Call Center Insider: Interview with Tom Rocca, President of SupportSeven

Larry King

In a bit of a departure from past tradition, your correspondent wanted to include a brief note of introduction for this month’s interview with Tom Rocca, President of SupportSeven. As I was debating what to say, I thought about sharing with you what a great sense of humor he has, or the fact that no matter where he goes, there’s always someone he knows by name. This would certainly be true, of course, but I think it misses the point.

The real story of Tom Rocca centers around his character. He’s a man of unusual integrity, a respected leader who cares deeply about people – a fact evident in every interaction you’ll have with him. If you’re an employee, he’s the kind of guy you’d want for a boss; if you’re a businessman, you’d want him as your partner. In short, he’s a good man. And it’s his passion for people (the central mission of CallMe!) that convinced me that our readers would greatly benefit from hearing his take on call center human capital. We hope you agree.

 

1. To what extent do you feel your people play in setting SupportSeven apart from the competition?  What steps do you take to attract and retain the best ones? 

We set expectations up front as we engage potential employees and follow through on those expectations with our training and the way that we operate our business.  It all revolves around our mission and each of us doing everything we can to support that mission.  Our mission is “To maximize the growth of the Kingdom, by helping the least of these, through strategic giving from profitable businesses.”

We look carefully at outcomes and job expectations before we hire.  So, the conversations we have as we recruit centers around what needs to be done, but also around our mission and internal culture.  We ask three questions as we engage new talent: 1) Can they do the job well? 2) Is this a good match for them, a job they will thrive in? and most importantly: 3) How well does this person fit with our team; what do they bring to the table to contribute to and add to our organization?

Another thing that has emerged from managing expectations is that we have a culture of focusing on solutions rather than fault-finding when things go wrong.  We see mistakes and things that didn’t work out well as good opportunities to learn as a company and make our processes and practices better in a continuous process improvement manner.  Nobody gets thrown under the bus here, and it’s something that builds trust like nothing else you’ve ever seen.  It creates a culture of belonging and collaboration.

2. SupportSeven is located in Tennessee, and SupportSeven’s wholly owned subsidiary, Eclipse in Action, is located in Costa Rica.   From a human capital perspective, what are the primary differences as they relate to your staffing and recruitment processes?

It’s interesting that you ask about the differences.  There is a great deal of interest in both places for career progression and personal development.  That being said, in Costa Rica, call center jobs are seen as being more of a profession than in the states.  It’s a job many people aspire to.  In the states, customer service representatives expect to move up as fast as they can, whereas in Costa Rica they have the same expectation, but the job is seen as being a longer-term work objective.

Eclipse in Action tends to recruit from more colleges in Costa Rica because they are across the street from the University of Costa Rica and also because they get so many high-quality candidates from several of the city’s biggest universities.  Several agents in the center in Costa Rica have master’s degrees and even one or two with medical degrees.  So, they have a wealth of experience in their agents, and that translates to opportunities for internal growth and excellent customer service and support.

Eclipse in Action’s reputation in Costa Rica seems to have spread more widely through the metropolitan San Jose area because there are so many call centers and people really want those jobs.  There are about two million people in the San Jose area and when you talk with people out in the community, they’ve heard about Eclipse in Action.

SupportSeven sees a more diverse demographic in Chattanooga.  Our recruiting processes tend to be centered around community job fairs, with some college job fairs as well.  Agents at SupportSeven typically have more  experience that helps mold them into well-qualified, seasoned customer support specialists, with opportunities for advancement within the company.

3. What was the reason that Eclipse in Action chose Costa Rica for their operation? 

Operating in Costa Rica was the choice over many other countries they considered, and the key factors were culture, language skill, and education.  The culture of Costa Rica is very accommodating.  The Costa Ricans have been rated as “the happiest people in the world”, and that is apparent when you talk with them.  They are a very friendly people!  Plus, they understand a lot about our culture, and that makes it easier to maintain rapport and get the right things accomplished in each call.

English is taught in schools and the level of language skill coupled with an excellent education round out the attractive elements.  When you’re talking to a Costa Rican, you probably think you’re talking with an American.  Their language is really that good.

I mentioned about the education.  Costa Rica as a country invests in education and most Costa Ricans have a good foundation of communication and transferrable skills because of that.

Also, a fourth reason is that it’s “near shore”, which offers US Based clients convenience when traveling to Eclipse in Action’s center.

4. Recently, we’ve seen a bit of a reversal in the outsourcing of call center jobs overseas – particularly in Asia.  Do you feel this trend holds true for Latin America, as well?

Not at all.  In fact, Eclipse in Action is seeing a lot of competition from US-based companies who are opening call centers in Costa Rica.  Amazon, Hewlett Packard, Intel, just to name a few.

But, in general, you’re right.  US companies are seeing benefits for bringing a lot those jobs back home, particularly from countries where strong accents and cultural differences make the customer’s experience difficult and frustrating.  That frustration ends up being taken out on the company, which doesn’t benefit anyone.  In our experience, making the customer experience excellent is the key outcome.