60K brings call centres into the modern age

External success is usually the main focus of business, but looking inwards and ensuring staff are happy can have just as significant an effect on performance

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The modern call centre is a vibrant place, offering far more than troubleshooting operations

Since starting 60K in 2008, we have always believed in putting people first. As CEO, I and the other investors in the company envisaged creating a business that put people at the forefront of our thinking and business strategy, starting with our employees, our clients and their customers. To sum it up, we wanted to create a place where young, ambitious people would love to work, with the opportunity to gain experience in an international environment, having the right tools, training and facilities in place to do their jobs and, above all, to be able to develop professionally and personally.

At first, this was easy to achieve, as we were a small company with around 200 employees who I knew personally. I could put a name to every face, knew which projects they were on and each person’s position, and I had time to talk to them and hear their views, in order to build these things into our business strategy.

However, our success was also our biggest drawback: as we grew rapidly (around 40 percent year-on-year) both in revenue and resources, it became harder and harder to maintain this family feel within the company. Over the following six years, competition for labour drove up expenses, especially in terms of salaries and benefits. What’s more, although our revenue had steadily grown, our EBITDA was being dramatically eroded, and we were haemorrhaging staff because of new players in the marketplace offering higher salaries: attrition rates rose from three percent to around 30 percent per year.

We knew we had to take major steps to stabilise the company if we were to build on the successes of the past. Our forecast was to grow by a further 1,000 seats over the following two years, and the indication from both our existing clients’ expansion plans and potential clients in our sales pipeline was that we would be able to achieve this.

We are always looking for feedback and ideas on how we can improve our working environment

Path to perfection
Due to 60K’s rapid expansion, the way the organisation worked had to change if we were to achieve our goals. The reactive nature of our business meant we were working in an ad hoc, haphazard manner. This works well for start-ups and smaller companies, but we needed to transition to a more focused and organised approach.

After some investigation in the marketplace, we found a solution that met our needs while providing the company with a solid foundation on which to build. This was the multinational Investors in People standard. The standard is well known worldwide, and is awarded to companies with strong HR practices. As one of those companies, 60K truly believes in the potential of its employees. We are always looking for feedback and ideas on how we can improve our working environment. This is an important part of our company policy, and we keep pushing to be better because people are our biggest asset.

During the year following this, we worked in close cooperation with IHR, a consulting company and the exclusive representative of Investors in People in Bulgaria. IHR held individual meetings with around 90 of our staff members, and explored how closely we adhered to the standard. Basically this was a ‘gap analysis’ to help us understand where we could improve in future.

The analysis was carried out on the basis of 10 main indicators: business strategy, learning and developments strategy, people management strategy, leadership and management strategy, management effectiveness, recognition and reward, involvement and empowerment, learning and development, performance measurement, and continuous improvement. We were assessed on these indicators at every level of our business, from me as CEO right across to the newest recruits.

All our projects were rated highly, mainly due to our entrepreneurial culture. However, to be even more successful down the line we had to shift to a more balanced community culture, working to bring into reality my goal of making 60K ‘the place where all the happy people work’.

We had actually already started to do this with our ‘Rhythm of 60K’ project two years earlier, alongside our code of ethics. These concepts were extended throughout the company, until they became standard behaviours we worked and lived by. From these beginnings, we came up with four core company values that were produced to encompass our mission and vision statements, combined with our company strategy from the top down and our code of ethics from the bottom up. So, in effect, everything links together.

Our vision is: ‘Striving to become a world leader in putting people first in their customer experience.’ The mission that underpins this vision is: ‘60K promises to provide service that exceeds the expectations of our clients, their customers, and our staff.’ Our strategy is: ‘By putting people first, they will strive for excellence in providing services for internal customers (their colleagues), for clients, and for our clients’ customers. This will ensure that 60K grows in market share, leading to increased revenue and EBITDA (profit), and enhancing 60K’s reputation in the market as a preferred supplier and employer.’

As mentioned before, these statements fed into our four core company values, which are: happiness (related to our motto ‘the place where all the happy people work’); success (exceeding clients’ expectations); professionalism (the model of behaviour we expect 60K members to have and to demonstrate); and friendship (providing a working environment that motivates people both personally and professionally). To sum all this up, we created an easy-to-remember statement: ‘Happiness and success are easy to achieve when you work with great professionals and true friends.’

Continuous growth
A further weakness we had related to communication. Healthy communication should come not only from the top down, but from the bottom up. This is something we have been working on and continue to work on. I always end my emails with: “Please remember I am always available, in person, by email or by phone, if you have something to share with me. Your team leaders, supervisors and managers are there too – this is an important part of their responsibilities as part of 60K.”

In support of this progress, we embarked on training for all our senior and middle management staff to develop their people management skills and improve their communication skills. This was supplemented by ongoing training throughout the year. I truly believe everyone has an equally important part to play in the success of an organisation, whether it’s the CEO or the cleaner, and everyone should be treated with both politeness and respect.

At the end of the year, two accreditors from Investors in People conducted interviews with randomly selected staff from all projects and areas of our business, in both our Sofia and Plovdiv locations. They determined how closely we aligned with the standard.

Following the evaluation, we were awarded Silver Accreditation, which was no mean feat for a company that was growing rapidly in two sites, and had recruited an additional 400 new employees at the same time. There had also been changes to the senior management team, as well as various new procedures.

The effects of the changes we made during the process were sensational. Our business operations improved, staff attrition fell, revenue grew by 58 percent, and EBITDA increased fourfold. Now 60K is truly known as ‘the place where all the happy people work’.