Posted By candicearnold On February 2, 2012 @ 11:30 am In outsourcing,Outsourcing Interviews
Customer service can make or break some businesses. Yet customer service is something that businesses often outsource to companies like C3. C3 handles customer communications for corporations that see customer service as one of the most important aspects of their businesses. C3’s leadership team has about 30 years of customer management experience between them. C3 has locations spread throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia, but the company’s corporate office is in Plantation, Florida.
Sramana Mitra: Hi Rick. Let’s start with an overview of C3, your background and just some general context.
Rick Ferry: Sure, that sounds great. It’s one of my favorite subjects. C3 is a company that we operationalized about 20 months ago, in mid-April of 2010. We put the company together by bringing back together six partners who were together in a previous life at a company called Precision Response Corporation (PRC). The six of us had come together there. It was also an outsourcing firm, a BPO, if you’ll have it, that was begun in 1982. I joined that group of investors and entrepreneurs in 1993. We took the company to about $15 million a year in revenue. Over the span of the next six years, we took it from that $15 million up to about $50 million in revenue. We took it into the public marketplace to capitalize growth. We were fairly successful in the IPO and two follow-on offerings. The six of us still maintained majority control. Then in 2000, we sold that company for about $750 billion to Barry Diller at what was then USA Networks. It’s now called Interactive Corporation.
It was a very successful venture. We were able to take the company from roughly 350 people in total in 1993 to about 22,000 people and a nice international footprint by the time we all left. We went in separate directions, and I ended up a few years later, coming together with some folks from Mumbai, India, the SR Group. Mr. Ravi Ruia was interested in putting together a plan to make an entry into the BPO space. If you’re familiar with the SR Group, they are part of the Pan-India industrial complex. They wanted to penetrate the softer side, the service business in BPO. So, we came together and bought a publicly traded company in the US called Aegis Communication Group. I took the post there as the chief executive officer. It was a failing company, losing quite a bit of money. It had about 1100 employees here in the US. Over the next six years, we were able to take that company, turn it around and add to it significantly. When I left two years ago, we were doing about $800 million in top line revenue.
After we left that, we saw a great deal of upside and a great deal of opportunity in the BPO space. We’re all serial entrepreneurs so we formed the company called C3. After about 20 months worth of operations, we are now approaching 7,000 employees with outsourcing facilities in Manila and the Philippines. There are four facilities here in the United States. We have a facility in Glasgow, Scotland and another facility in Sofia, Bulgaria. We are present in Dalian, China. We have a number of satellite facilities in Latin America.
The way approach the business is we take the approach that the customer interaction, on the business side, is the most valuable interaction and therefore, a rare resource. We put a lot of training resource into making that customer interaction as valuable and as lucrative as possible. We put a lot of effort into our training program. In fact, our training program as a stand-alone product offering is award winning. Back in October 2011, we, along with our client TMobile, were awarded the chief learning officer award for excellence in practical training worldwide. It was a nice kudo to get after being in operation for a relatively short period of time.
On the employment side, we also put a great deal of resource behind hiring the right people, and actually inviting people to join the company in the spirit of family values around the world. In fact, if you’ve seen some of our advertising, it surrounds the word love. It isn’t meant to be love in any sense other than just enjoying and being enthusiastic about what you do every day. So, the recruiting campaign and then the ethos by which we manage is everybody should love to come to work in the morning, love what he does all day, love the people he works with, love the company he works for and be pulling in the same general direction for success.
SM: What kind of outsourcing work do you do?
RF: It’s primarily complex customer service interactions and primarily voice.
SM: So, it’s a voice contact center?
SM: And the entire workforce of about 7,000 people, spanning some locations in the US, Philippines, Latin America, Bulgaria, etc. are all voice call centers?
RF: That’s correct.
SM: Let’s get some context on the business. In the US, what kinds of customers do you work with?
RF: In the verticals that we are involved in in the US include health care and the licensed and general customer service support in the health care industry. We also are involved in the telecommunications and financial services industries, and transportation and hospitality primarily.
SM: Fortune 500? Mid-market? What’s the size of the customers?
RF: Primarily Fortune 500.
SM: And outside of the US, what kinds of customers are you catering to?
RF: A similar footprint outside the US in terms of customers. In fact, most of our client base are with us here in the US and abroad.
SM: Does the Philippine call center cater to the US?
RF: The call center in the Philippines is supporting both US customers and local Philippine customers as well as customers from Australia.
SM: And what about Latin America? Is that a Latin American customer base or Latin America catering to the US?
RF: It’s Latin America catering to the US primarily.
SM: And Bulgaria?
RF: Bulgaria is actually supporting European activity.
SM: And what percentage of your business is European customers?
RF: The percentage of business in the Europe theater is about 10% of the overall book of business.
SM: So, the bulk of the business is still catering the United States, yes?
RF: It is. That’s correct.
SM: So, talk to me about how the call center industry, from a talent point of view, has evolved. And what are you doing to keep up with that evolution, lead the evolution, whatever way you look at it?
RF: Excellent question. The unemployment rate in the US, in point of fact around the world, probably in all geographies other than the Philippines, in which we operate, has escalated dramatically over the last several years. What happens in that period of escalation is the supply grows but also the level of sophistication of the workforce increases. What we found in our history, as we go through these cycles, particularly here in the US, is that many companies miss that significant point: the elevation of the sophistication of the workforce.
So, the workforce comes in, and there’s a higher level of education. And in return, their expectation is a higher level of training and development to be offered so that the training and development is actually more meaningful and therefore, more effective. Additionally, in our European operation, both Glasgow and Sofia, the workforce is highly educated. The unemployment rate in both of those geographies has led to many college graduates looking for work outside of their fields. But they are still excited and eager to get into an opportunity in the contact center and, by extension, the marketing disciplines that the contact center can provide background for. So, we’ve significantly upgraded our training and development staff in order to cater to and take maximum advantage of that resource that’s out there.
Our performance optimization group, for example, is a group that presents us with an opportunity not only to satisfy the needs I just described of that sophisticated workforce that we’re taking advantage of, but it also offers us the opportunity to provide a standalone product for prospective clients and current clients. So, we’re able to offer our training and development staff to that client base. It’s worked out well for us. We think it to be a unique approach to training in and of itself, just setting aside the unique attributes it provides for the overall call center business. The way we approach to training and development is unique.