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.”
The trend continued, with an economic effect on pricing in the industry. “What we can charge is much less because of overseas competition,” Max Leuchter said, adding there’s also a higher value-added on customer service.
Global Response client Diana Golden, customer service manager at New York City retailer LittleMissMatched, prefers the U.S. location to overseas locales.
“It’s important for us to have a location we can get to easily,” she said. “I can get down there easily and the cost isn’t astronomical.”
Despite industry changes, some things have remained the same at Global Response: It has continued as a family-owned private company. The octogenarian Shooster’s four children are now in control as owners and co-CEOs. Wendy is also chief marketing officer; her brother Frank is chief legal officer; Stephen, chief technology officer; and Michael, chief financial officer.
Their spouses all hold positions and Global Response’s more distant future is in the hands of Herman’s 15 grandchildren.
“The good part about the company is family. The bad part is the family,” Herman Shooster says, laughing. He learned that proactive discussion of issues that affect the business and family – which live within a mile of each other – was critical to smooth operations.
“Everyone has their own space,” Shooster said. Wendy adds, “We’ve been doing it for 25-30 years.”
It’s been longer for Herman Shooster, who was born into an entrepreneurial family. His father owned the landmark Shooster’s restaurant in Chester, Pa. His brother Harry started Festival Flea Market Mall in Pompano Beach. Herman Shooster actually purchased Ding-a-Ling after he built and took public Cherry Hill Foods.
Global Response’s Margate headquarters has a family feel to it, starting in the lobby with a greeting on a video screen and the welcoming smile of 17-year employee, receptionist Renata Salandy. Global Response celebrates its customers there, even holding festivities including a wedding for David’s Bridal.
“They choreographed a song and dance for us,” said Golden of LittleMissMatched. “They never forget a birthday.”
Golden previously worked for 15 years in call centers and said the difference in the atmosphere at Global Response is “night and day” compared to many.
“It’s such a warm, warm company — and they get the job done,” said Golden.
The center, with walls full of family and employee photos is segmented by client signs hanging from the ceiling and products on nearby shelves. A doll in a wedding dress sits on the ledge near agents who talk over headsets to David’s Bridal customers. Merchandise including apparel and globes clutter the National Geographic section. Crate & Barrel’s corner features colorful house wares.
Customer service agents man their stations night and day. “The building operates 24/7 and hasn’t been empty for 30 years,” including staying open through hurricanes, said Majeski.
Agents work closely with client representatives to become familiar with products. In Michigan, where Global Response has two call centers, agents toured the state’s parks when the company won that business.
LittleMissMatched’s Golden travels to the call center at least twice a year to train agents on its ‘tween apparel brand, particularly before the busy holiday season, in order for Global Response to better represent the retailer’s product.
The trick for Global Response is beyond meeting the needs of its customers, said Max Leuchter. “We become our customers.”