GB interview with Dino Forte, co-founder of customer management business Converso Contact Centres.
He’s overseen the group’s evolution from a four-person outfit into an innovative call centre operator with 280 employees, learning some important lessons along the way.
Recruit from within
In the early days, one of the main things I had to learn was the ability to delegate. I was one of those people who believed that if I didn’t do things myself they wouldn’t get done. I gradually came to realise you can’t run a successful business like that.
The other trap we fell into as a company was assuming we didn’t have the skills we required in-house. As you expand, having different skill sets becomes essential and we looked to adapt to those demands by recruiting externally. Yet, it can be surprising what your existing workforce has to offer and today around 80 per cent of our management team started out working in the call centre. Two of our IT managers are good examples. One had previously worked as a programmer, the other had taught database development, and both were working in our call centre as they were between jobs. We’ve now been able to utilise all their skills. We always advertise vacancies in-house these days and, aside from the benefits to us, I believe that if people see there’s room for them to move up within an organisation then that helps to motivate them.
Maintain long-term business relationships
Another mistake we made at the start related to customer management. We lost a couple of clients early on and it soon became apparent to us that this was because we weren’t paying them enough attention on an ongoing basis.
So, we decided to set up a client services team, which now consists of six people. This is important as our customers need to know how well we’re performing for them: how many calls are being answered, how long it takes to answer them, whether or not their customers are pleased with the service being offered, and so forth. There was too much emphasis on new business acquisition in the past, at the expense of existing customers. We’ve worked hard to resolve this and some 38 per cent of our business now comes via referrals.
Look after the cashflow
We had lots of cash flow problems when we first established the business, mostly because we thought we were making more money than we actually were! As we grew and started to win bigger clients, we realised that we needed to hire an in-house financial controller. This has really enabled us to get on top of things financially. One of the main benefits is that we now receive regular management accounts and can therefore constantly monitor how much cash we have, where we are in relation to our internal targets and when/why costs are rising. That level of detail is absolutely vital while you’re growing.
Respect your bank
It’s also important to learn how to communicate with banks. We initially used the wrong approach and were therefore unable to secure funding when we needed it. With no real trading history for them to examine, the banks were understandably reticent to lend us the money we wanted.
What we’ve now realised is that you have to keep them informed, you need to show them your management accounts regularly and keep them as up to date with things as possible. That way, they’ll be in a better position to provide finance and advice when it’s needed. These days, we don’t need the cash but we’re building the relationships just in case.
PR is cost-effective marketing
We always engaged in lots of advertising but I never really appreciated the power of PR until fairly recently. Being featured in an article on a specific topic often carries far more weight with potential customers than placing an advert in the same publication, and it enables you to compete with bigger rivals more effectively, as your name is being mentioned alongside theirs. We’ve become well known in our industry in recent times and I think PR has been an important aspect of this. In fact, we were at a call centre trade show last year and a number of people came to see us because they had already heard of us.