Frances Quinn is the Founder and CEO of Athena Consulting – she started a business after getting fired. Twice.
Starting from humble beginnings, she left school at 16 and set about making her way in the corporate business world. After an 18-year career collecting skills, knowledge, and experience spanning customer service, people leadership, business operations, project leadership, and operational effectiveness, Frances took the leap into entrepreneurship and started her own consulting firm.
Over the last 6 years, Frances has focused on driving sustainable growth and building a high-performing team for Athena. Delivering projects that have impacted over 1 million customers, cost savings of over $10 million, and enabled businesses to 10x their growth. Frances and Athena have both been recognised as the Winner of the “Stevie International Business Awards”, and as Finalists in the MyBusiness, Women with Altitude and NSW Chamber of Commerce Awards last year.
Throughout Frances’ journey, she has overcome many personal challenges, developing resilience and a personal growth mindset, which have been huge contributors to the success she has achieved. She is currently writing a book called ‘Surrender to Success’ to share the methods she has used to fuel her journey in life and business with highly driven and ambitious humans.
What you will learn
- The importance of the customer experience for business success
- How technology is changing this industry
- How the pandemic is accelerating change
- The “WOW” framework
- How to productize your services
- The importance of working on the business instead of in the business
- Why you should scale yourself
- Why business success is a mind game
- The technology tools to use for virtual teams
Jeff Bullas: Hi, and welcome to the Jeff Bullas Show. Today we've got Frances Quinn with us, and I'm just going to read you a little about Frances and her adventures and journey over... Well, not all her life, we aren't going to go back that far, so but Frances Quinn is the founder and CEO of Athena Consulting.
Jeff Bullas: Starting from humble beginnings, she left school at 16 and set about making her way in the corporate business world. After an 18-year career of collecting skills, resulting in experience spanning customer service, people leadership, business operations, project leadership and operational effectiveness, Frances took the leap into entrepreneurship and started her own consulting firm.
Jeff Bullas: And over the last six years Frances has focused on driving sustainable growth and building a high performing team for Athena, delivering projects that impact over one million customers, delivering cost-savings of over $10 million to enable businesses to enable 10X their growth.
Jeff Bullas: Frances and Athena have both been recognized as winners of the Stevie Introduction Business Awards and as finalists in my business, Women with Attitude and New South Wales Chamber of Commerce Awards last year in 2019.
Jeff Bullas: Throughout Frances' journey, she has overcome many personal challenges, developing resilience and personal growth mindset which have been huge contributors to the success she has achieved in a business.
Jeff Bullas: She is currently writing a book called, Surrender to Success, to share the message she has used to fill her journey in life and business with a highly driven and ambitious humans.
Jeff Bullas: Now, one other interesting fact about Frances is, she can juggle.
Frances Quinn: I sure can. Don't ask me for a demonstration, I'm a little rusty.
Jeff Bullas: So what got you into juggling?
Frances Quinn: The most important question of the day. I think a little bit of boredom, and I believe I started with fruit, just something to do with my hands, sometimes to keep me busy, my mind is always occupied, and usually I've always got a piece of paper and a pen because I scribble when I think and so in the absence of that, I suppose I was just trying to keep my hands active.
Jeff Bullas: Okay, I don't know what you'd call that condition where you're wanting to play with your hands all the time? Is that a medical condition?
Frances Quinn: Probably, probably but shh, don't tell anybody.
Jeff Bullas: Okay right, well I won't tell all our listeners either.
Frances Quinn: No, it's our little secret.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So you're in the business of consulting and helping contact centers, is that correct? Because that's the main area you're focused on.
Frances Quinn: Yes, that's right.
Jeff Bullas: So, now we're in the middle of a very interesting time on the planet at the moment with the pandemic continuing to unfold and spread, and be suppressed and rise and fall, so before we get into that, because that may be a better question to ask later, but contact centers may be quite important now... Well, become even more important. But before we get to that, what got you into starting a consulting business, where you actually advise corporations and governments to actually put together contact centers that work really, really well and efficiently? So what got you into that?
Frances Quinn: Well look, this is a lifelong journey for me in that space, there are probably two components of the answer to that question. The first is, my mother was in customer service from when I was little. She was a single mom, I used to go to her office, afterschool care type stuff and run around and stuff envelopes and shh, we won't call it child labor but do things to keep myself busy. Maybe that's where the need to keep my hands active came from, but do things to keep myself busy while she finished up at work.
Frances Quinn: So I was in the world of customer experience from a really young age and always knew that's where I wanted to go. So in terms of that as my subject matter, I built an 18+ year career in multiple different modalities in that customer experience and customer service contact center space. And in terms of why I then started a business consulting in that world, that was really... it happened by chance. It was a bit of an accidental entrepreneur type situation.
Frances Quinn: I didn't set out to go, right I'm going to go conquer the world, I just had a couple of redundancies in a row, which I'm sure a lot of people are feeling right now in the current environment and the path just laid out for me. I found out I was getting made redundant on the Friday and on the Monday I got a phone call saying, "Hey, do you know anybody with this skillset in this location, who can do a project like this on a 12-month contract?" And I went, "Actually, yes I do. I'm available," and the rest just unfolded from there.
Jeff Bullas: Right. So tell me a little bit about what you do in terms of consulting, that area? So I know nothing about contact centers except that I try and avoid ringing them because I just don't want to be put on hold.
Frances Quinn: So do I, so do I.
Jeff Bullas: I've tried to contact them sometimes, I remember that some of the new technology that's emerged is that you actually go to a website and you will just actually start a chat. So that's the new tech that emerged, hasn't it over the last little while?
Jeff Bullas: And I've actually found that very, very effective but how's that technology? I think maybe this is part of what we can chat about today very much is how's that technology impacting customer service in contact centers? How's technology impacting your business and what companies are doing and governments are doing to actually support people that are calling in?
Frances Quinn: Yeah, look it's been a really fascinating journey, an incredible time over the last 25 years now, that I've been actively in the industry, and a few more than that, that I've been surrounded by it and technology has played a massive part in that evolution.
Frances Quinn: Back in the day you would've called the industry a call center and that was synonymous with a lot of telemarketing, right? The dreaded... the phone rings at 7 PM, the house phone... Who has a landline these days? I haven't had one for years. The house phone rings at seven o'clock at night when you're sitting down to dinner and it's somebody trying to sell you a new mobile phone plan, or something. And that was where this call center industry started and some of the initial negative connotations started coming from the sweatshop style vibe and things like that.
Frances Quinn: But technology has been the trigger that has made the industry evolve and created so much opportunity, and it's such an exciting space to play in because with the advancement of initially it was things like speech recognition. That didn't go so well in Australia, we had a couple of early adopters that didn't do it very well and so everybody got very upset about trying to speak to a robot that couldn't understand your accent and ultimately ended up putting you through to the wrong department. So that was another situation that didn't necessarily go as well as it could have.
Frances Quinn: But things like chat, things like social media from a customer-facing layer, completing transforming the way that customers engage with their brands. And it's becoming one of the most important deciding factors in who I deal with, right?
Frances Quinn: You used to have a contract with your telephone company, with your mobile phone provider and you couldn't break that contract and so you were stuck with them forever and their customer service wasn't a deciding factor, it was all about price. And once you were there, you were locked in but increasingly customer experiences with the brands that we engage with are not locked in contracts and it's not as much of a price war anymore. And so a lot of customers are tending to make a decision based on the customer experience that's offered and how convenient it is for me to do business with you. And can I jump onto the website and have a chat at 10 PM at night because that's when I've got time in my busy social and business and family life, to deal with that mobile phone bill question that I've got or the gas company inquiry.
Frances Quinn: And that's becoming the competitive differentiator for a lot of organizations, that are savvy enough to realize that investment in the technology at that layer is what's really going to set them apart from the company next door, that's not doing that.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Because like you said, there's a lot of different modalities, isn't there now? So different ways in which you can touch the customer and also the outreach. I suppose if you break it up, number one you've got the outbound customer contact center, haven't you, which is the sales side. And then you've got the one which is more the customer service where you're ringing in to actually try and solve a problem or get something fixed.
Jeff Bullas: So in terms of current tech now, for example when I see an unknown number come through, right?
Frances Quinn: Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: I don't answer it. I really don't, if they actually have something worth talking about, they're going to leave a message. So I'm screening all the time. If they don't leave a message I go, well I know who that was, they're telling me to sell me something, up-sell me, whatever. So in terms of outbound, what have you seen over the years with the impact of that? It must be a lot of people like me that just don't pick up the phone.
Frances Quinn: There absolutely are. There's a very small subset of the population left that do respond to outbound telemarketing type activities, and so they're having to get a little savvier with it and what we're a trend towards is more outbound SMS, outbound Messenger on Facebook, and so people reaching out in other ways. You might not answer a phone call from a number that you don't know but if you receive a test message on your phone, you're going to look at it. You might not act but you're at least going to look at it. Right? Because we're still trained to review those sorts of inbound communication. And the same thing with Facebook Messenger, that's being used incredibly quickly. It's increasing incredibly quickly, the use of that as a marketing platform to for the initial cold outreach from all sorts of companies.
Frances Quinn: So, it's definitely an area that has shifted very dramatically and I think we'll see it continue to shift a lot more in the world of social media marketing and ads on Facebook, and ads on YouTube. And ads on every online platform we touch is starting to take the place of the traditional door knocking or outbound phone call type campaign.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, you're right. So you got Facebook Messenger and then Facebook keeps changing its rules like how many times they can use Messenger to actually reach out, if people haven't responded within 24 hours, at the moment, you're not allowed to actually use it.
Jeff Bullas: So there's a whole range of differences, I suppose evolution of outbound. So you've talked about Facebook Messenger, so social media has changed the industry, the smart phone has also changed the industry. The website has changed the industry. And I remember, I have done cold calling as in on the phone, in the past in a previous career when I was selling computers. It was like, get on the phone, and the first two hours every day was cold calling.
Frances Quinn: Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: Then I've actually even done door knocking. So what are the biggest... Now, you work with a whole range of customers and a whole range of different technologies, and you've seen, I suppose, the technology that sits inside, which is the heart and soul I think, of a customer center would be the software that drives it. So tell us a little about how that's evolving and what are some of the bigger players in that area, such as the platforms that actually drive customer centers?
Frances Quinn: Yeah, look there's a couple of core functionalities that need to exist within a contact center. So the internal operation of a contact center operation is incredibly complex and probably one of the most systemized and regimented functions that you would see in any business.
Frances Quinn: So typically speaking, the predominant technology that everybody operates on is the telecommunications platform, right? It's the phone calls, it's the platform via which we would receive and track and report and record email interactions and text message interactions and Messenger, chat interactions. And now chat bot interactions, where we've got a robot sitting in the seat of a human effectively and having conversations with our customers.
Frances Quinn: So the primary heartbeat of that customer contact operation is that communications platform but sitting around that, there needs to be knowledge, right? I am the person on the phone who might get 17 different types of questions across 17 different parts of my parent business, I need the answers at my fingertips at conversational speed. So that when you ask me a question, I don't do the ah, ah, um, uh, I'm sorry, can you just hold on a minute while I find the answer to that? Right? So the knowledge-based platform has to be absolutely lightning fast and organized and structured in such a way that I can get the answer, if it's not sometimes I answer 30 times a day and therefore just know, off the top of my head.
Frances Quinn: We also need, what's called a workforce optimization suite, which is where we start looking at call recording. So how we quality control and coach our people to make sure that they're having conversations at the right level, and that's becoming increasingly digital. Where we've got digital flags that will pop up if a particular tone or a particular word is registered in the customer's conversation. So technology is absolutely transforming the way that all of the different internal functions of a contact center operation occur.
Frances Quinn: And how we ensure we're efficient, right? We've often got thousands of people across multiple different, what we would call queues or different types of inquiries, across multiple different channels. So social media and chat, phone, et cetera, that we need to organize and coordinate and we need to forecast and predict what volume we've got coming in and then we need to figure out how many people we need to answer that volume in an appropriate time, so that you're not sitting on hold for four minutes or 20 minutes depending on the organization that you call, and you get an appropriate level of service for the product that you're needing support with or the product you're trying to buy, of course.
Frances Quinn: And so that is quite a complex ecosystem, and that's before you get into any enterprise wide technologies that need to exist to house the overarching company's knowledge and knowledge assets. So in short, there are a wide variety of technologies that are available and depending on the size and scale and maturity of the contact center operation, depends on which of those they might choose to deploy.
Frances Quinn: So there are platforms like Genesys, that run a whole of organization and they do all of those things, and so they have a full breadth, but if you're an absolutely giant organization and you need to integrate with other platforms, you might need more sophisticated standalone capabilities that all plug in and talk to each other, rather than one cross-platform capability. So there are a lot of market players, and Gartner is always keeping their eye on the prize in terms of assessing both the new and emerging players and the established technology providers within the industry and rating them for their different strengths and weaknesses.
Frances Quinn: And the most exciting element, I think, around all of that is the transition of many of those... There are platforms that have been around for a really long time and so the coding and the logic behind them is incredibly sophisticated and they're moving to a cloud-based application suite which means that they're obviously a lot more accessible, and it opens up a whole new world of being able to create accessibility to the different products and platforms that a contact center needs whether they're giant, international with thousands of seats across the globe, or a little local council with 30 seats, sitting around the corner.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So you're talking about cloud technology which allows obviously updates to be done for everyone instantly, essentially when they upgrade the software. And also the recent changes in, I suppose the situation on the planet at the moment, the pandemic, is that our contact centers used to be just big buildings with lots of people in them. What's happening in that space? Is it becoming much more distributed and more virtual, as in people are doing support from home?
Frances Quinn: There has been a big shift to that which has been a hero story for those organizations that had already started the journey to cloud and had already created a work from home capability. That's actually been a desired state capability for our industry for a really long time, for many reasons. It provides work-life balance, and in terms of that rostering dynamic that I mentioned before, where we need to have enough people on the phones to answer the calls that we've forecasted.
Frances Quinn: Sometimes things don't go to plan, and sometimes we've got all sorts of interesting peaks and troughs to manage through. And so the ability to have a collection of people that work from home albeit not quite to the degree that we need in pandemic times, but that gives such a degree of flexibility to the organization, that it's been a desired state and what a lot of organizations have been moving to for a really long time.
Frances Quinn: And the cloud-based technology, well not exclusively, you can certainly deploy a work-from-home model if you don't have cloud-based technology by creating VPN connections into on-premise software and things of that nature. But the cloud-based technology certainly enabled a lot of people who didn't previously have that in place, to turn it around within a week, from whoa to go, we can't do any work from to, okay we're fully work-from-home enabled and everybody pick up your laptop and go home now.
Frances Quinn: So there have been some incredible stories of, I won't call it a pivot, but of rapid, rapid deployment of that work from home capability that has come out of the pandemic and for that reason, I'm actually really excited for what our industry looks like, and the business world in general, looks like on the other side of this. Global or large foundational players such as Telstra and Optus Civils already indicated that they will maintain a work from home capability and operating model through the other side of all of this because they realize the efficiencies that it brings, the work-life balance that it brings, the cost benefits. If you don't have to have a floor that seats about 400 people right in the heart of the city, then that can only be financially better for an organization as well. And so I think we'll see a lot more of it moving forward even after pandemic times are well behind us.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, so what the pandemic is really doing is, it's pushing people into the future faster.
Frances Quinn: Yes absolutely, and I'm not all for the pandemic, obviously it is an incredibly challenging time for us to go through but I'm all for the progress that will come as a result.
Jeff Bullas: So let's talk a little about your business and the challenges you've had, so you moved into that area as a consultant because you were working in the business, in contact centers for all your working life, really, isn't it? That's where you've been since you've left school at 16. So what have been some of the biggest challenges, so when you got made redundant, that was the little shove into consulting and then there was on the Monday you had the call after the Friday, you had this offer to take a 12-month contract consulting. Tell us a little bit about how that first year was? I'd be fascinated to hear that.
Frances Quinn: Yeah. Interestingly that first year was almost like falling back into the pattern of being an employee, except in hindsight looking back at the projects that I took on and there's no way I should have taken it on by myself. It was probably four people's worth of work and so I well underscoped it in my naivety, but I'm a person that loves a challenge and so it ended up being extended so we worked with that client for about 18 months and we ultimately delivered the outcome with a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way.
Frances Quinn: So that first year almost seemed normal, it didn't actually challenge me too much in the context of the paradigm of being a consultant now, because I just got up every Monday to Friday and I went to work and I did that job for that client, it was actually on day 18 months plus one... Well, I think that day I probably put my feet up and had a cocktail and went, "Whoa, that was pretty full-on," but it was the tailend and the aftermath that really made me as a business owner and as an entrepreneur and that's when I got the harsh reality slap in the face that business isn't just going to land on my lap every time that I'm ready for it to. And that I would have to learn how to market and how to sell and how to run an efficient and effective business and how to create products, and I realized I stepped into conscious incompetence and realized how much I didn't know and begun my journey of moving towards conscious competence and beyond.
Frances Quinn: So that in terms of challenges in the business that was probably my first and most significant one, and there's a day that stands out very, very clearly in my mind. It was probably close to four or five months after I had finished that first project, I'd had no work since then, I'd rung a few people and gone, "Hi, I'm available," and not realizing that's not how you sell a product or a service and I was on the floor of the kitchen, I had a white board there that was just blank, trying to figure out how I move this thing forward, how do I actually create something from this? And so in my pajamas on the floor of my kitchen in tears, was the phoenix rising from the ashes moment where I picked myself up and I went, what is it that I know that no other consulting firm does or what's my niche?
Frances Quinn: What's my specialty, what's the thing that I can bring that other people can't bring? And I created a product around that and I invested the next couple of weeks in flushing that out and building some flyers and some assets, and took my last couple of thousand dollars and paid for a sponsorship booth at a technology industry conference, and went out and put myself out into the world. That was the moment that I started making connections and I got one client off that, and then another one a few weeks later and the trickle began and that's when, what I would call the real business journey began.
Jeff Bullas: So you went from something landing in your lap to going, what am I doing? What product am I selling? And I suppose that moment when you're trying to work out what next? So what was the product you developed after the two weeks of white-boarding and pajama-writing?
Frances Quinn: So it was called the WOW framework, the Well Optimized Workforce framework, so I mentioned that resourcing dilemma of forecasting what we're going to receive from our customers and how many people we need to handle that demand. That was one of the roles that I did throughout my journey in the contact center world, and it's an art and a science and a very specialized capability. So a lot of organizations find it quite difficult to find people that have skills in that area, and ultimately it's the capability that determines whether a contact center is highly efficient or bleeding money, essentially.
Frances Quinn: Because if you're paying for somebody to be sitting on the phones and there's no calls coming through, or emails or chats or whatever, then ultimately you're paying for somebody to sit there and twiddle their thumbs. They don't have another job to do, like you or I would if there's emails to do, and if there's not, there's always something else.
Frances Quinn: And so I built a product which was essentially an audit or an assessment around how effective the workforce management or workforce optimization function was within an organization, and develop a roadmap to help improve it and went out there and got that out in the world. The foundation of that product is still what exists in one of our most popular products today, we've just broadened the scope to be a whole of context into operational audit as opposed to very specifically a deep dive into the workforce management space, but yeah definitely had some divine inspiration there because it's definitely held its own for the last five years or so since we launched it.
Jeff Bullas: So you've got your first couple of clients now, you put up a booth, put up the shingle for real now instead of just being on a contract which like you said was really just working under a different guise in other words. So obviously you need to scale what you're doing because there's only one of you so what was the first hire, I suppose you have a virtual team, I would most probably think?
Frances Quinn: Yes, yes our team is located a little bit of everywhere. My first hire, I started work on a project for a New South Wales government entity who needed to look at creating a brand new customer contact function which is like the dream project, right? I get a blank piece of paper and get to create something new which doesn't happen in our space very often. So I did the initial three months scoping and preparing for that with them and then it was time that I got the big green tick saying, yes it's approved, we're going to go ahead and we're going to deliver this project and in making that decision, we obviously had to build the project team.
Frances Quinn: So that was my first opportunity to bring a new team member on board who is still with me today, he is one of my foundation team members and we built on from there. And that in itself absolutely brought its own challenges in terms of me working full-time on a client project, and then initially having three and then we got to five and a little bit onto that.
Frances Quinn: So trying to manage the business operations, and the team, and my own client delivery all of a sudden became a 700-hour a week job that I couldn't juggle. While I can juggle, that's one thing I found I couldn't juggle and so that journey is what led me into stepping away from doing client delivery and actually taking that next step in the evolution of being a business owner and running a business and doing strategy and building out the foundations that would enable it to scale well beyond me.
Jeff Bullas: So you've started hiring your virtual team and building that out, you've created a product now in other words, you've productized a service and that was the wow product which, quite like the name really. Well Optimized Workforce.
Frances Quinn: That's right.
Jeff Bullas: So what were some of the other big challenges over the last five or six years that you struck as you now got products, you moved beyond just a contract to actually having a proper business. You started hiring your first team member, what are some of the other big challenges you've had and biggest challenge you've had in the last five or six years?
Frances Quinn: Yeah, look I think the main one is actually not a business challenge, it's a self-belief challenge, it's the whole imposter syndrome side of the world. And I joined up to a business training and education program and sat down in my first class going, okay, I'm going to commit to learning what I don't know about running a business and then I had this moment, sitting in the first session where they're talking about systemizing a business and went whoa, hang on a second, I know this. I could be up there teaching this, I've just never looked at it. I've never looked at my business as a business, I've never looked at it as something that I could apply all of the skills I've gained in my corporate career and how to budget and how manage a team and how to create structure and how to build a strategy and all of the things that you need to do as a business owner, I had experience in 85% of that from my corporate career.
Frances Quinn: I'd just never been brave enough to go, this is a business and I'm going to set targets for it, and I'm going to work this business and move it towards a goal and so getting out of my own way. I had to have that realization and move forward. That's had multiple rungs in its ladder of every time I reach a point, I've had to go oh, okay, here's how I'm limiting my thinking right now, whether that's what's possible in terms of revenue targets, whether that's how I compare myself to other business owners that I'm connected with. Or my business is just this little thing whereas yours is this big amazing thing, and having to just consistently challenge my own limitations and my own thinking, and realize that the business will only ever grow as much as I do. And so I have to continue to relentlessly analyze and assess my own views and look at where I'm getting in my own way and clear the path for myself in order to continue the journey of growth.
Frances Quinn: So that's hands down been the biggest challenge ever in the business world, but also the most fun transformational experience on both a personal and a business level, and yeah without business there, there would have been no catalyst for that. My entire life, every single component of my life has changed multiple times throughout that last five years because of that single realization.
Jeff Bullas: So what you're saying is that mindset is the biggest challenge you've had? And I think maybe that is the challenge for almost every entrepreneur is that mindset, that self-belief, yes we do have them. What am I doing here? I've been asked this before, what gives you the right to actually speak on this? Well, because you're doing it, you've done it, you haven't gone to university but you've just done it by doing. You've learned by doing. And especially in today's age, we need to be able to write, we need to be able to present well, speak well, be able to put together a proposal, be able to send an email, be able to speak well. So what are some of the other challenges moving forward in this time of the pandemic? Because the other one is you can't go and visit customers really, that must be a big challenge now?
Frances Quinn: Absolutely. So much of our work was face-to-face, and we did have a couple of clients that we had just started projects with prior to the end of March when it hit in full force. So we literally signed on the dotted line a week before and then all of a sudden, oh I'm not really sure if we should travel and then a couple of weeks later, no, nobody is allowed to travel. So the biggest challenges in the context of all of that, we were able to fairly easily move the structure that we have to an online forum because there's nothing really that we would do face-to-face that we couldn't do via a video conference with a slightly different lens on it.
Frances Quinn: But the biggest challenge we had, I think was more so maintaining a rapport and that face-to-face rapport building that you get when you can go and sit down and have a coffee with somebody and you have a little more of an informal connection with them. And our clients became so distracted by everything else going on in the world that where we normally would have completed something in two weeks, it took us two months because we kept having reschedules and reschedules and reschedules, or we needed them to send us a document that then was three weeks later than it should have been, and so that was our primary challenge moving through that period and certainly not the only one.
Frances Quinn: We also definitely saw the business world go quiet because while contact centers were scrambling to respond to this and all of a sudden stand up, work from home capability in a week. One thing that they didn't have capacity and time and energy for, was vetting a consulting partner to help them do that. They just needed to get on with it and react and so we, as a consulting community, I was chatting to one of my friendly competitors earlier this week and they said exactly the same thing.
Frances Quinn: We just weren't needed during that time, it was too much, their heads were full already and they're hands were full already and they just didn't have the capacity, so they just took it all on their own shoulders and ran with it. So we did have a bit of a quiet period and it took us a while to get through the projects that we did have on the books, but we're definitely starting to see the rebound of that now and we're getting busier.
Jeff Bullas: That's good to hear, so what are some of the tools you use to actually, I suppose create that rapport with the client that you normally would get face-to-face, so what collaborative tools, what communication tools are you using currently that you've maybe had to either reinvent or you've had to bring on board? What are some of the tools you use to actually work with clients in this current pandemic?
Frances Quinn: Yeah, so we've been adopters of Zoom for a while, as you mentioned earlier, we've got a largely virtual team and so we've used Zoom for a long time to have our own team collaborations. And so our use of that has definitely stepped up in implementing to clients and the primary way I think, we addressed building that rapport and simplifying and streamlining where we would normally be on-site and so therefore we can just have a conversation to sort out what time that meeting should be or that workshop. We instead just created, reimagined our customer journey and we put as much self-service type capability and automation into that process as possible.
Frances Quinn: So we use a booking platform called Calendly where we create the framework and then somebody on their end can go and figure out what times best suit their internal people since we can't sit down side-by-side and do that. And let's be honest, who wants to sit on a Zoom call and sift through calendars trying to find an appropriate time? And so we just focused on making those things that needed to happen easy for our customers.
Frances Quinn: We use the Office365 Suite internally and so we really stepped up the use of Microsoft Teams as our core collaboration platform, which in some clients included our clients as part of that platform as well and in others we use their internal collaboration capability depending on what their preference is. But the other critical part of it all, for me and for our business was the collaboration that needed to happen at a team level.
Frances Quinn: So much of the greatness in our delivery comes from a team that's really well gelled together that is doing all of the collaboration they need to do, that's sharing knowledge and insight. And so the use of Teams to achieve that outcome, to have a centralized hub where we kept all of our information, we really amped that up and that was incredibly successful. So we still have a long way to go in how we continue to use that platform but that will ultimately, regardless of when we go back to face-to-face, that will become a really strong pillar of how we run the business internally today.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? Trying to crack business processes that can work in a virtual distributed environment. I have a team that sits between the Philippines, Hungary, USA, Melbourne, Sydney and, for example just launching the podcast, I had to sit down and work through, so how can we make this a process that works well? And yeah, there's a bit of blood, sweat and tears right in the beginning because I had to come up to speed on how do you record, what technology we use, we started to use Zoom instead of Skype and then the quality of recording.
Jeff Bullas: So this became a real challenge in terms of what is the process? So eventually after the blood, sweat, and tears, a lot of learning, backs and forward, outsourced podcast editor, audio producer, Dave, worked with him but then I had the marketing manager in Hungary,and then I had Will, my editor in Sydney and I only catch up with Will face-to-face, in fact we're catching up tomorrow afternoon. But face-to-face just to create that, I suppose being human, really.
Frances Quinn: Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: So we catch up for a drink and we'll talk about things but today for me, the podcast publishing process from booking to recording to editing and then to publishing and then to promoting is pretty seamless now, which has been great. And look, I could've outsourced all of it and I said no, I would rather build the IP internally. What tool do you use for collaborating? We use Trello which is an Atlassian tool.
Frances Quinn: It is.
Jeff Bullas: So what tool do you use for collaborating projects?
Frances Quinn: Internally we use Osana for that and sometimes we use Trello, when our client side is using it and so we need to collaborate on their platform, very familiar with Trello. But Osana is our internal business collaboration application, it's where we use our template checklist for when we onboard somebody, use our template checklist for when we do this, this, and that and then how I manage my day and how each of my team members manage their own to-do lists and their own activities, and how we manage project plans to client delivery and so we are all in on Osana for all of that.
Jeff Bullas: All right, yes the challenge is trying to use tools that can scale, that are also easy to use. Look, even though I work in a technology environment, I'm not a programmer so anything that is much more complex than Word or Google Docs, I run for the hills. I don't do my own editing for the audio or I give that to everyone else, so my job is more of the strategist, trying to work on the business rather than in it and that's been a challenge for me certainly. Are there any funny stories, I'm sure you've come across some funny stories or happenings in call centers over the years, is there anything that you can remember that stand out to you?
Frances Quinn: Oh lord, look there's absolutely funny stories day in, day out, I don't know that I've got any front of mind but I think I'm a bit more scarred by some of the challenging stories because contact centers are a unique beast. They're the place where whether you are the person who knits jumpers and has 27 cats at home, I've got a cat too so no criticism there on that front, or whether you're covered in tattoos and you have a mohawk, or it doesn't matter what walk of life you're from, contact centers tend to attract this real diversity of people. And so I think there's probably more funny stories and interesting happenings that come from the team that work within a contact center more so even than the customer interactions although if I scoured my memory I'm sure I could find an interesting customer one.
Jeff Bullas: That's all right, I put you on the spot there so we don't have to worry about that. Now I think just maybe to wrap things up, it would be interesting to get your thoughts on where the future you see it, from customer care, is going. You sort of touched on it a little bit so things like artificial intelligence and machine learning and also the other big change as we know, we've talked about it already is try to talk in a bit more virtual way now because everyone's actually had to... call centers used to be 400 people in a building, now it's work from home a lot, isn't it?
Jeff Bullas: So where do you see technology such as artificial intelligence playing a role into the future for customer care and not just customer care but I suppose outreach as well, so it's inbound as well as outbound, so where do you see artificial intelligence playing out?
Frances Quinn: So I'll have to get myself somewhat focused on that because both of those questions, I could just go off on a tangent for the next three years about, but artificial intelligence and natural processing type stuff is so, so exciting for our industry because there is and there has traditionally been a lot of it which is incredible repetitive, right? Hi, can I update my address, please? There's no reason you should ever have to speak to a human to do something that is incredibly, we call it, low value in terms of it doesn't provide me a lot of value in fact I shouldn't ever have to speak to somebody to do that, I should be able to self-service.
Frances Quinn: But in the case that I can't, then at the very least I should talking to a robot or some kind of intelligence engine to help me to do that. And so the low value repetitive tasks, what has traditionally been done in the past, is outsourcing those to lower cost human-fueled centers located offshore hence one of the things contact centers are known for is having a high amount of offshore contact center functions. I think AI is going to replace that because I don't have the stat off the top of my head, but we did a study on this a couple of years back, that it is significantly cheaper to automate something than it is to outsource it.
Frances Quinn: So the AI side of things takes that automation to the next level in that you can effectively automate a customer conversation so it's not simply a, if, this, then, that, type transaction but it can learn and access so much more information from knowledge sources than a human ever could. And so where I see that happening and how I think it's going to impact the industry, is that all of those lower value, high touchpoint, high ethic tasks will ultimately be in the hands of a robot and where we will find the human interaction taking place is where it is an incredible high value reaction as in it's particularly sensitive, maybe it's services like lifeline and things like that. You're never going to speak to a robot, right? You need a human touch, whether it's high value financially for a business or strategically for a business to speak to the customer.
Frances Quinn: So those sorts of things will be the cream at the top of the carton that get managed by the humans and then everything else will... even if the conversation happens with a human, will be processed and all the work behind the scenes will be done by a robot. What that will ultimately mean is that where at the moment, being a customer contact representative is for many people, it's the job that they do when they come out of uni and they're trying to figure out what it is they want to do with their life, or school if they don't go to uni, and then some people go, "Oh this is actually a really cool, fun, crazy environment and I'm going to stick around here and make a career out of it."
Frances Quinn: It's not a coveted type role, people don't go, "Oh my aspiration one day is to be on the phones in a contact center," right? But I see it heading in that direction, I can see it heading into being an incredible strategically valued role within an organization because it will be so rare to have that voice to voice or face-to-face in a video context, type account management interaction with the customer.
Frances Quinn: So I think AI is going to have a drastic impact and I don't know that Australia is going to be early adopters of that. I think we'll see a lot more of that happen internationally before, we typically leap in after somebody else has proven the concept, but I do think that coming through this pandemic as we spoke about earlier has absolutely escalated people's desire to get their hands on the future sooner than they possibly would have otherwise. And in terms of that virtual working environment that you mentioned, I strongly believe that we'll be in a position in the future, where the answers to the questions that are being asked by customers will be so readily accessible by an AI knowledge capability that you can simply, a bit like freelancer where you'd go out and say I've got a job to do, this piece of marketing or to do this graphic design thing, and you farm out work and you pay on completion of that work successfully.
Frances Quinn: That there will be a lot more of that in terms of the way that we staff our customer contact interaction, there's absolutely no reason that I should have to take an eight-hour role taking calls from one type of customer for one organization, if we've got AI enabled knowledge, right? And so the answers are easily acceptable and security is going to be the main sticking point to get over there. As it is with AI, as it is with a lot of technology advancement, our security protocols are the things that are hot top of mind around all that stuff at the moment. But I see a bot of the marketplace where businesses can be more efficient, to say we're going to get five people's worth of calls at midday on Tuesday and so I need this many people logged in to take calls for that period, and they can go out to an international marketplace and fill those roles with freelancers who pick up particular work, at particular periods of time.
Frances Quinn: So I believe the days of being a contact center representative for this organization as my full-time role are numbered, that's my hot prediction.
Jeff Bullas: Okay, that's good to know so I'll keep an eye on that one.
Frances Quinn: That's right, you never know, you've definitely got the voice for it, so.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I find it interesting that you said that automation ends up being far cheaper than outsourcing, and also the role of AI and that automation becomes important. In the past, we actually outsourced a lot to places where a lot cheaper labor exists and we all do that, most of us do. But I suppose it could mean bringing things back to Australia or back to home countries like supply chains I think, have been challenged with the pandemic as well.
Jeff Bullas: Locally made is going to become more important, as trust in different players around the world falls so automation is going to make it easier for companies to bring what was previously cheap labor such as in China or India, being brought back to Australia because we can use technology to do that now, and automation.
Jeff Bullas: So thank you very much, Frances, for your insights both in your business and I think, the big learning that we could take away from this is the importance of mindsets being an entrepreneur. That's really important and also processes, that's the other thing that you certainly highlighted that, how do I create a proper business? How do I productize a service? Which was you aha moment, in tears, in pajamas on the kitchen floor with a white board.
Jeff Bullas: So thank you very much Frances, for sharing your insights and your journey and I've learned a lot today, and thank you very much for your time. It's been great to actually-
Frances Quinn: My absolute pleasure, it's been fabulous chatting with you, I can't believe an hour has disappeared so quickly, thank you so much.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.