TORONTO – The call centre business may have a low bar of entry, but that ease of participation also has a negative impact on its profit margins – and makes expansion all the more difficult.
Yet since implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software Workday across the company three years ago, Newmarket, Ont.-based Bill Gosling Outsourcing, which provides call centre services to Fortune 500 clients in Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Philippines, estimates that it’s seen a 32 per cent return on its investment.
More importantly, CFO Joe Fanutti tells ITBusiness.ca, the company has grown from 1200 to 2000 employees while its HR team has remained the same size – and its finance team has shrunk.
“If we had our old ERP system, we couldn’t have done that,” Fanutti says with conviction. “Not easily and not without adding new HR and finance people, as well as significant deployment costs.”
Since 2013, Bill Gosling has used Workday for both its end-to-end HR – hiring, goal-setting, management, termination, all of which are now automated and paper-free – and financial processes, billing, financial reporting, and consolidation.
“You name it, it controls it,” Fanutti says. “Our office in Newmarket is 80,000 square feet, and we have six file cabinets in the whole place, compared to something like 50 or 60 before we started.”
Staff also receive notifications through the platform, such as whether the office is closed in an emergency – or has decided to participate in a civic celebration such as Toronto’s recent Blue and White Day on April 13.
(Fanucci cannot say whether the latter was a hit at the office, since he spent April 13 in Toronto for Workday Inc.’s Elevate Toronto event.)
A competitive business
The challenge at Bill Gosling that Workday helped solve began with its industry.
“The call centre industry is a highly competitive, people-based business,” Fanutti says. “It kind of has to be – the core of your business model is pretty simple. You charge a rate per hour, you pay your people a rate per hour, and the delta between the two is how you make your money. So it’s an easy business to get into, but very difficult to stay in.”
To make sure its profits continued travelling upstream, Bill Gosling began examining its options from two key perspectives, Fanutti says: How it could grow, and how it could be run more efficiently – in particular, with less turnover – along the way.
“In our sector, turnover is typically anywhere from 50 to 100 per cent,” he explains. “Unlike other businesses, where you can have intellectual property or a client or something else generating your revenue stream, in our business all we have is people – so how they perform on the phones, the amount of time they spend on them, and how quickly they turn over drives your profitability.”
Consequently, Bill Gosling’s key consideration was finding ERP software that could help the company measure its people, Fanutti says.
In the company’s case, a typical operations call centre manager supervises a team of between 10 and 150 people, he says. It’s the manager’s job to ensure they’re keeping clients happy by having the right attendant in the right place at the right time, and by making sure that calls are handled in a manner that is efficient – and therefore profitable – without negatively affecting either the employee or customer experience.
It can be a difficult balancing act, Fanutti admits: “The only thing you can really control as an operations manager is your labour costs,” he says. “Making sure the call quality is there and making sure that you’re managing the number of people cycling through your department. Training costs in our sector are pretty onerous, given the amount of turnover that we go through.”
Workday, however, proved to have an ideal solution, Fanutti says: Its human capital management (HCM) software could measure such factors as employee performance, demographic information and, most impressively to Bill Gosling’s HR department, their associated costs.
The company was able to use employee metrics to build dashboards for its team managers, comparing a department’s staff to its current profits, and correlating the highest-performing staff members with their share. Fanutti says the company even began noticing how factors such as performance reviews, education, or distance from the company’s Newmarket office (typically a 40-minute drive from Toronto) affected turnover rates.
“Suddenly we were able to look at those people metrics all in one fell swoop,” Fanutti says. “Bringing them all together gave us a really good snapshot of how our models were operating at a line manager level, and it’s the line managers who make the decisions that determine our profit and loss.”
Finances, scaling up, and other benefits
Though Bill Gosling wasn’t looking for updated financial resource planning software when it implemented Workday, the company’s combined solution proved irresistible, and so the call centre’s executives signed up for both.
“When we started looking at it, we were like, ‘holy smokes – you can actually combine both sectors,'” Fanutti says.
Before Workday, the most significant financial challenge Bill Gosling faced was margin volatility, Fanutti says: employees cycling in and out would affect labour costs in a way the company couldn’t analyze until its payroll department had generated analytics reports between four and six weeks after the fact.
“Now that we’ve got the payroll analytics reporting embedded with the financials, we can see what’s happening with our people,” Fanutti says. “So we have a really good idea of what’s happening with our operation, and can course correct in a month.”
The company has even changed some of its recruiting strategies, Fanutti says, going from mass-market to targeted recruiting in certain jurisdictions.
As for scaling up, the new platform has helped at least one acquisition and one expansion proceed without a hitch: In February 2015, Fanutti says, Bill Gosling acquired a 400-person call centre firm in London, Ontario, without any thought given to the integration until they closed the deal.
“That was my mistake,” he admits. “Yet we had them live on financials by May 1, live on HR by June, and we had them live on payroll by September. Pretty quick integration of a company that size given how big we are. In our old ERP world, it probably would have taken a year.”
The company also expanded to the Philippines in late 2013, and using Workday, he says, made up setting up a new subsidiary and establishing new processes relatively easy.
“The Philippines executes their businesses a little bit differently versus how we do it in North America – so we had to tailor how we do our hirings and terminations and so forth… but it was not a difficult process,” he says. “Instead of relying on our IT guys to do the hardcore lifting, the beauty of Workday is it’s user-friendly enough that we became relatively self-sufficient.”