His managing director describes him as “the godfather of Australian outsourcing in many respects when it comes to contact centers,” and perhaps rightly so.
Although Jonathan Smith, along with his partners, opened up Shore Solutions only in 2010, he has been helping set up BPO centers since 2002. “Back in those days there were less than 10-thousand people working in the industry,” Smith said as he started his career in the Philippines working for a large BPO company. But, even then, he already saw the country’s vast potential as a global call center and BPO hub. “I’ve decided at some point, it was quite obvious that the Philippines was the right place to be for call centers and BPO activities, and I knew I was going to stay and eventually start my own thing.”
Initially, Smith said, he, along with some partners, started off the company as a consultancy firm just to help companies that may have the need to outsource part of their business. “We started with just a couple of people in the company and we would basically have a look at a client’s organization, find some roles that could be shifted, design a plan for them, help them execute it, and eventually transition them here,” he explained. However, after doing that for a few years, Smith said he realized it was time to go back to the actual operational side of things.
So, in 2009 he and his partners started planning to open up their own contact center, which became operational the following year. “We started really small, with a hundred-seat facility and had planned then on growing a small boutique operation.” But by that time, BPO had already ballooned into a huge industry, which meant a lot more big industry players and ultimately, stiffer competition. That is why, he said, they couldn’t really do what everyone else was doing, which meant that they had to be more innovative in their approach. “We noticed that a lot of the much larger players were very much offering a ‘cookie-cutter approach’, from a lack of a much better way to put it, and we decided to approach it from another direction.”
This strategy led them to become a contact center that offered customized solutions. Smith explained that this means they offered far more purpose-designed solutions, or more bespoke solutions. He said, “Rather than making our clients fit into our business, we designed something specific around what they actually needed, as opposed to what we felt we could do for them right now.” Their strategy worked, and from 100 seats, Shore Solutions has now grown to about 2000 seats.
While they may have been successful, Smith envisions pushing their company’s growth even higher. “Its all about staying ahead of the game,” he said. They realize now that they’re going to have to offer more than traditional outsourcing, which was something they never even considered in the first place. The realization, he said, was “not everybody was entirely comfortable in handing all of their business to you.”
In analyzing their industry, Smith said, “The gap in the market was largely in the fact that if you had a few hundred seats of business, you could go to one of the bigger players and they give you all the attention in the world. If your [business] weren’t comfortable enough to do that, you wanted to take a little bit easy in moving your business offshore, you get stuck in a tier 2 or tier 3 operation on the outskirts of wherever, with not so great facilities, not great people, and technology, and it reflects on the performance and quality of work.” This was what Shore Solutions initially sought to address.
Today, Shore Solutions has three basic models of the call center/BPO side: first, the comprehensive outsourcing model, which is the traditional version; second is the co-sourcing, which is a fairly flexible engagement where the client can either own the staff or just manage the staff and utilize a suite of services Shore Solutions provides on the back-end in HR, recruitment support, quality and performance management systems and processes; and the third model, which is purely facilities management, for businesses that just want to drop their people in, employed entirely by them, and don’t want the responsibility of having a long term commitment to the facility upkeep. The best part for their customers, Smith said, is that their clients can move from one model to another as they see fit.
These days, Smith said that the challenge in the industry is to remove perceptions of the global community wherein, for the non-voice segment, the Philippines is still not the destination of choice. “The perception out there is if you want something really technical, you go to India or maybe Malaysia.” This perception is wrong, he said, because he believes there is actually a very strong skill set in the Philippines for knowledge process outsourcing (KPO). What he would personally like to see in the Philippines, he said, is more focus on the technical side, training for which should start at the college level.
As neighboring countries open up and aim to get a slice of the billion-dollar BPO industry’s pie, Smith knows only too well he needs to keep evolving to stay ahead of the game. He also knows that his people look up to him for direction, and wants to lead by example. For him, this means taking care of his people while making sure he is personally fit as well. Health-wise, he said, he goes to the gym three to four times a week, even as he manages to squeeze in a round of golf whenever he can. He joked that his life now is a far cry from his much younger days, when he used to be a singer and bass guitarist in a heavy rock band. He, however, still listens to some of his favorite ’90s band like Pearl Jam and watches rugby every weekend on cable TV. For him, it’s about maintaining a healthy work-life balance and finding a way to fit in your work and your passions in a seamless fashion. After all, much like his business model in Shore Solutions, one size does not fit all and finding the right fit is all up to you.