Call Center Insider: Interview with Tim Searcy, CEO of ACCENT Marketing Services

Larry King

CallMe! IQ is proud to profile Tim Searcy, CEO of ACCENT Marketing Services, in our first feature length interview. Tim has spent 25 years in the direct marketing and teleservices industry. Most recently, he was CEO of the American Teleservices Association, and previously was a senior executive with companies such as West, APAC, Transcom Worldwide and Rapp Collins.

From a Human Capital perspective, what are your largest challenges going into 2012?

As a founding member of the jobs4america coalition, ACCENT has pledged to create 2,000 new jobs over the next two years.  We’re essentially doubling the size of the company and providing our engagement specialists with the flexibility to work at an engagement center or through connectivity at home.  As you can imagine, this poses a number of challenges related to acquiring, supporting, retaining and growing our existing and future talent.

First and foremost, as we begin recruiting new talent we are faced with the difficulty of sorting out the population that is unemployed or unemployable, or who have chosen to no longer seek employment.  Now what I mean by that is: how do you sift through what looks to be an ample and abundant labor supply to find the right talent?

Another way to put it is that we’re going to get more applications than we normally would due to the high unemployment rate, but that does not necessarily mean that the quality of candidates has improved.  In essence, the water level has not risen.

Consequently, we’re still looking for the same small pool of highly qualified, high caliber candidates.  But they now live inside a much larger pool of overall applicants.

Our second challenge is recognizing that the people who are seeking employment these days, and the people that we want to employ, are looking for a different kind of experience than they had in the past.  Previously, contact centers hired candidates with good communication and customer service skills.  If a candidate could verbally communicate, that would be enough.

In today’s era of engagement, we’re looking for talent that can not only verbally communicate, but that also write well and are skilled at using a variety of tools and technologies to connect with consumers in today’s digital, social, interactive and real-time world.    Our engagement specialists are frequently communicating back and forth via chat, email, and social media.  We need talent that can think on their feet in an unscripted environment to provide an outstanding customer experience.

The third challenge is to identify employees that have the skills and abilities it takes to advance into leadership roles.  Due to our fast growth, we have to inevitably look to every employee, not just as the employee of today, but also as a promotable employee of tomorrow.

I’m seeking my leadership when hiring line employees.  We carefully look at newly hired talent and try to envision what they could be for us in their second generation or third generation of employment inside our firm. That’s a unique challenge to companies like ACCENT that are growing at an extraordinary pace.

How does ACCENT distinguish itself from competitors when looking to attract labor?

ACCENT is definitely a competitive employer of choice in every market that we’re in, but very little of our differentiation comes simply from compensation and benefits.  .  The unique programs we’ve implemented to attract great talent are our real differentiation.

First, we start by providing our employees with multichannel opportunities across voice, online and social media to engage with our clients’ customers.  Our employees don’t work in contact centers.  They work in engagement centers.

To help them decide whether this is an environment where they can be successful, we provide candidates with observation time out on our engagement center floor to see firsthand what it’s like.  We want our candidates to, in essence, self-screen to determine whether this is the right opportunity for them before moving forward in the recruitment process.

Next, we actively recruit and engage unique populations of people including military veterans and the disabled, which are often overlooked by others.  Veterans are disciplined and have a history of understanding how to take a mission and turn it into something meaningful.   They also have good communication skills and are used to training…all characteristics we’re looking for in an engagement specialist.

We view the disabled community with a similar eye, not just because it provides a good labor source, but because we can provide a good opportunity for progression and for career pathing that they may not be able to receive from other sources.

But, the way we distinguish ourselves the most is through our Seven “We Wills” – one of which is “We will promote from within.”  When we seek employees to join our organization, we see their first role with us as just that – their first role.  We want our employees to grow with us.  I’m living proof that you can move from the contact center to the board room, and I believe that in every communication I have with our employees, we’re looking at the next generation of leadership, and that they will come from within.

Very few organizations can point to a history of doing that effectively, but ACCENT can.

What makes ACCENT a “great place to work”?

There are so many reasons why ACCENT is a great place to work including the combination of our people and the culture they’re established.

My definition of culture is pretty simple.   It’s the accepted understanding of what works around here. This is a culture that is completely consumed with great service.  Our employees love being able to help our clients engage with their customers.  This amazing culture is something I inherited, and I look at it as a stewardship responsibility.

The way we train our workforce is critical to maintaining that culture.  .  There are so many companies out there that believe the hiring process is really about getting employees into training where they can then be weeded out.  That’s not the way we operate.

We invest our time and resources, including proprietary tools, from the start to hire the right talent.  But we don’t stop there.  We truly commit to working with our engagement specialists to put them in leadership positions where they can build their careers with us.

You asked the question about: what does it take to attract labor?  What did it take to attract me out of my last job leading the American Teleservices Association?  It was ACCENT’s people.  Our human capital is the best investment we can ever make because we get a multiplier effect from hiring and training the right talent.

How does ACCENT measure workforce programs?

We measure our workforce programs by looking at two sets of measurements – hard metrics and soft metrics.

The hard metrics are fairly simple:  client attrition or growth and employee attrition or growth.  How much did it cost us to acquire, train and manage our employees and our clients’ engagement programs?

Compared to the rest of the industry, our engagement specialists are more expensive to hire and train than the average because of our need to find individuals who are skilled in multichannel engagement.  This makes attrition very expensive – it’s a direct hit to our bottom line.

As for the soft metrics, we focus on employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.We conduct employee satisfaction surveys about every six months and are happy to announce that we are up 10% from the previous period in our latest survey.

As for client satisfaction – we not only survey our clients but also survey their customers and monitor net promoter scores, a metric that has gained in popularity in the last couple of years.