, awkward or leaden. It is worth noting that Americans rarely, if ever, speak of an exuberant or happy silence.

We must understand that using backchanneling is both a reflection of the adaptation to the cultural expectations of the native speaker listener and customer as well as a fluency skill. It builds rapport. While it does not make or break a call or conversation, it does increase the listener's comfort and confidence. As I tell my trainees as we practice Quick Replies in the classroom, remember, nodding cannot be heard over the phone.

REFERENCES

Bonvillain, Nancy. (1993). Language, Culture, and Communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice Hall.

Brown, P., & Stephen Levinson. (1978). Universals in language usage: Politeness
phenomena. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Counihan, G. (1998). Quick replies. The Internet TESL Journal, (4)11. Retrieved on
June 28, 2002, from http://iteslj.org/Lessons/Counihan-Activities/Rejoinders.html.
Dolan, R. (Ed.) (1993). Philippines: A country study (4th ed.). Library of Congress.
Washington, DC.

Lehtonen, J., & Sajavaara, K. (1985). The silent Finn. In D. Tannen & M. Saville-Troike
(Eds.). Perspectives on silence (pp. 193-201). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing
Corporation.

Peltzman, R. & Fishburn, J. (2006). Silence is not an option. Presented at Talking Across
the World: English Communication Skills for the ITES Industry, Makati, Philippines,
February 25, 2006.

Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., & McDaniel, E. R. (2007). Communication between
cultures (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Scollon, R. (1985). The machine stops: Silence in the metaphor of malfunction. In D.
Tannen & M. Saville-Troike (Eds). Perspectives on silence (pp. 21-30). Norwood,
NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

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Respecting the Senior Citizens of the Philippines

“Dura lex Sed lex”. The law may be harsh but it is the law.

In the Philippines, there exists a law granting a number of benefits to people upon reaching the age of 60. Republic Act 9257, known as the Senior Citizens Act, signed into law on 2004, specifies among others, a 20% discount on food and beverages, medical, dental, transportation and many other products and services to holders of the Senior Citizens Cards.

However, a number of came out within since its implementation because a number of establishments have been reported to adamantly refuse to provide the benefits in part or in full. A number of senior citizens have even refused to avail of the Senior Citizens Card claiming that the refusals to provide them with the benefits have caused public spats and embarrassments because it made them look like beggars.

Every senior citizen in the world deserves some slack. They have worked so hard and paid their dues to society that now, it is the society's turn to serve them. However, some businesses, because of low margins and/or greed totally refuse to comply with the law or have drafted internal regulations undermining it.

However, the senior citizens are like soldiers who refuse to die or fade away. Some of them have united and has started to fight back.

Looking at the provisions of the law, penalties for violations of the law are as follows:

  1. P50,000~100,000 and imprisonment of 6 months to 2 years for the first violation.
  2. P100,000~P200,000 and imprisonment of 2 ~ 6 years.

The law, right or wrong, is the law. Until it is repealed, there is nothing we can do but give to Ceasar what belongs to him.

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Despite Fears, Philippine Fashion Jewelry Will Remain Dominant

Now that the dollar has regained some of its value (against the Philippine peso), exporters should be happier compared to what they were a few months ago. The two years of continuous decline experienced by some sectors should have been arrested by now.

One way for companies to become more competitive in this time of increasingly globalized economy is to sell products and services that cannot be provided by their competitors. An example of that is jewelry, which derives much of its value upon artisanship. Taking it a step further, exporters of fashion jewelry can use materials that are indigenous to their country in order to prevent the entry of duplicate products. In so doing, one not only makes it difficult for his competitors to come in, profits are also optimized. And with profit being maxized, the industry becomes more resilient to price increases.

That precisely, is the case of customized jewelry products from the Philippines that is known for its intricate design, skilled craftsmanship and exotic materials. The industry hasn’t folded despite the 20% decline in the US dollar during the past couple of years. And despite industry fears, it is bound to remain within the next few years.

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