Q&A with Dr. Carl Balita on Service Marketing

Carl Balita Review Center (CBRC) swept ten awards in the 2019 Franchise Excellence Awards given by the Philippine Franchise Association. This includes two Hall of Fame Awards as Most Outstanding Filipino Franchise and Best in Marketing. It is also an ISO 9001 2015 QMS certified company, the first and only in the industry.  It is also awarded a Superbrand seal. In this interview with its founder Dr. Carl Balita, he walks us through his journey from spotting the whitespace in board licensure exams to turning CBRC to what it is today – the biggest and most awarded review center in the Philippines.

He spoke at the 2nd Business Model Forum, organized as a public service by Mansmith and Fielders Inc. with recorded video available at www.continuum-edu.com.

Q1: How were you able to identify the opportunity in academic review?

A1: The low passing rates in almost all licensure examinations given by the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) is the confirmation that there is a need for academic reviews.  But the market was tight when we entered the business. There were many enterprising professionals who were positioned in the market at that time.  It is an unregulated business so the barrier to entry is very low. There were many players.  That was a confirmation that indeed there is an opportunity.  We had to make a difference to make sure we get the attention of the aspiring professionals, and challenge the players in the market space.  I was a faculty of a university and became a dean and confirmed that academic review complements the college education especially in a highly technical profession like nursing. 

Q2: You have many review courses. Which one did you start with, which followed, and which is the most popular?

A2: We started with nursing because I am a nurse and a midwife by profession, and I was a nursing professor, dean and reviewer as well.  I knew that there was going to be a decline in nursing and so I pursued my licensure as a teacher and finished my Doctor of Education degree on top of my Master of Arts in Nursing degree and a conferred Doctor of Humanities. These academic and professional preparations happened while the competitors were too busy in the red ocean of nursing reviews.  The review for teachers started small as that particular segment is not used to attending review classes, but eventually realized they had to.  Other programs followed like criminology, social work, midwifery, civil service, agriculture, and more to come.  CBRC became very popular in nursing and teachers reviews. 

Q3: How long did it take you to recover your investment? What did you do to mitigate the risk of your then new business?

A3: CBRC started as shared table space with two staff.  There was nothing to recover as investment was very small.  There was something to maintain though – the salary for faculty – which I had to work for elsewhere to be able to pay.  This was because we only had 12 students in the first batch. That was the advantage of starting small.  You will not be afraid to risk and fail.  But essentially, the small nature of the start-up enable me and my emerging team to master the quality of service which became the CBRC differentiation at that time.   

Q4: Among the many programs that you have done, which awareness campaign gave you the turning point and why?

A4: In nursing, my biggest asset is my book Ultimate Learning Guide to Nursing Review, which integrated all subjects to review in one compact learning material.  It became a bestseller that every nursing reviewee at that time probably had one.  The author of that best seller owns a review center and the book they bought became the best “flyer” of what we can offer.  But, nothing beats the word of mouth strategy for awareness.  The power of the satisfied clients in the age of social media is indeed exponential.  The success stories from the poor scholars who make it to the top, or a blind topnotchers whose stories go viral are great turning point to awareness that incites hope among all aspiring professionals.  The topnotcher stories become synonymous to the CBRC brand.  The CBRC experience were so satisfying and gratifying that our reviewees became very effective brand ambassadors.   

Q5: Can you share your most effective trial review strategy? Why do you think it worked?

A5: The trial review is most effective as fillers to classes that may still have seats. It does not add up to costs but may serve as the most powerful means to convert reluctant reviewees to enroll and be willing to pay.  This strategy has migrated to social media where we broadcast real teaching and learning virtually through our pioneering online review programs.  It gives the prospect a glimpse of how we deliver the content and a peek to our teaching strategies.  The trial review bridged the reluctance and provided for an experience that confirms the CBRC brand promise.  It enables CBRC to incite a relationship anchored on trust and value that enticed them to eventually enroll and be ambassadors of the brand. 

Q6: You are now the biggest in academic review with over 100 branches in the country, how do you ensure quality in instruction or service delivery since there are no tangible products involved?

A6: Everything begins with a curricula which serve as content checklist.  The content of our programs is standardized. CBRC screens and trains faculty who are all aware of how they are being evaluated both by the staff and the students.  We sort of license faculty members and ensure that they know the standards in the areas that matter – which are content, mastery, delivery, motivation and personality.  Attendance to faculty development programs is a must in the system.  But ultimately, the best measure of our quality is the result.  Since motivation is integral to the CBRC experience, the  reviewees are able to achieve high scores in their exams. Eventually the customer-driven stance shifted to customer-driving strategy that is built on trust and positive relationship. 

Q7: How do you choose your franchisees? What do you look for and where do you find them?

A7: The CBRC Franchise model is unique and is not the usual franchisor-franchisee relationship.  Franchisees are oriented that the franchise is a privilege and is not a right.  There is clarity that the brand is given the highest regard and that there is centralized management and standards especially in the areas of academics and services.  Standards are written and documented.  Compliance is a mandate and not a management prerogative. Performance measures are clear and enforced.  Continuous improvement is in the DNA of CBRC culture.  CBRC has bias for professionals for its franchisees and the application to own a franchise undergo due diligence from a committee which is also involved in orientation, training and development of the franchise. CBRC looks at the passion for service excellence based on previous engagements of the aspiring franchisee. CBRC endeavors to get the ISO certification to confirm its quality in the areas of structure, process and outcomes. It is engaged in other quality assurance initiatives towards a more sustainable existence.

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