KEEPING THE LINES OPEN
President and CEO
As president and CEO of a company that runs 28 call centers in 18 states, Gary Pudles’ big challenge is keeping all staff members connected with each other. He has met that challenge through an innovative management model, a variety of technology solutions and a strong social culture. Here, Pudles shares details of his model, and explains what benefits companies can realize by outsourcing call center services.
Q: How did you come to found AnswerNet? What attracted you to the call center business?
A: After moving to Philadelphia for a position with a startup, I decided to try to find a business to buy.
I knew I liked companies that sold to businesses; people management; recurring revenue; and working with communications technology. So I began to do some research on industries that married these four attributes and I came across the call-center business. I found that I could work closely with other businesses to help them with telecommunication goals, while getting to manage a great team of proactive employees. The revenue was typically recurring, and I was able to invest more time into learning and creating technology that could shape the way businesses communicate.
Q: How do you keep your staff members at the various call centers connected?
A: We stay connected by having a strong corporate culture. It doesn’t matter if one of our offices is located on the West Coast, and the other on the East Coast. We are all bound by a like-minded code that keeps us connected and growing on the same path.
For example, our mission statement is, “To provide our customers with the people, services and technology to allow them to run their businesses, their way.” We stress this from early on, starting with our new employee training videos and reinforcing it through regular corporate communications, such as our quarterly company newsletter and annual national meeting.
Q: Why should companies consider outsourcing their call center services? What benefits can they realize?
A: Outsourcing contact center services makes sense for many businesses because it reduces operating costs and management burden, and provides a better experience for your customers and employees who interact with your business. As a company that focuses on communicating and communication technologies, we are able to make investments in people and systems that many businesses simply can’t afford to make or manage. Additionally, many companies struggle to manage frontline people, and companies like AnswerNet specialize in managing groups of agents dedicated to representing clients in the best possible way.
Q: What is your culture like at AnswerNet?
A: When I started AnswerNet, my goal was to be the nicest big company in the call center industry. As we grew, we discovered that kindness and likeability were threads through everything we did. When we ultimately examined ourselves to determine our core values, we saw that all of the values we held as a company really do make us more trustworthy and likeable to our clients and employees. Our core values are:
Passion — Demonstrate passion in everything we do.
Good Attitude — Maintain a good attitude in every situation.
Team Player — Commit to being a team player.
Detail-Oriented — Pay attention to detail.
Effective Communicator — Strive to be an effective communicator.
Kind & Likeable — Remain kind and likeable to everyone.
Each of the core values above serves not only as a representation of who we are as a company, but also who we strive to be in the years to come.
Q: AnswerNet has used a number of acquisitions to grow. How do you integrate newly acquired businesses into your company’s culture?
A: We integrate by teaching the newly acquired business the AnswerNet culture. Our goal is for them to incorporate our core values into their existing characteristics, but without them feeling like we are forcing them to drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak. We want them to feel like a part of the family, with their own unique flair and style.
We also look at how they operate to find and adopt their best practices and help them implement some of our own. So in the end, the two companies are stronger together than they were individually. In many cases, we leave a lot of processes, technology, etc. in place because every company has something special to offer.
Q: There’s a common perception that call centers tend to be outsourced to overseas locations, especially India. What’s your perspective on that?
A: I believe people can do great things, no matter where they’re from or where they live. What we discovered is that some programs work well offshore and some don’t. There is an art and a science to connecting the right people with the right program.
In terms of the perception that all call centers are outsourced to offshore locations, this is simply not the case. Four-and-a-half percent of the U.S. population work in call centers. This has been a consistent number for many years.
Many jobs did get sent overseas, but these were mostly new jobs and not jobs lost in the U.S. Today, many of those jobs are coming back on shore as the price for English-speaking labor goes up around the world, thanks in no small part to the call-center and computer-programming industries.
Q: What is your vision for the future of AnswerNet? In other words, where do you see the business in five to 10 years?
A. AnswerNet will continue to grow, both through acquisitions as well as sales and marketing, to fulfill our mission to provide customers with the people, services and technology to allow them to run their businesses, their way. Our biggest area of growth is as the “call center’s call center.” Other call-center businesses look to us when they have programs that are too large or small for them to handle alone or a specific service is needed that they don’t offer.
I see us providing all forms of business process outsourcing for small, medium and large-size businesses, and I envision businesses of all sizes having the ability to outsource. I also see AnswerNet growing more in technologies such as the texting business.
Q: As a leader, what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
1) Remain humble. Appreciate the people around you and remember that the work they do is what drives the business, not the leader.
2) The best entrepreneurs are the ones who can recover from adversity. No business executive can execute everything perfectly. When great entrepreneurs stumble, they find ways to overcome their challenges and move their businesses forward.