Herman Shooster’s closest advisors waved him away from purchasing the South Florida answering service Ding-a-Ling, which had a dozen employees plugging into calls on a manual switchboard and hand-writing messages.
He bought it anyway, for $150,000.
Nearly 40 years and more than $30 million in annual revenue later, Shooster and his family sit atop its descendant, Global Response, a Margate call center with 1,500 employees and clients the likes of National Geographic, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Crate & Barrel, J.M. Family, Think Geek, David’s Bridal, Charming Shops and Lord & Taylor.
The entrepreneur could not have envisioned the rapid evolution of telecommunications and technology or the globalization that would usher his local phone service to its current incarnation as a multi-channel customer service center. He could never have foreseen that the company would span technologies from switchboard to Facebook.
It all happened by putting “one foot in front of the other,” Shooster said.
The challenges have ranged from making the leap to computers to battling low-cost competitors worldwide. Global Response now works online in e-commerce and chats as well as in phone-based answering service, ordering and customer service, thanks to constantly emerging technologies. The latest step for the customer care provider: Social Media.
Global Response joins 22 percent of call centers throughout the country that plan to add social media channels to customer care strategy this year, and 17 percent who are already using social media, according to a National Association of Call Centers survey.
The association identified “customer collaboration” as the No. 2 trend this year. “This refers to serving customers in the manner they prefer to be served and creating customer relationships through proactive customer contact,” wrote the association’s Paul Stockford. “The most effective way to meet these objectives will likely be through social media channels.”
Facebook, Twitter and others are added communications channels, like chat or email, that present customer service opportunities, said Steve Majeski, Global Response marketing director. “We need to be there to support our brand clients.”
Social media is reputation management, said Herman Shooster. “We need to know what the customers are talking about. We need to monitor it, to protect the brand.”
As Global Response adopts new media, the effect on the bottom line remains to be seen: “It’s so new and fluid the economies aren’t clear,” said Vice President of Operations Max Leuchter, husband of Wendy Shooster-Leuchter, Herman’s daughter and Global Response co-CEO.
Only a decade ago, Global Response was investigating jumping into another worldwide trend: U.S. businesses outsourcing to call centers abroad.
“When outsourcing began to move overseas we thought we would have to be there — we even had identified a potential partner in India,” said Herman Shooster.
One of Herman’s sons and the chief technology officer at the time went to Ghana, India, Thailand and the Philippines to explore the options to open foreign centers.
“We came to the conclusion that we didn’t need to be out of the country — we didn’t feel that pressure to be overseas. So if we didn’t need to be there, we didn’t want to be there. There was no demand from our customers, so we chose not to,” Shooster said. “Our clients were more specialized, more focused and better served here in the United States.”