As our family here at inContact grows, we are constantly adding skilled, experienced people from the call center industry. One such recent addition is Brian Silverman, who has a long history of success in the market. He is our new VP of Sales covering APAC and Latin America. We sat down to talk with him about his experience, market drivers and his plans here.
Brian, you’re no stranger to the call center world or the cloud. Can you give us a bit of your background?
By way of background, I am a widowed father of two teenage children, ages 18 and 15. If you saw me in person, you would instantly know that I am about six months away from having to start combing my hair with a face cloth. I often wonder whether this follicley challenged phenomenon correlates to raising two children alone, or whether it has to do with the 10 years I have spent in the call center industry. I suspect it may be a bit of both, but since we are here to talk about my background, thoughts and the industry, I will focus on that for the purposes of this blog. My kids say I embarrass them enough anyhow, and I suspect would be mortified at the notion of being talked about in some corporate blog. By nature, I would have to say I am a sales guy. I have always loved trying to understand people’s problems, and then trying to see if there is a way that my team and I can help bring innovative solutions to the myriad of issues and concerns that confront customers and partners on a daily basis.
My entry point into the call center industry came when I was introduced to several Cisco engineers who had a dream in 2002 of putting the world’s first call center on the internet. That company later became known as Five9, where I was President and CEO as well as member of the Board of Directors from 2003 to 2008. The dream of these forward thinking technologists at the time, was pretty far ahead of the market. To put things in perspective, salesforce.com was just starting to gain momentum and the whole notion of “software as a service” was just really starting to be discussed within the zealots, renegades and early adopter type communities.
To make a very long story short, the whole notion of being able to offer customers similar functionality that only major vendors at the time offered (Ayaya, Cisco, etc), at a fraction of the price, was incredibly appealing to me. Couple that strong value proposition with lower administration, labor and maintenance costs, no hardware or upfront software to be purchased, the ability to procure what one needed when they needed it and only pay for what they use, made my head spin and ask the question, “why wouldn’t everybody use this?” In those early days, outsourcing was gaining traction and people were starting to talk about the benefits of agents that worked out of their homes. All of this added up in my mind as a force that would continue to gain momentum in the months and years ahead, and was clearly the wave of the future for all types and sizes of call centers.
So, what drew you to inContact?
After losing my wife to breast cancer in February 2008, I left the corporate world to be a full-time stay-at-home mom and dad. As anyone can appreciate and in some cases relate to, I have learned that we don’t have any real say on what cards we are dealt in life, but we do have a great say in how we deal with the hand we are dealt. So in my personal situation, it was adversity in my family life that dramatically shifted my priorities from someone that was used to bringing home the bacon, to actually cooking the bacon…..aka, staying home and raising kids. After taking kids to school and then spending way too many hours at the gym, to no real avail I might add, I started thinking about what I could do given my personal situation. I had amassed a fair amount of experience in the call center world, had established a network of people around the globe and contemplated starting my own call center.
Ultimately, with a partner, I opened a call center in the Philippines. Over the next 18 months we grew the center to 300 agents, handling inbound and outbound campaigns for several US clients. After a period of time, the financial mess around the globe, coupled with some operational mistakes we made, caused us to revisit the business and we ultimately chose to close the company.
In March of 2011, I asked my children what they thought about the notion of dad going to back to work. Interestingly enough, their reaction was, “dad, you know you are quite annoying, and it would probably be pretty good for you to get out of the house, you know.” Well, given the blessing of my two kids, plus their somewhat aggressive posturing of wanting me out of their faces, I thought about what to do and who to call. I had always remembered inContact from my Five9 days, had thought highly of the management, and respected the company for their fierce competitiveness in the market and for their accomplishments. So, I just picked up the phone, called Paul Jarman, had a number of discussions with him and the team and ultimately was offered the position I currently am in.
We announced our entry into the Philippines last fall, and your addition will surely continue to drive that business forward. What are your plans for the region?
As you know, I accepted the position of VP, APAC and LATM. I did so for a number of reasons. From my perspective, as we all live in a global economy and as many of us have read in Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, for US companies to remain competitive, more and more functions are moving offshore. Companies across the globe in the developed nations will continue to outsource their work to places where labor rates are substantially less, talent and technology infrastructure is in place, neutral English accents prevail and both business and government are open and friendly to companies focusing on technology and outsourcing.
In its simplest form, a win-win scenario exists as US companies remain competitive and can better focus on their core competencies and move less value-added jobs to less labor costly regions and the developing nations get to build a burgeoning middle class through job creation with commensurate wages that are typically more favorable than to what currently exists. The regions I am responsible for continue to grow in a variety of sectors. Call center operations of various kinds, shapes and sizes are being handled by many hundreds of thousands of agents sitting in offices as well as their homes around the globe. To this end, as the BPO market on and offshore continues to grow, my intent is to do everything humanly possible to ensure that inContact establishes a respected footprint in these areas around the BPO globe, and that any offshore organization bidding for client work, thinks of using inContact with respect to their client’s call center initiatives.
You’ve worked on both sides of call centers – selling/building the software and running a call center so you have a unique perspective to the market. What would you say companies should look for when selecting a vendor?
As someone who owned a call center, there are a few things that any call center owner/operator should look for:
- Reliability is key to ensuring the success of your ultimate client. If he’s successful, the center gets to keep his business and potentially grow it. If not, he will lose it. So number one when picking a technology vendor, in my opinion is ensuring the technology is reliable, stable and can grow as your center grows. Many BPOs in developing nations will go with the lowest price vendor. When their vendor’s system is down, and their client sends them a note cancelling service, they will not remember the 20% they saved by going with the less expensive vendor. So, reliability and stability is key in choosing a vendor.
- Second, support. Make sure to select a vendor who will be there with you when the chips are down and that has a strong reputation in the market. Check out customer references – see what they say about them and check their customer attrition rate.
- Third, robust feature/functionality. Ensure that the offering matches closely with your current and planned needs. Review the vendor’s technology roadmap and ensure it matches your goals.
- Fourth, ensure that you can scale for growth. If your plans include multiple site locations, multiple countries, in-house versus offshore and possibly the use of at-home agents, make sure you can scale for your growth plans.
- Lastly, professional services. Make sure the PS team can understand your business and plan an implementation for the future.
So, in a nutshell, if I were a call center operator, BPO or otherwise, my evaluation criteria for any technology vendor would look at reliability (technology and financial stability), customer support, feature/functionality relative to current and growth plans and caliber of people to assist and helping me in the planning and implementation of my call center initiatives.
Covering APAC and Latin America, you must be on the road quite a bit. Do you recommend any “must have” travel items for other road warriors?
Here are a list of “must haves” for International Road Warriors
- Dark glasses to cover the constant bags under your eyes from perpetual jet lag
- Make sure you request the Multi-Page Edition for your passport
- Remember flight attendants’ names and faces and their favorite chocolate or candy to give them, heightening the probability of a freebie upgrade
- Treat your travel agent like you would treat your mom
- Always carry gum and mints on a long flight
- Men over 40 with bladder control issues should request an aisle seat and not a window….otherwise you may subject yourself to some weird gymnastic activities in the middle of the night
- Don’t take anything too seriously………..Life’s just too short………Enjoy every moment and learn to appreciate and relish in each other’s differences