60k CEO Jonathan Gladwish: Bulgaria Can Continue to Emerge as Tangible Outsourcing Hub
Exclusive interview with Jonathan Gladwish, CEO, 60k, for the "Investors of the Decade" Business Survey of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) and Novinite.bg.
Would you present 60k in a nutshell – the gist of your operations, the scope of your investments, your philosophy?
60K is a Business Process Outsourcer working for both International and Bulgarian Clients. We provide sales, customer service and technical support for our clients' customers utilizing many channels of communication such as voice, live chat, email, fax to name but a few.
Our investments total over EUR 1.5 M to date in two contact centers based in Sofia. We are currently opening a third center in Belgrade, Serbia and later in 2012 will set up another in Bulgaria outside of Sofia and an additional one either through acquisition or creation in Romania, thus giving 60K a true South Eastern European foot print.
60K's rapid growth and expansion is driven by our employees' excellent results for our Customers, this has encouraged our Customers trust in us, and for them to provide us with greater volumes and additional processes.
In turn, our satisfied Customers' trust in us encourages new Customers to come to 60K after evaluating our competitors and finding our usually superior work quality and conditions.
60K's philosophy is really simple, we put our people first above everything else, we give them an outstanding working environment and colleagues, reward them well both with salary and additional fringe benefits that are not often found in this country, empower them to act like our Customers' best employees, give them the advanced tools to do the job along with encouragement, training and coaching.
This in turn motivates them to always do their best for our Clients' customers.
Going into more detail – what are the types of services that you offer? How do you about come up with tailor-made approaches to your clients?
We offer all types of service, both technical, customer support, administration and sales. As a Business Process Outsourcer we can undertake all non-core activities for our Clients, such as sales, customer and technical support, back office administration.
This leaves them free to concentrate on "what they are best at" such as strategic decision making, high level operational activities, finance and marketing. To provide tailor made solutions, we work very closely with our Clients at the beginning to fully understand their business and their aims and objectives.
In partnership, we map out their processes and procedures and bring "Best Practice" from other industries and our experience into play to ensure that our Clients are provided with flexible and proactive support from ourselves.
We continuously monitor and review the activities we undertake for our clients to ensure that we are operating at optimum levels and often suggest improvements to the way they do business based on feedback from their customers and our knowledge of what happening in their marketplaces, with their competitors and developments in technology and training.
Building upon that – the public usually refers to such companies with the paradigm title of call centers. Is that correct? How is an outsourcing contact center different?
In the past call centers were literally as the words say a place where customer calls were taken.
As technology has advanced, more and more people started doing business through the Internet so now other channels of communications need to be provided for customers. Fax was the first, quickly followed by email and now "Live Chat" has become prevalent.
So the call center has developed into a place where customers can communicate using a variety of channels for support and sales activities.
In addition the "call center" was initially believed to be a necessary evil that was just another cost center for a company. However, with Customer Service becoming the ultimate discriminator as to whether a customer is likely to do business with you again, the provision of a center where all customers needs can be satisfied has turned the contact center into a profit center where sales are made, customers are acquired for the long term, repeat business is conducted, customers are retained rather than moving to competitors and the cost of sales reduced if a company is perceived as good to do business with sales are generated through "word of mouth" and incremental sales to existing customers, the cheapest ways of generating revenue.
We have Customers who recently within 3 months of beginning a partnership with 60K generated in excess of EUR 8 M in new sales at a total cost to them of less than 2.5% using a channel that they had not used before. Perhaps this is a good example of the difference between a "call center" and a very professional and proactive Contact Center like 60K.
Who are the international companies that you provide services for i.e. what is the typical profile of your clients?
60K provides service to international companies from many vertical markets such as Ecommerce, IT, Telecommunications, Leisure and Tourism, Financial Services and Manufacturing.
The typical profile of our clients are ones with a pan European or Global presence, whose requirement is to serve their customers in a number of major European languages and to provide the highest possible customer service and processes. Unfortunately many of our clients require discretion and are not keen to share information about their outsourcing activities and results.
However, one company that is willing to share information is Be Unlimited, part of the O2 – Telefonika Group. The reason for their willingness is their pride in what 60K and they have achieved in partnership together.
We have been working with them for the past 3 and a half years and in the autumn of 2011 signed a new 3 year contract with them for continuous provision of support. The main drivers for this renewal are: Commitment, proactiveness, shared knowledge, mutual dependency, and organizational linkage. Proof of this are the many awards won by BE and 60K:
Best UK Customer Service 2010 and 2011 for Telco Broadband (Think Broadband)
Best UK Consumer Fixed Broadband 2010 and 2011
Best UK Customer Service in 2011
Best EMEA Outsourcing Partnership in October this year.
Best Customer Service Agent Globally in 2009
To sum the relationship and results up Chris Stening, Managing Director of BE quoted:
"I was very sceptical about offshore outsourcers when I arrived at BE a year ago but have been bowled over at the level of quality, value and especially customer service that 60K have delivered. Many of awards BE has won over the last three years can be directly attributed to them. Their people are exceptional and their approach flexible and collaborative with a real partnership approach. After benchmarking others in the area, 60K shone out as offering the best value, service and quality. One of our partners that visited 60K has been so impressed that they are exploring using them for their own business. Outsourcing for me is now far more than an efficiency opportunity – it is the chance to deliver best in class service."
We can mention that a number of our other Customers represent some of the leading and best known companies in their sectors globally and in the innovative use they make in their outsourcing processes and results. For nearly all of them, these companies first benchmarked 60K against global and local competitors and then chose 60K based upon the overall quality of the work being done and then the cost.
Business process outsourcing and customer service are part of a highly competitive global industry, where global competition being 100% direct. What is your approach / strategy to competing on the global level?
The key to competing on this level is to understand your Client's business, the marketplace in which they are operating, their aims and objectives, the needs of their customers.
Once known, you can tailor your offering to suit them and if skilled and experienced enough can deliver service that far exceeds their expectations. In addition, here in Bulgaria we have the added advantage of being able to compete on cost and due to the high standard of education can compete favorably in terms of quality of human resources. 60K's facilities and people are the best.
If we can bring a potential Customer to 60K, the facilities and people are what stands out to them in comparison to most of our competitors.
60k has emerged as the largest independent contact center in Bulgaria. How would you characterize the competition for skilled labor in Sofia and in Bulgaria when it comes to outsourcing services? Is there a shortage?
No matter what business you are in, there will always be competition for skilled labor. In recent times many companies have found it increasingly difficult to recruit people. However, at 60K this has not been the case.
Due to our Ethos and Management philosophy, we have created a place where people want to come and work. We currently have a database of around 700 prospective employees who have been interviewed using our several interview steps and who we can draw on as and when necessary to fulfill existing and new Customers requirements for education, skills and languages.
Each day we receive around 10 new applications for employment. My aim is for 60K to be known as the place "Where the Happy People" work and consistently produce outstanding results for our Customers.
Would you say that Sofia (respectively Bulgaria) is emerging as a tangible business process outsourcing hub? Where does Bulgaria stand on the global map of such investments?
Providing the standard of education remains as high as it is and wages do not rise inordinately Bulgaria can continue to emerge as a tangible outsourcing hub for Clients looking for High Quality customer service and support.
However, it can never become as large as India or the Philippines due to the sheer sizes of these local labor markets, but the main advantage we have over these other outsourcing destinations is the good education and amazing linguistic abilities of Bulgarians.
India and the Philippines can provide hundreds of thousands of English speakers but when it comes to European languages Bulgaria has the ability to provide a Customer with whatever is required.
Adding in the South Eastern European region and its languages and well educated people, 60K is very well placed to compete on quality with any global outsourcing location.
Looking again at global competition – what are Bulgaria's advantages and disadvantages in attracting outsourcing investments?
The advantages are easy to describe, high standard of education, good linguistics, well motivated people, good telecommunications infrastructure, top quality facilities, member of the European Union, a Western Culture, a low tax rate and around 3 hours from all major European Capitals by plane.
Now onto the disadvantages, which in my view there are only two that Bulgarian media often comment upon, corruption and bureaucracy? In my 7 years living in Bulgaria, I have seen strong efforts recently by Government to identify these issues and take action against them.
How should the investment policies of the Bulgarian government be modified to make the country more competitive regarding outsourcing services?
One good idea would be to remove employers' tax liabilities for the first two years of operation along with employer social charges as this would help companies just setting up here to manage their cash flows better.
Also subsidies provided for training, recruitment of staff, new technology, facilities etc would be most helpful too. However, one has to recognize that with the recent economic climate and conditions, Governments are not in a position to grant all the wishes of business or the population for that matter.
Great steps have been taken by Government to ensure that VAT owed is now paid back quicker which is absolutely vital to a growing business. The change in legislation last year relating to the carry over of annual leave was also of great help.
In addition, free language courses in Bulgarian would be very helpful for foreigners such as myself. When I worked in Norway the government provided up to 400 hours free tuition for Expats.
A change in thinking by Bulgarian commentators, economists and Government towards the value of Outsourcers to the country's economy and growth would also be welcome. All too often, one sees comment on the value of a new small or large manufacturing plant in Bulgaria, which is very good to see, however, consider that a manufacturing plant often requires a very large investment in foreign goods and machines, the products produced for local use and export often include a large percentage of foreign sourced components and royalties and the number of permanent employees is relatively small compared to the investment made.
A contact center outsourcer such as 60K can produce well paid jobs for hundreds of Bulgarians at a cost per job significantly less than a traditional manufacturer, there is virtually no foreign content or products used by 60K to earn millions of Euros in exports annually for Bulgaria.
60K is exporting the talents and expertise of its Bulgarian employees globally while enabling them to remain and live in Bulgaria with their friends and families, contribute positively to society here, and the company and its employees also contribute a substantial amount of taxes and social charges for our employees' and the country's future.
Rarely does one see in the Country's media reports on monthly and annual export and balance of payments statistics reference to the outsourcing industry' s positive contributions in this area.
My final suggestion would be for the Bulgarian Foreign trade organizations to work more closely and effectively in partnership with the Outsourcing industry to enhance Bulgaria's image in this field and support outbound marketing and trade event representation.
A number of Bulgarian outsourcers understand what is needed to win International business in a competitive environment. Certainly 60K will welcome an open discussion at any time with the various Bulgarian Government organizations responsible to share knowledge and best practices and plan in winning more outsourcing "exports" for Bulgaria.
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