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NOA Individual Spotlight, William Pattison, CEO, Mindpearl  

You have had a remarkable career to date can you talk us through your career development from call centre agent to CEO and owner of a multilingual contact centre provider?

Today, I am the CEO and an owner of Mindpearl, an award winning international contact centre outsourcer. This was not necessarily what I thought would happen when I joined the contact centre industry as a call centre agent more than 30 years ago. My career actually started with Cayman Airways in 1982 as a check-in agent and working at the sales office selling tickets.  During 1982 and 1988 I progressed into a number of managerial roles.  I had no desire to work in a call centre, especially since I was often faced with having to ‘fix’ problems created by staff in the call centre.

However, when I moved to the UK in 1988, this is exactly where I found myself – working as a call centre agent for American Airlines in London.  By 1988, credit card sales were becoming a predominant method of payment.  Sales offices at the airport and on High Street were disappearing and the focus of the call centre shifted from service to sales.  I don’t presume my success is my own doing.  I was at the right place, at the right time.  The company was growing rapidly and promotion opportunities were abundant. I quickly progressed through the ranks and in 1996, I was asked to spearhead a project to consolidate 8 European Call Centres into Dublin.  At the time, deregulation among European Telco giants was in its infancy, so this was one of the first European consolidations.

January 1997, I moved to Lufthansa.  In my role as VP for Global Operations I headed up a two year long project which involved the consolidation of more than 200 offices into 7 large call centres around the globe, including Melbourne, Dublin and Cape Town.  I recall when I suggested Cape Town, South Africa, management perception was I wanted to go on holiday. During my first visit I met with a department of the South African government, who thought a contact centre was an Escort Agency.  This meeting was followed by a visit to Telkom, who gave me their phone book to look up the rates.  The only support I received during this time was from individuals within South African embassies situated in Germany, Switzerland and the UK.  (This was long before South Africa had organisations like BPeSA and the Investment Bureau who played a leading role in changing the process for investors.)

I knew it would be low cost and there was an abundant German population in Cape Town, the quality of life offered in South Africa would also ensure top quality staff so I didn’t give up on the idea.  Anyone that knows me will concur, I don’t give up easily, if you put a wall in front of me I’m realistic enough not to try to breakdown the wall, but if there is a way, I will find a way around it or over it.  Even though everyone thought I was a mad man Cape Town was part of the final selection.

1999, I joined Swissair, where I founded Mindpearl (formerly known as the Qualiflyer Customer Care Centres), which provided amalgamated call centre services for a group of 11 airlines.  Between 1999 and 2001 I was commissioned to consolidate 400 offices for the Qualiflyer Group into 8 call centres located in London, Istanbul, New York, Milan, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Sweden, Brisbane and Cape Town.  The second time round, Cape Town was a much easier sell.

A decade later South Africa is a leading Offshoring Destination, having received global recognition as NOA and EOA Offshoring Destination of the Year 2012 and  2013, respectively, which just goes to show, persistence and a little ‘crazy’ is needed to drive change.

May 2005, saw the management team and myself successfully completed a Management Buy Out from the then owners; Swiss International Air Lines.  This MBO resulted in Mindpearl diversifying across multiple verticals.

2009, after a lengthy due diligence period I opened the first international outsourcing call centre in Suva, Fiji Islands.  Today, Mindpearl Suva houses 14 international clients. This was another ‘crazy’ initiative, and till today I get asked ‘Why Fiji?’   Did I know, going in, that Fiji would be such a success?  Well, I would say yes.  It was a calculated risk.  Fiji has all the key benchmarks, except, it was a relative unknown.  The people have a natural approach towards customer service, which translates exceptionally well to the contact centre environment.  After so many years in the BPO space, I knew this quality cannot be taught and would differentiate Fiji from other low cost offshoring locations.

When Fiji won the EOA Offshoring Destination of the Year award in 2014 following in the footsteps of previous winners South Africa and Morocco, it only proved what I already knew.  Fiji is a hidden gem, which I was fortunate enough to identify and act on 8 years ago.

So does it end here?  It will never end for me.  Three years ago I started the initial ground work for a fifth Mindpearl centre.  I never go in without the necessary due diligence, so three years ago I was still in the initial planning stage with an aim to open in the next three years.  I am proud to say that the fifth Mindpearl centre opened it’s doors in August 2016 and is strategically located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

During my lifetime I have come to realise a few undeniable truths.  Philosophies you could say.

  1.  Throughout my career I was fortunate enough to work for great leaders, who saw the potential in me, gave me the guidance I needed and the autonomy to achieve success.  I will always be grateful for that and practice this with my own employees
  2.  Being a shareholder and sharing the ownership of the company with my team is very important to me.  Shareholder equates to one clear philosophy to me, which I believe has ensured the success of this company.  ‘Share the pain and share the gain’. When things don’t go well, we are all invested in finding a solution and on the good days we all share the success.  I have always practiced this philosophy within Mindpearl. I am proud to say that  as of 2016 Mindpearl is fully owned by management
  3. Mindpearl does not run on one brain alone.  We have over 1700 brains within Mindpearl, without which this company would not be where it is today

You have been recognised by the industry for your both contribution and professionalism in outsourcing through industry awards, what does it take to be a successful outsourcing professional?

Reinventing/improvement, people and flexibility are three key components to my success as an outsourcing professional and the success of my company.

Reinventing/improvement

As a CEO and outsourcing professional I am constantly evaluating improvements in technology, process and contact centre locations themselves.  The nature of the environment and industry in which we operate is by default, extremely competitive.  As an outsourcing professional I must always look to improve. It is essential for me to constantly push myself and find better ways of doing things.  My strategy is based on continued investment in people and technology in order to deliver on best practice and innovation in the outsourcing industry.  Added to this is leveraging new locations to deliver value to our existing clients and add value to the outsourcing industry. This ensures I am always developing and aligning my business with best practice in the BPO and customer service space.  It also ensures I don’t become complacent, pushing the boundaries forms part of my own development, as well as the success of my company.

The people

In my 30+ years in the contact centre industry, I have experienced every area of the contact centre first hand.  When I became CEO of Mindpearl, I made a conscious decision to put people above all things, and it paid off commercially as well.  I have always felt and continue to believe, if you find the right people and treat them like you would have liked to be treated if you were a call centre agent today, customer satisfaction will take care of itself, irrespective of your contact centre location.

When I look back at the changes within my own company over the last 18 years, one day in particular comes to mind and that was 11th of September 2001 when the Twin towers in New York were destroyed by terrorists. All our phone lines for our New York operation went through these buildings.   Istanbul, Barcelona , Cape Town and Brisbane immediately moved into 24 hour operation with a lot of employees working excessive hours.   The call volumes were the highest I had ever seen. Every Mindpearl employee did their bit and this habit has not changed over our history and continues to be tested time and time again. The majority of our airline clients’ competitors had busy signals on their lines or their customers had to hold for an excess of 2 hours.  We managed a respectable service level throughout the event for our airline clients.  This was an impossible feat, made possible by incredible staff.  This day, and every challenge since has taught me to surround myself with great people.  Invest in retaining key skills, hire the most qualified employees, upskill and empowering them – retain them!   With the right skills in place the possibilities are limitless.

Flexibility

A lot of companies look at outsourcing for this reason alone.  Be ready for any request!  One of my favourite remarks made about Mindpearl by a customer is and always will be, ‘They can ‘spin on a dime’.  I wish our own folk would do the same.’  When you hear your customer say this about you or your company, you know you’ve done something right!

What is your top tip for anyone outsourcing for the first time?

In my opinion there are three essentials for anyone to consider before outsourcing for the first time – performance, partnership and people.

Performance

Since outsourcing first became popular, locations such as the Philippines and India have dominated the market with possibilities of low rates and reduced operational costs. This focus on cost alone can come at a price, many businesses have had their contracts withdrawn as a result of a series of qualitative problems. This has provided the space for companies like Mindpearl and high quality locations such as Fiji and South Africa to move forward in the market.  Outsourcing is a great way to significantly cut your overhead, but do your research.  Price cannot be the only deciding factor.

Partnership

Remember you are looking for a partner, not a supplier. When you outsource, you trust your most valuable asset to a third party – your customers, your brand and your revenue.  Partnership ensures the end result to the customer experience is an authentic and seamless contact with your brand!

People

Don’t forget about the people.  How are they trained? How do they interact with your customers?  Are they able to protect and live your brand?  How are they treated? After all, your outsourcer’s people will be the first point of contact with your customer. Happy employees, equal happy customers!

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