The “Dumb” Things Call Centers Still Do but Shouldn’t

Call centers around the world have been through a great deal over the past 2 years. The pandemic and the sudden need to move tens of thousands of their people to a work-at-home environment have forced all companies to take a serious look at their operations, people practices, technology and so much more. In this episode, we are fortunate enough to speak with our good friend Eric Sims, the CEO and Co-Founder of Leading Edge Connections. Leading Edge is one of the premier BPO partners in our network and in this episode, Eric does a great job of articulating how his company had to re-evaluate their entire operation when the pandemic hit and how they came out on the other side; better than ever. We had a ton of fun in this episode as Eric is hilarious, but the content of his message is right on point. If you are leading a call center operation post-pandemic, listen to our latest podcast to gain serious insight into what other companies have done to achieve post-pandemic success!

 

Brian:

We have a very special guest with us today, Mr. Eric Sims, who is the CEO and co-founder of Leading Edge Connections one of the premier partners in our BPO partner network so we’re very glad to have him on board today. We’ve done a lot of work with you in the past and like I said, you’ve done a great job you and your company have taken care of us and our customers so we definitely appreciate that. I tell you what for our listeners out there, why don’t you take this opportunity just to tell us a little more about yourself and tell us a little more about Leading Edge?

 

Eric:

Leading Edge Connections is a fully virtual outsource contact center solution model for companies all over the United States and even Europe that we service from a standpoint of customer care, sales, technical support, all those traditional verticals. We just look at it and say, can we do it in a more untraditional or evolutionary way? So, been doing that since about 2018.

 

Brian:

Awesome. And we were talking earlier. I think our listeners would appreciate anybody that’s that’s started in call centers or is in call centers today has started their career early, would probably appreciate the track that you took in this business. We’d love for you to just share a little bit about your journey to where you are today because it was an unconventional journey, but a cool one as well.

 

 

Eric:

Well, I think mine’s very similar. I was court ordered to work in the call center. No, I think everybody I’ve talked to in our industry though it’s almost everybody says, I don’t know how I ended up here. I told you I moved to Tampa, had big plans to do some other stuff and found my way over to a call center that was here locally in Tampa and there’s plenty of them here in the Tampa area and there’s a lot of good ones and was fortunate enough to find what I considered to be a good one here in the Tampa area and ended up working for those guys for about 10 years and it awarded me the opportunity to really learn the business from the inside out. I started on the phones and very quickly moved into supervisory roles and workforce management and training and even all the way up into running some recruiting nationally and things like that. So, I really got to touch every department except IT. They were always smart enough to know I was dumb enough to not need to go in there.

And so I never really ran any of that. But other than that, I had some fun getting to learn the business that way and understand the people and understand the technology and understand the techniques and best practices. And I think coming in from other industries and businesses that was important for me because the best practices that you see work in some environments don’t really work in the call center environment the same way. When you’re talking about sales and customer service is a big difference if you’ve done face to face or in my experience, there was a lot of external business to business type selling, but it was very different in working in those volumized versions of things and so that was a lot of fun. Did that for about 10 years and then decided to go kind of expand my horizons and went to work for a larger BPO that’s had a bigger presence and it was the opposite experience as the first. First one was really good, it was like family. Like I said, I wouldn’t have stayed there 10 years if I didn’t love the people there. It had its problems, it had its challenges like any company, but it was good people. The second one was the most godawful experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was tip to tell the worst company I’ve ever been involved with and just toxic. And so it was a perfect culmination of bad events that physically made me sick and mentally sick to the point where I was like, I can’t do this anymore and I had to really look at it and say, what is it I want to do?

I think I was sharing with you before the show that’s how I got into figuring out to do Leading Edge was I had a real love for the call center and BPO space. I think there’s a lot of really awesome stuff that we’re able to do with the variety of customers we work with at any BPO. There’s just, there’s a lot of variety, there’s a lot of changes, there’s a lot of movement and that always was very attractive to me as someone with ADHD. I like things moving around very quickly. They did a good job of keeping me on three different fraud sales projects a day so I got to change gears quite a bit and it was good, but I like to move a lot. But for me it was cool because I got awarded that opportunity to learn, grow, move and shake and do a lot really quick, but once we got to that place of looking at things differently and to back up, I met my now business partner, John Juliano when we all was working for that first company. He came on to work for us in Buffalo, New York, I was in Tampa and he and I became very good friends in the course of that time that we worked together and just stayed in touch. And so as business associates and friends often do we kept talking to each other even after we left the companies that we were existing at. And then in one of those, I think I was telling somebody earlier today, one of those kind of, I won’t use the B word, but complainant sessions where you just get on and complain to each other about the stuff that you don’t like that kind of water cooler, toxic talk, we both stopped and we were like, well, this is not a healthy conversation. We obviously don’t hate the industry that much because we stayed in it this long, but there are some things we don’t like about it and think that we could change or want to change and so we just did a real simple exercise. We looked at a whiteboard and we said, Hey, let’s write down all the stuff on the left, the stuff we love about this business and on the right, let’s write down all the stuff we hate and don’t want to do. And then we looked at it and said, well, what if we just didn’t do any of that or didn’t do it that way and what if we took the other stuff and said, Hey, let’s just expand on the stuff that we love and build a business around these things that we really love about the industry and about the business and that’s how we formed Leading Edge Connections.

 

 

Brian:

Very cool. And I don’t know if you meant to segue into our today’s topic with that last few comments, but I think it segues pretty well. We appreciate the introduction as well, Eric, but today’s topic of our show is Dumb Things That Call Centers Still Do, But Shouldn’t. So, more than likely we would be talking about a lot of things that as you guys made your list, that would be on the right side of that list. Things that call centers continue to do or have done in the past that for some reason we’re all like, why are we still doing it that way? So, for the folks out there and our listeners, we wanted to just bring this up and start to bring up a few things that we’ve noticed in all of our careers, probably you have too and for the folks who are listening in your careers as well, just to talk about them and maybe talk about ways that we can maybe change those or do it better. So, as you reflect back Eric, to that list, think about the right side. What were some of the dumb things or some of the things that on that side that maybe you’ve seen companies that were still doing that you’re like, maybe we can do this better or do it different?

 

 

Eric:

Again, I think for each person, it may be a little bit different because some of that has to do with what we enjoy and what we’re passionate about, but I think any time you look at a situation and it becomes one of those Groundhog Day conversations where everybody’s walking back into the meeting and it’s like the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting something different to happen. I felt like that was happening a lot with a lot of stuff. And I try to keep things pretty simple when I look at business or life or whatever it may be and when you look at the outsourcing business, people really look for us for three reasons. They look for us for talent, techniques and technology or one are all three of those and I think everything falls under that umbrella. And when those are the three things that you’re continually talking about being the main frustration in the business and those are supposed to be your main products or services, that seems stupid to me. Again, I maybe wrong, but it seems a little dumb. It’s like, Hey, we produce bubble gum and you’re in a meeting every week talking about how your bubble gum sucks and nobody wants it. Obviously, the idea being maybe you need to change the bubble gum, listen to people or make lollipops, I don’t know, do something different. And so for us, that was that thing and it revolved around that and then when I looked at it and said like, what’s causing this? We had a lot of conversations for a lot of years and then trying to implement solutions and you’d see a solution and not be able to get there. I always kept going back to, why it’s not that these solutions are out of reach for the most part. Some of them may be from some standpoints, but for me, it looked like and said, a lot of this goes back to the financial constraints of whatever model you may be in. And at that point in time I was in a brick and mortar model. And when you’re looking and having trouble with talent and everybody agrees that you need better talent, but the only way to get better talent is to pay more money and the budget doesn’t allow for it because the only option is either raise the price to the customer which I don’t know how many customers y’all deal with, but that’s not an easy task. Or cut it somewhere else in your management staff or in your technology. Well, that doesn’t help the situation either or which was our discussion was what if you got rid of the buildings? And that’s a big, hard cost and so for us, that was a big piece of it and having centralized real estate when you’re trying to hire in volume and scale in volume and do things in volume seemed, I’m not going to say stupid, well to me, it seems stupid with the problem at hands, it’s not dumb because I understand it’s necessary at times, but in the gist of that conversation, it seemed silly. And I think I’ve told Doug this before for us, when we decided to go fully virtual, I took a piece of notebook paper. Again, I’ll tell you I’m simple. It was a blank piece of paper, I drew a little dot in the middle and then I drew a circle around that and I said, this dot in the middle represents the building, the brick and mortar center, the circle represents the three to five mile radius of which I can hire people in this crappy part of town that I’ve decided to put this cheap building in because it’s the only thing we can afford. Are there more good people that can do these types of jobs in a three mile radius of this building or are there more good people that can do these types of jobs in the continental United States or North America? And I didn’t even have to Google it guys, it was pretty remarkable the answer was there’s more people in the United States than in Canada. And so for us, that was the first step of like… We always joke about we want to remove real and figurative walls that are stopping people from doing what they need to do and stopping businesses from what they need to do. And so with LEC that was our first thing like no more walls. One of our first pictures were posted was an empty office space nothing like there’s no more walls constricting us and when you remove those physical and virtual walls and it frees you up to operate the business differently because the financial model’s been thrown on its head. And so it doesn’t solve all the problems, but when you can adjust the money and the finances, it sure helps solve some of the other ones or at least gives you some funds to try to fix the other ones.

 

 

Doug:

It’s funny Eric that you say that and being on the client side for as long as I was and having a number of vendors that I outsourced business to all over the world, a big part of that was at some point in time there’s a saturation of talent. And it just felt like, man, we’re beating our heads against a wall. We can’t seem to continue to bring in more talent, we have an attrition issue and now we’re allowing bad behavior because we’re afraid to get rid of people because we only have so many people in the market or we’re rehiring people that we fired two years ago and around and round we go and so it’s like, from my standpoint as the client, I’m like, well, I need to go find a new vendor and a new location. From the vendor standpoint, they’re stuck in their brick and mortar and that three to five mile radius that you keep talking about and to your point about not having to Google anything, I think the mindset was always, well, you have to have a site to manage people out of. And I think that was the box that everybody was confined in. And obviously COVID threw that on its heels because everybody was then forced to go virtual, but you guys actually did it before COVID and had a good head start on other people. So, talk about some of that in terms of how did some of those management tried and true if you will management styles of being able to touch and feel and see and bring people into a room and talk to them and have supervisors cubes outside of and train people in a classroom, how did you guys solve for all those things?

 

 

Eric:

I think the first piece was and it really does go back to a mindset right of how approach it, because I’ve sat in both rooms, like you just regurgitated 9,000 meetings that I’ve been in before. You literally consolidated all those into one or two sentences and I was like, there’s the Groundhog Day talk right there. That’s it, word for word. And it starts with saying, instead of trying to figure out how to disprove this, let’s go at it like we’re trying to make it happen versus trying to prove it won’t work because a lot of people went over it with that mindset. Because they’re like, I don’t like it, it’s new. I don’t understand it and whatever you want to call that mindset, fear ridden or constricted or whatever it may be, that perspective will keep you from getting anywhere wouldn’t point it towards anything. So, I think a lot of businesses because of that missed opportunities prior to and even during COVID to approach it the right way. The second piece being after you do it is like the big thing with COVID was too, there’s a big difference in being designed for work at home and then sending people home to work. What happened in COVID was a lot of people got sent home to work. And so then again, does it work? Some people say, yes, some people said it was awful. I would beg to say the people that said it was awful, sent people home to work and understanding that, Hey, if you’re changing the environment and you’re changing the way you’re doing it and the type of structure you’re going to have, you may need to assume that your processes need to change, the talent may need to change and that’s the one thing we made a mistake on early on. What we tell people this all the time, one of the first things we figured out when we were getting going was, Hey, the people that we thought were really great like soups and team leads and quality assurance and all that type of stuff in a brick and mortar were not as powerful in a virtual model because the management style, the communication style and all that stuff needs to be different. There’s obviously technology you use, but the big change was like, Hey, listen, I don’t have the ability to run up and down the aisle and throw beanie babies or whatever it people and get them all excited like I used to and give them lollipops and candy and Coke and whatever else we used to do when we’re in the center. And some of that stuff works. I always joked that it was a temporary spike. It was like giving a kid a Coca-Cola they get real hyper for a minute and then they crashed that’s how the incentives programs worked. But when you got in the virtual environment, you needed to be far more analytical and methodical and communicative. You need to be far a lot more forward thinking. Now, what we found was because the agents were more tenured, more experience and more mature, it allowed for a different type of interaction because we weren’t chasing them around doing the same elementary or childish things that we had to do in a brick and mortar center to manage. It wasn’t herding cats all day long. But again, different agent, different environment, different management so these things aren’t apples to apples. I think that’s one of the things that people have to just accept and admit is these are not the same, not one’s bad and one’s good because again, I’m a big advocate at virtual because that’s our business. I think it’s better, I think there’s lots of reasons why, but I also understand there’s some great brick and mortar centers out there that do a great job. I just think when you look at it, you’ve got to understand that they’re not the same and the same things that you do to be successful in a brick and mortar center are not going to be the same things you need to do in a virtual center to be successful, or they just need to be virtualized, which is what we had to do with a lot of stuff is look and say, this is great in a brick and mortar, how do we recreate this virtually? Whether it’s incentives or spiffs or coachings or QAs or team meetings or break rooms or movie rooms and all the stuff that we’ve had to do Virtual Hangout and things like that. How do you do all that? So, there’s a lot of effort that has to go on all that stuff.

 

 

Brian:

I think the pandemic and the way that it forced companies to move everybody to work at home as quickly as they had to. It really forced companies to reexamine the dumb things that they do I think overall. To your point, what we’ve seen when we’ve gone into our clients that understandably when they pivoted in a week or two weeks and sent 200 people home, they weren’t prepared for that because of all the reasons you pointed out, but as we’ve worked with folks and those companies had evolved, they began to have to your point be more methodical to use data better than before because you’re not looking at somebody all day long every day. So, you have to actually look at the numbers and that teaches you how to use the numbers over time. So again, it makes you reexamine all the dumb things or uninformed things that you did in the past that maybe you were able to compensate for because you were on site with folks. So, one question I’ve got that maybe for general discussion and you touched on it just a second ago. Why do you think that contact centers… It seems to me, contact centers can be notorious for continuing to bang their heads against the wall, stick with old processes and just keep doing the same thing like you said, I forgot what the gum. They’ve got this gum and they know that it’s not selling or it’s not working, but they keep reissuing gum. Why do you think that happens? Because we have to understand it first, before we can start to learn how to fix.

 

 

Eric:

I think we’re going to see a lot of that change. So, let me preface this by saying that the danger of success and the danger of age is that we have a tendency to get stuck in our ways and get comfortable. And the other danger with that is that it could be scary to a business owner. I’ve seen this with other owners and leaders is that if we change, what does that mean about me? If we change, how does that impact me? And what does that say about what we used to do? And I think some people take that real personal like, Hey, this was my way, I built this, this was successful for a while. And they feel like making that evolution may jeopardize that in some way. I’ve seen some of that or challenge that in some way versus looking at that as, Hey, that’s the foundation that got us here.

But I think that’s been the big thing that I’ve noticed with people is just a clinging to of old things. Obviously, a lot of them have done really well, they still wouldn’t be around. And if they were real honest with themself and looked in the mirror and said, am I exercising the same flexibility and the same vigor and the same aggression in chasing business and evolving for business today that I did day one in my business? And if you think about day one, you’ll do anything, I’ll take any customer, I’ll reevaluate my whole business plan to get somebody to pay me. And it doesn’t mean you need to go to that length like we did early on a lot of us, but the exercise is super healthy to say like, listen are we in a mode that’s successful, but what’s the next version look like? John and I with our business, we’ve pledged to each other I guess you’d say, please drag me out on what I’ll call your ranch land back there in your picture and shoot me if I start acting like that. If I start carrying the pitch fork or the flag around that says, this is the way we’ve always done it, this is the way we do it kind of thing, then you’ve got to take me out, bro. You’ve got to, I don’t know, hospitalize me and get me out of the way, hostile takeover, whatever you got to do, because that’s the death rattle of your business. Having that mindset of just being open to innovation, change, growth, evolution, those are big parts of our DNA that we have to stay on top of. So, we’re constantly throwing ourselves in weird environments. I think Doug said somebody traveling a couple weeks ago, I go sit down these entrepreneur groups I’ve joined. I don’t know anything about what they’re talking about half the time. They’re talking about NFTs and digital currency and I’m having to digest all this stuff and they’re running all these businesses with this crazy tech, but I’m looking at it going, how can I, this is the future, how do we move our industry towards what’s happening and going to be happening in all these businesses in the future? How do we get ourselves better suited for the metaverse? How do we get ourselves better suited for digital currency and NFTs and things like that where we may have customers that want to pay us that way at some point in time? I don’t know. We may be taking phone calls for a digital currency bank whose customers are calling or digital showrooms where we’re selling NFTs as a call center. I don’t know, but those are the things we’ve got to stay on top of and I think that’s a healthy mindset for any owner, any business leader to take time to do on a regular basis. I know it’s a long winded answer, but I’m really passionate about that piece.

 

 

Brian:

That’s great. Thank you.

 

 

Doug:

Just my two cents on it just coming again from the client side, having been a client for a long time and Brian’s question about why do we keep banging our heads against a wall? Well, some of these vendors may keep banging their heads against a wall because they have clients who are just the opposite of Leading Edge type guys. I’m real comfortable with how things are going right now. If my vendor comes to me with this out of the box idea of let’s go virtual or you know what? Let’s do some part-time agents to fix some of the things on our scheduling that are a little bit out of whack to make us more efficient or things that are not traditional. And you as the vendor come to the client and say this the client is like, that’s your problem and if you can’t do it, I’ll go find another guy who can versus let me go to my boss and put my butt on the line to try this new model. So, as you guys formed your company, you probably had to look for clients that were like more, I got to figure out how to get outside of the box, a little bit of a different model than your traditional blue chip company coming to talk to you and say, Hey, I want to do this.

 

 

Eric:

Well, I think we still see that to an extent and if you want to talk about some other dumb stuff that the industry does, I think the RFP process is archaic as you can get. It is like if you step outside and look at it’s really one of the most long winded, ridiculous exercises anybody can go through. Some board member at a company that knows nothing about what they’re doing down at that level helps design they did a 100 years ago, a questionnaire that someone’s copied and pasted 9,000 times to have somebody else fill out and then nobody reads. I’m probably over exaggerating to a certain extent, but to me, it just seems it’s a little bit ridiculous. It is a challenge for us because again, the RFP model is not… If you read an RFP, you can tell most of them have been written a long time ago just by the questions they asked. So, there’s a lot of questions on them that aren’t even relevant unless you’re in an archaic model which does not bode well for us, like you said, because we can’t check some of those boxes. I think we’ll see that continue to migrate. I think the challenge for these organizations and what I’m putting all my cards on is this, the customer demand and the evolution of the technology don’t give a rats ass about an RFP. They want what they want and they want it now and the demand is so high that these other businesses in large corporations are going to have to change the way they’re doing business or they’re going to continue to struggle. Old brands that are also not going to adapt to that are going to have a hell of a time hiring people. They already are in keeping up with headcount which is why we didn’t get the direct contract, but we have three large competitors who have backfilled their backend with us because they can’t meet the demand on their brick and mortar centers so they’re subbing out work to us. So, it’s a win for us and we love the partnership with them and we think they’re great organizations, but at the same time, I just think it’s going to continue to move in that direction whether people like it or not. When you look at this next generation that’s coming in, there’s just typical studies you look at. The average age of the CEO is going down at a record pace. It used to be your average CEO is 50, 60 years old, man, these guys are 30, 40 years old now, like I’m old for a CEO now. These guys don’t care. That’s the world they grew up in. And then as you look at millennials and the changes that they’re going to want and the more of them that hit the decision making part of the market space over the next five years which moves to about 75%, these guys, aren’t going to look at things the same way. The guys that we work with now, which is most of our customers who are in that millennial bracket, that techie bracket, that new version bracket, if you showed them an RFP, they would probably throw it in the trash.

 

 

Doug:

And to your point, these RFPs are dense. They have a lot of questions on there that you got to really be an expert to understand the answers on and so you got to have guys like Brian and I have been in the industry for years and years to help interpret are these the right answers? And then if you don’t have us, then you got guys that are trying to figure out how do I determine if this RFP response is good or bad? And frankly, that’s part of our model is what we want to try to do is say, look, we’ve already done all that work for our clients, don’t do the RFP, talk to us. We’ve vetted these guys already, we’ll go through the discovery process with you. You tell us what you want and then we’ll tell you the two or three guys that we think are the best for what you need. You talk to them and you tell us which ones you like, and we move forward. And that’s what we try to do, Eric. Doesn’t always work out that way.

 

 

Eric:

You guys do a good job that’s why we like working with you guys though. To me, it’s a better model because at the end of the day, what a company really wants is they want the best servicing solution or again, around talent, techniques and technology for their business and their opportunity. That’s what they’re looking for. And so finding a methodology and structure that allows for that is what’s optimal for the industry and what is optimal for their business and their industry at the same time. So, I think RFPs obviously were at one point in time, somebody came up with that as a solution, it was a great solution, it wasn’t bad, but here we sit years later and say, is that the best solution with all the technology we have today, with all the abilities we have today, with all the things that we can leverage if that’s what we’re leaning on?

 

Doug:

Talk to us a little bit about some of the innovations that you guys had to make and when you started your company and it was virtual in 2018 and just some of the tools and technology and some of the things that you guys did to actually get your virtual guys trained or other types of operational methodology that you guys had to come up with?

 

 

Eric:

So, you bring up a great point. I think I go and I’m probably going to hurt some feelings here, but I always work under the pretext when it comes to like the brick and mortar model. It wasn’t working, there’s a lot about it that wasn’t working so pretending that it was, is silly. So, when we went in to look at training, we said, okay, but in saying it wasn’t working, there are things that worked within there. So, you can’t take a holistic sweep of it either way and say this worked or this didn’t work, there are things that work at things that don’t work. So, we looked at it and said, what worked? What doesn’t work? What are people looking for? And then with everything we do, we’ve really tried to go back and say, what does the agent experience or the employee experience need to be? And as an example, our trainings are not identical. They’re probably similar if you looked at them on a flow chart orientation, blah, blah, blah, content type stuff, but as far as how we do those trainings and conduct those trainings are very different. And the reason why this is, is that as you bring people in, we look at them when we’re hiring them and say, what type of learner are they first off? Are they a visual learner? Are they audio learner? Are they kinesthetic learner, whatever they may be? And so we try to pair, mix our classes up to a certain extent to make sure all that’s covered, but we have some classes that are very much traditional classroom, Zoom classroom with breakout sessions in a Zoom because that’s what’s most effective and efficient for that portion of training or that style of training.

There’s others that are more LMS and micro training driven. There’s others that are a combination of those things where it is Sandbox related. We got people in a Sandbox and they’re using the technology and they spend more time in there, there’s product information driven things where they’re using a simulator and doing order entry and things like that. So, we look at each project to say, what makes sense for what we’re trying to accomplish? On the second piece, the people we’re bringing in some of our programs, we have a younger age group that we’re bringing in for that group based on the type of work they’re doing. Some of them it’s older. They may be in their 30s or 40s because it’s B2B sales and we need people with 15 years of experience or whatever it is.

So, we have to develop that training curriculum much different than we would and so you can’t just broad stroke build training across the board and say, it’s going to be conducted this way or that. That was a big thing that we had to just make sure we did at the beginning. We try to leverage a lot of tech, but we try to make sure that the tech is useful tech and not just using tech as a replacement for having that interact with people because in a lot of instances, there’s certain things, there’s no replacement for building a team and having interaction with each other, whether that’s Digital Voice or Zoom like this. We’ve got to holistically look at it and build it that way depending on what we’re doing and how big the team is and what they’re going to be servicing and what kind of culture we’re trying to build on that team, within the culture of LEC, which is not easy to do as you guys well know when we’re doing outsourcing, there’s two cultures you’re marrying. You have your business, which our business has a culture and then our company that we’re representing has a culture and a business that they’ve got to digest as well. How do you blend those two things together to create something really powerful?

 

Doug:

Makes a lot of sense.

 

 

Brian:

That’s a great point. Well, I’ll tell you, Eric, this has been a great discussion really enlightening and you and like I said, the journey you’ve taken and certainly how you and your partners and so forth have position Leading Edge Connections. You guys are definitely breaking past the dumb stuff that most contact centers have done for a long time and it definitely shows in your results and certainly the approach that we’ve seen directly over the last few months as we’ve worked with you on several client opportunities and how you guys have come to the table so we definitely appreciate that.

 

 

Visit callcenterpower.com/call-center-corner-a-podcast-series to listen to the full podcast episode.

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