For many people, customer service jobs are often considered pretty close to “bottom of the barrel” McJobs, to be avoided at all costs unless the alternative is flipping burgers at a fast food joint. But employers who pay their customer service people minimum wage are doing themselves a disservice, according to Shahaf Bar-Geffen, co-founder and CEO of Israel’s Web3 digital advertising firm.
“Usually organizations hire kids for their call centers, with the employees hanging around until they find something more attractive. We take top tier people for our call center, train them in top technology, and pay them double,” said Bar-Geffen.
The superior staff, engagement with customers, and advanced technology has all been a part of the Web3 success story. Currently Israel’s largest homegrown digital marketing firm, Web3 has recently gone abroad, establishing a subsidiary called Maple, which operates in 15 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America.
Web3, completely bootstrapped and profitable from almost day one, is an example of Israeli entrepreneurship at work, said Bar-Geffen, a top-tier Israel Air Force pilot who, nearly two decades after completing his service, is still flying “important missions” for the IAF (Bar-Geffen declined to elaborate).
“I started a student help site called Nerd, which I sold in 2008, but already before that I was trying to get into the digital ads business.”
But the idea of an agency placing ads on sites in Israel was considered unworkable in those days, because of the economies of scale, said Bar-Geffen. “The agencies in Israel told me there was no scale, and they didn’t want to get involved.”
Instead, Bar-Geffen found a workaround – establishing his own ad network and signing up sites to run his ads. “I signed up a few dozen of the biggest media sites in Israel – web portals, news sites, entertainment sites, etc. – and I was able to do it very cheaply, because nobody saw the value of an ad network in those days.”
Bar-Geffen got a three-year exclusive to sell ads on those sites, giving his agency, Web3, a huge head-start in the digital ads business that the company has kept and leveraged into other successful endeavors, such as Maple, which runs ad networks outside Israel. The company is also very active in the mobile space, via its Positive Media subsidiary.
Web3 manages over 10 billion monthly global impressions, focusing mostly on tier one countries in order to reach the largest volumes, Bar-Geffen said, making it one of the few Israeli ad tech firms to attract the attention of industry giants. In 2011, Ybrant, one of the world’s biggest online ad agencies, acquired a minority stake in Web3.
“Web3 is a market leader in Israel,” said Suresh Reddy, chairman & CEO of Ybrant Digital. “By acquisition of a minority stake we want to build a joint venture so that we can take their marketing methodology to global market. We will also be able to build technologies around its methodology.”
In yet another international deal, South Africa’s Village Media in 2013 bought out about a third of the Israeli firm. Among Web3’s customers are many international brand names including Ford, L’Oreal, Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, Heineken, Unilever, Citroen, and others.
In its latest deal, Web3 signed a strategic agreement with DigTV to provide media content for kids and teens. With the agreement, Web3 and DigTV will reach Israel’s largest youth audience, with content and ads in Hebrew, “enabling us to more effectively reach web surfers in their native language,” the companies said.
While it’s tempting to cut corners – like to save money on customer service – it really doesn’t pay to be penny-wise and pound foolish. Customers ask a lot of questions and they have a lot of demands,” said Bar-Geffen. “You have to be ready with quality information to ensure that they are getting what they need. We can spend millions on technology to push ads and make sure that customers are getting what they need, but it’s not enough. You need people in the loop. Some things just cannot be done in an automated manner.”