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Hello, everyone. This is your host, Craig Casaletto, and I’m here today with my co-host Judy Lin and we’re honored to take part in the Ansafone Contact Center’s podcast interview with President CEO Randy Harmat. Randy, thank you so much for being here today. Appreciate that.
Thanks for having me. Any time. So, I wanted to start off this interview with talking about beginnings and how Ansafone started and kind of the Ansafone journey.
So, it was formed in 1970 and my family bought it in 1990. And I joined the business in 1995 with my dad, stayed in the business for a while and decided to make a journey of either leaving the business and letting him run it or take it a different direction. So, I bought it from him in 1999, and since then we’ve just been growing it organically between having one location in California to having multiple locations in multiple states.
What was it about you taking control of the business as opposed to just having your dad run it?
It was just a different journey with a different vision.
He was much more conservative. I saw a big opportunity in the BPO space to do larger call center business accounts. General Electric was one of our large accounts to begin with and just a different path.
Did you? So, this is a family business, something you grew up having contact exposure to?
Not really. He bought it in 1990. I was already in college at the time. So, this was not a family business. Did you have interest in it? Honestly, I was in college and I was on a different path. And I came in and started helping him on a very limited, part time basis and just got more and more interested in the business over time.
Was there one thing about the business that stood out to you that really kind of piqued an interest?
It would just be an entrepreneur. Me able to make things happen and being able to execute and affect change really quickly.
I mentioned about your career path and being in college and then buying the business from your dad. What was your career path before and how did it kind of like evolve through purchasing Ansafone?
Yeah. So, I was in I was in college and then I started with a few dot.coms and helped them effect and create customer care centers. Back in 2000, dot.coms there was no revenue, but you had centers and you had you had infrastructure that was fine for a while. It got a little boring and I decided I made the conscious choice that it would be better to buy the company and take it my own direction. It’s always easier to take a company that has some infrastructure in place and grow it for starting it from absolute scratch.
The things that you learned from those previous dot.com businesses, do you feel like you pulled a lot of stuff from there and applied it to Ansafone when you took over?
I did. I realized that you didn’t have to build the Taj Mahal to create an organization. Right. So those organizations seem to have unlimited funds. We built a small first-class organization, customer care centers. One of them I worked for, we never took a phone call & we had 50 people.
Was there one thing that stood out for you that was really difficult in the process, as far as transitioning from dot.com’s to getting into a family business?
Yeah, the lack of funds and the lack of access to capital, right. Because you know in those organizations, you were able to do it and be able to spend within reason a fair or significant amount of money. And in a large scale right there, as you come back to your own organization, you have to think of ROI and are we going to get the money back from implementing a solution. What it did give me was some exposure to some other technologies in some other ways of looking at things from a structure perspective, from an organization perspective, I had a full on organization structure and we never took a phone call.
Was there ever a point where you said, I don’t know if this is really going to work?
I wasn’t sure. Maybe.
Was there any ever any doubt?
No. I always thought it was going to work. We had a good customer base. We were small at the time. We had 30 employees, but we had a nice customer base.
What do you think is the one thing that stands out for you that differentiates you from other businesses doing the same thing?
So, I think it’s, at the end of the day, and you’ll hear this as a recurring theme here, is the people in the organization. In the end, the people that we have within the organization. And, you know, we are a business of people. And without everyone that works for us from the person that takes the online call to the person that runs the business, it’s all about making sure that the people in the work force are being supported and they are feeling valued and they are bringing that goodwill into the customer service experience.
So, Randy, what is your philosophy and your culture here in servicing clients?
So, our main philosophy is we want a career path for people. So, there are many people here that work for us twenty years later, that started out as front line. Now they’re in customer service or their managers in different departments.
Now, that’s pretty amazing there. You weren’t kidding about the career path.
You also it’s also a high-level customer care. Our organization is pretty nimble and they’re willing to get creative and create solutions for customers that maybe a larger center wouldn’t be willing to do.
So, what types of services does your company provide exactly?
Our main services are customer care and we do that for a wide variety of verticals. We do that in health care. We do that in financial services. We do that in e-commerce. We also provide email support services, chat support services and also calling, making outbound calls to our current customer base to support them.
We’re not an outbound sales organization, meaning we’re cutting we’re not calling people at dinner to try to sell them something, but we are definitely calling. I’m doing warm outbound phone calls on behalf of our customer base.
Randy, what is the culture of Ansafone and how do your core values affect how you run the business?
Well, I think our culture is people focused and our core values are pretty clear. Right. We want to make sure that we are all part of doing acts of kindness within the organization and outside. It’s about teamwork. It’s about continuous improvement. So, we want to make sure that the team members in the business are continually being approved and ready for a potential promotion or a different role. Ideally, we’d like to cross train people in different departments so they understand how other departments work in case they decide, you know, I like doing what I’m doing, but I may like this better than I’m doing today.
We want to have fun. The way that the employment environment is now if people aren’t having fun. Right. And we’re here to have fun and happy people. Fun people. Like their job. And then we’re also about making sure that we bring integrity to the job, making sure that we’re providing the services in a way that shows our integrity within internally, within the business and externally.
Sounds like a really nice blend that you have.
Yeah, it works well for us. And we try to embody those on a monthly basis, we have we have themes in the office to embody one of these and just remind for the month of. For like a month of let’s see, October, it may be have fun. And we try to coordinate to make sure that we’re having fun. Right. We are doing spot awards internally where we are encouraging people to find reasons to praise other people within the organization. And then we put those awards on the wall and then there’s some financial spiffs & benefits as a result of those.
Do you feel like that’s more difficult in this type of business because of the nature of what you’re required to do? Like the employees are required to do, you know?
So typically, could sound like it’s more difficult to do in the business, but it has a ripple effect and it’s not something you can fix right away. So, when you stop doing these things six months later, you have a problem and it takes another six months to fix. So, although it does take people away, at the end of the day, we’ve got the normal rigor of customer calls coming in and having to make sure that we’re meeting our customer’s needs. But if we don’t do these things, it has a longer term, a longer-term ripple effect of not having more of the impact of it not being done.
You know, it’s interesting, in a previous podcast we did with some of your agents here, I think that was one of the things that they really, really enjoyed about working here at Ansafone was one, the culture and two just the fact that they took so much pride in what they were doing. And the recognition also played a part in it. But they were just really just believed in what was happening here and really just took a lot of pride in picking up that phone and really wanting to deliver the best service to that caller as the call came into the center.
And another thing that I did, which I thought was really amazing, which I heard you talk about and heard mentioned, was it’s not just a call center business, but really it’s a people business. And maybe you could expand on that ? When I first heard it, I thought that was really, really interesting.
Yeah, at the end of the day, we are a people business that provides customer care and without our people, we can’t provide the customer care. So, everything that we do from the top down. My job is to make sure that the person that just started yesterday is feeling comfortable. They feel confident that they know what they’re doing on their phones. They have the tools at their disposal so that when they answer the phone call, they have everything that they need in order to in order to transact on that phone call. Because at the end of the day, no one wants to feel inadequate or feel like they don’t have the answer when they’re on the phone with somebody. Even if it’s a perfect stranger.
I almost look at it as three separate entities. You have your employees, then you have the people that are calling and then you have your clients. So, it’s like three different groups of people. So, it’s not just necessarily the people that are employed by you, but you’re really kind of dealing with a variety of different people that you service.
We are. And the people on the phones have to be ready for the person that is calling up because if they’re not happy with something that’s happened, how do we make sure that they hang up feeling that their problem gets solved. Because no one, no one likes to be in a customer service arrangement where you walk away feeling almost more inflamed than you were before you started because you weren’t getting the answer that you want. It’s our goal here is to do one call resolution. We want our clients to allow us to embody the people on the phones to solve people’s problems.
Is there something about your selection process that really delivers that employee that can accomplish that?
We do. We go through a tremendous amount of screening and multiple interviews. We’d like people to have customer service experience at the end of the day. We like people to do better showing a great deal of initiative so that they are in judgment to be able to really understand what’s happening with the caller and then able to provide the services and the parameters that our clients allow us to. Some customers give us a small leash and some customers give us a 50 foot leash. And it really depends on what the customers what how the customer wants the experience for their caller to go.
Do you do you have a preference, like if you were to see things operate the way exactly the way you want them with your clients? Would you prefer to have a longer leash, a short leash or it doesn’t matter?
We would prefer to be able to solve the customer’s problem from beginning to end.
So, for example, we have a customer See’s Candies and in the early days we would we would have to move escalations on to the main office. And so now we have the ability when a customer calls and their candy may not come in the order or it was melted or something, that the agent on that call can solve the problem. They can send them out more candy. They can send them out an additional candy. They can just make sure that the customer has a good experience. All companies have issues. Right. On service delivery, on making sure things arrive on time. You order something for your mother’s birthday and it comes a day later. Flowers show up late. All those things that happen. But we’re able to help the callers and make sure that they hang up the call, at least being satisfied with the resolution.
So, Randy, I hear that this year is your 50th anniversary. It is. And how do you see that? Exactly. Do you see that the 50th anniversary has impacted your business and your strategy? It’s a great message.
Right. Yeah. Aren’t a lot of companies around that are 50 years old? Right. So, we’re quite proud of it. I think it offers inherent stability into our customers as we’re servicing and going to talk to new customers. I think it’s a great reason for us to celebrate for the year about, hey, we we’ve done this. Many of the people have been with us for twenty, twenty-five years. Some people we have someone has our 30th anniversary. Right. So, it’s just an amazing opportunity for us to celebrate.
So, do you see that establishment 50 years as a differentiator for your company?
I do. I do. There aren’t a lot of companies out there that have been along for years, as I hear that often either. And so, it’s a great it’s a great messaging and it’s a great I think we come with inherent stability and integrity at the table just because we’ve been around that long.
Do you feel that having been around for 50 years? Do you feel like being innovative is easy and important?
Or do you think it’s more difficult because of the duration of how long you’ve been doing this? So, you know, that’s a knife that cuts both ways.
Right. So, I think if we were a new company in the market that came in, that entered the market three years ago, there’s a bunch of technologies out there that may be more innovative and maybe different. We from our organization, we’ve always looked at technology and upgrading our technology and being innovative all the time. So artificial intelligence is here. People are trying to figure out how it’s going to be deployed. We know it’s here. We know it exists. But the actual day to day deployment of it yet still hasn’t been defined, hasn’t been defined by our customers, by the industry. But we know it’s here. So, from a technology perspective, we’re constantly making sure that we’re keeping up with the technology. So, what we offer is something that’s new into the market. They may not have the stability, they may not have the infrastructure, but we are coming to the table with the same technologies. So, we’re constantly reinvesting money into our technology infrastructure every year.
Yeah, I always see that as the best of both worlds. So, you have this long track record of success. And then on top of that, you still remaining in you’re still staying, I should say, and learning to be innovative and grow with new technologies that comes out. So, you’re really providing a client the best of both worlds. Correct. Which I’m sure makes Ansafone very unique.
It is. And you know that some of the challenges with some of the new technologies is they’re new. And so, from a from a customer service delivery perspective, we want to make sure that we’re offering our customers a stable platform so that we’re our when there are issues either with weather events or disasters that were up and were up and running. We try to play off the stability factor with the new technology factor. Right. And trying to make sure that we are offering both but doing it in a prudent way.
Yeah, I know you do. And last time we talked, and we interviewed. Tim Austrums, he talked about about FEMA, right? Yeah. And I thought that story was really great because it talked about like kind of the fluidity of the business. It’s not like black and white. It’s like something can happen at the drop of a hat. And then you really have to adapt to that and provide whatever resources that you need to that individual client that’s expecting correct. Whatever. And that’s and that really does take talent and it takes experience. And I’ve found that through Tim. I thought that was amazing. I think a lot of people may not know the kind of like the concept of things that actually happened behind the scenes. Yeah.
I mean, that we are we are expected by many of our clients to be there when they need us. So, the last hurricane that hit Florida, Dorian, it was on track to hit North Carolina. We have been clients in North Carolina. We’ve brought 125 people on to get ready for that event. If it were to happen and you know, there’s you know, there there’s a ton of work in the backside and making sure we put the technology, the facilities and the infrastructure ready for something like that to happen.
How much is the president CEO of Ansafone, how much do you find yourself getting involved there? Is it a lot of your management team that takes care of all those different things as they happen?
Yeah. So, my philosophy has always been to run the organization in a very entrepreneurial manner. So, really my perspective is I like the department heads to be able to run their departments the way they want to run them. I’m here to help them and support them when they need when they need advice and support. But we are not the organization that if we were to hire someone new and today to be a director of client services and they want to do something because they’re the experts, they’ve got the experience. Again, there’s 10 different ways to do the same task. And we want the people in the organization to feel like they’ve got the entrepreneur early focused in environment and support to do it their way, because at the end of day, it’s getting the job done.
That’s pretty cool sense of empowerment, right. To be able to know that they can come into an organization and like I can make a difference based on my experience. And I know that the CEO and the president, the company is going to support that and listen to what have to say and give me the ability to work with that. It’s simply served us well over the years.
Randy, thank you so much for coming out and interviewing with us. We just have a few last questions for you. My last question is, what would you say to an aspiring entrepreneur when it comes to building a business?
The people business is getting more and more complicated, more and more regulations. Different states are much more difficult to work in than others. Costs are going up. Living wages are going up, which needs to happen on trying to balance all of that out. I think it’s easy to go big quickly and not think about doing things in the long haul and doing it for like, you know, and I always say it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And you really have to have the wherewithal to get it. Then at the end the day, it’s about people, it’s about culture and people. And, you know, we’re now in this world of millennials, you know, Generation Z right after. And I think it’s about creating culture. People for sustainability. I think when you have loyal people that work with you and support you.
It makes the organization that much better. Nice. My question, Randy, just to finish this off, is that what’s the future Ansafone?
My gut tells me it will continue growing. I think artificial intelligence is going to be a big play in the market. I think the Tier 1 level entry level call center position will continue to be weeded out over time. And I think I think the Tier 1 call center agent job is going to be diminished more and more over time because A.I. is going to be able to weed those out. The Tier 2 and 2 or 3 more complex integrated solutions are where we’re going to have to focus.
All right. So ready. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate you joining us again. From everything I’ve heard about Ansafone from your vice president, Tim, to your agents that are working here. I’m just totally impressed with what you have going on here. So, thank you, guys.
And where can we find you? You can find us at www.ansafone.com.
Great. Thank you so much, Randi. Thanks. Take care.