Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is an important industry across the world. The BPO industry assists in delivering reliable, significant, and constant support to crucial business processes. It has widely adapted to the needs of various industries to support them in streamlining their operations. Industries such as banking, manufacturing, healthcare, financial services, insurance, IT, etc., take active help from the BPO industry to improve productivity as well as cut costs.
One such organization is SupportU, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. It has built itself into a trustworthy and result-driven BPO organization. It offers specialized services in contact center operations, technical support, customer care, sales, and back-office support. The company provides its services across all the available channels, including inbound and outbound voice, SMS, chat, and email.
SupportU is a woman, minority-owned business process outsourcing organization formed on some fundamental principles. It does not believe in the business of labor arbitrage and wants to create an organization that betters the lives of others.
SupportU was founded by Hui Wu-Curtis (Co-founder and COO) and Ron Petrie (Co-founder and CEO). With broad professional experience in the BPO industry, both formed the company with several intentions in mind. “My business partner and I have always worked in the outsourcing industry in various capacities, and we have learned that—with this model, like anything else—it is time for change and disruption,” Hui says.
The co-founders built the organization from the ground up with some simple principles:
1) Make the investment upfront with the savviest technology solution that will continue to evolve as BPO business and markets evolve.
2) All technology considerations start with the organization’s employees in mind and how those resources will help them do their jobs better, faster, and more efficiently.
3) How the organization integrates the available technology stack into a world of possibilities for its clients so that it may evolve its businesses forward.
When asked about how the company differentiates its services from its competitors, Hui says, “It simply comes down to the fact that we take the time to understand our clients’ businesses, go in with a consultative mindset, and deliver outstanding performance, data, and analysis that is value-added and actionable for our clients.”
Fundamentals of SupportU
The company purposefully focuses on providing employment opportunities for people of the underserved communities (single-parents, LGBTQ, the formerly incarcerated, minorities, women, military spouses, and college students). It believes in creating a safe environment for people to be themselves, celebrate diversity, and see differences as a value.
The BPO company supports and educates its entire staff to be successful. It provides its people with promotional and career opportunities so that they may change their economic conditions given their desire to succeed. Starting at the company’s core with its people translates to providing its clients with exceptional service and support from people who want to be seen as winners — not people seen as different or less skilled.
“We have created a track record of establishing business relationships that emulate our values of transparency, accountability, genuineness, and determination,” Hui quotes on the founding fundamentals of SupportU. The founders have established themselves as experts in the industry with proven results across many verticals and a strong desire to push the boundaries of progress for the BPO industry.
The Initiator – Hui Wu-Curtis, COO/Co-Founder
Hui immigrated to the U.S. when she was five, with her parents and younger sister. They were the first wave of their family to escape the Vietnam War. Her father had only $200 in his pocket. He was also the only one who spoke any English in the family.
Having dealt with so much adversity already, her father still fought hard for the family’s survival because he truly believed that the U.S. was a country of opportunity for everyone.
While in college at San Diego State, Hui worked a part-time job in a call center, taking calls and relaying messages to people’s alpha-numeric pagers. “I lasted about six months because it was horrible. I never met my supervisor. There were so many people everywhere, and it seemed unorganized. This was not a place for me,” Hui describes her first job experience.
Several years later, she had an opportunity to go back into a call center, but in a supervisor capacity, so she took the chance. She thought it would be challenging to learn more about this unique environment and figure out how one could effectively manage people who were always tied to the phones.
Subsequently, she spent the next 25+ years working in various call centers in nearly all major industries, each time learning as much as she could and absorbing all the information. This provided her with the knowledge and hands-on opportunity to learn about all aspects of the business, understand existing and newer technology solutions, and discover how to execute for results.
Over time, she learned that the multi-discipline approach in call center management has many parts that are all interdependent. She also learned to successfully juggle all the moving parts of a call center to make it successful. “I’ve been asked to create new call centers, fix the call center, or take the call center to the next level, all of which I’ve done very successfully over the years,” Hui shares.
She observed throughout each company that minorities, both male and female, needed to work much harder to get noticed, often never being given the opportunity to grow and advance because they didn’t look, sound, or dress the part. The other reality was that, in the industries in which she worked, very rarely were there any minority leaders or executives that understood and knew the challenges these groups face.
Working on the brand and BPO side, she has developed the unique perspective of both.
” As a client, I’ve experienced the pain points of working with BPOs of all sizes and geographical locations. Now, as I am on the BPO side, I know what clients are looking for, and can work with my operational team to ensure we never cause those same pain points for our clients,” Hui tells us.
With her years of work in other organizations, she understood how to find degrees of difference between a company’s focus and how it should function. So, she decided to leave the position of CEO in her last company and start her BPO with her business partner, Ron Petrie — himself a former CEO at a smaller BPO and a business-development executive, leading sizable sales teams for years.
After seeing all the politics, greed, and mismanagement, the co-founders decided to build their BPO that focused on bringing together the best leadership talent, coupled with the best technology, to create a safe, collaborative, and innovative environment for marginalized people. “We embrace and value diversity and will provide career opportunities to them as we continue to grow,” Hui tells.
Today, 65% of workers in a call center cannot afford (or are not offered) health insurance. Hui says, “This is not okay with us. We feel that it is important for all our team members to have health insurance, which is why SupportU runs as efficiently as possible, so we can reinvest those funds into providing health insurance and other benefits for our people.”
The founders strongly believe in a culture where people see and feel that they are important to the company. SupportU is committed to putting its employees and clients first. By doing so, it continues to drive loyalty and performance.
Modern Technologies in the BPO Industry
Both the founders have spent time at companies where the technology was all over the board. Some bought technology without knowing how or where to use it. Some didn’t buy any technology because “things have run just fine for all these years.” Some simply feared early adoption.
“First, technology is NOT the solution to everything. It is not going to fix all your company’s problems magically. What technology CAN do is provide a very effective tool(s) to run your business, IF given the right outlook of how it interplays with people and processes,” Hui explains.
“We have been fortunate enough to invest upfront in the best technology. The best doesn’t mean the most expensive. We were very deliberate in how we built our technology stack of solutions. We looked for solution providers that had an innovative solution, who were flexible, agile, and entrepreneurial in spirit,” she adds.
SupportU wants to push the boundaries of success in operations and service delivery in partnership with these various solution providers. The organization’s approach to considering its technology solutions always had its people in mind.
Does it make employees’ jobs easier? Does it provide visibility to its leadership in an easily digestible way for them to manage and make business decisions? Does the technology solution help the company identify where it needs to help people? Does the technology help company to identify issues of which its clients need to be aware?
Some of the toughest jobs in any call center are at the frontline agent and supervisor levels. SupportU has built its technology stack with some of the most innovative and fluid solutions in the market to
1) Support its employees, so they gain proficiency sooner and outperform others
2) Provide leadership with the tools to manage their operation and people effectively
3) Identify issues and trends for its clients’ businesses, and
4) Allow for the company to run efficiently so that it can reinvest savings back into its people via healthcare and other benefits
There are many BPOs that do great work with their technology solutions, but as a client, Hui found it hard to visualize how those solutions would benefit her business. SupportU provides that consultative approach, understanding the clients’ business models and proposing opportunities for technology solutions that will help grow and advance their companies. SupportU takes the guesswork out of the equation and provides opportunities for their clients.
There are many technology solutions out there, and the founders understand the need to keep up with them from a market awareness aspect, but many companies are not willing to make a big investment just yet. The company has done several pilots for clients so that they can experience the functionality of a particular technology and how it impacts customer experience without a huge capital investment upfront. It is a smarter way of leveraging outsourcing partnerships in addition to labor support.
Fighting the Pandemic
“Rather than looking backward, I’m focusing on the future. COVID-19 continues to permeate many countries, and there seems to be no end in sight. As a business, we must be savvy enough to understand how and what we need to do to pivot during this new normal,” Hui says.
“We also must listen to what the aftermath is telling us. While we can continue to uphold the safety protocols of distancing people at work or utilizing work-from-home, there is also the significant theme of “The Great Resignation.” For the first time, a massive portion of our workforce is telling us that they are tired and fed-up with employers treating them poorly at work; tired of low wages, poor working conditions, terrible bosses, long commutes, etc.,” she adds.
SupportU is aiming to be that disruptor in the BPO space because, although it is a smaller player, its executives come from much larger corporations who understand what it means to be competitive, to differentiate, and to value talent. The company is making investments in its people and technology while remaining agile. Our ability to be incredibly adaptive and flexible is key to our success.
Words of Guidance
Some entrepreneurs, who know very little about BPOs, become successful out of blind luck. Others truly learn and work hard to be successful. For anyone who wants to get into this space, learn as much as you can about the operations and what clients are looking for. Then ask yourself why you want to get into this business. It is a relationship-based business, and building your network and reputation matters. It also takes funding to get your operations started.
“Starting a BPO is not unlike starting other businesses, but you must determine if this is something you want to do or is it something you love doing. If you love doing it, then all the hard work will pay off,” Hui advises.
“We created SupportU because we love this and wanted the ability to run a company the right way, and we believe strongly in giving back to our people and our community in the underserved areas. We are mission- and value-driven, and believe that by doing the right thing, everything else will follow,” she adds.
Objectives for 2022 and Beyond
In the BPO business, it is about planning, building your pipeline of opportunities, and networking. Nothing happens overnight. “We are well prepared in our planning process to be a few steps ahead as we continue to grow. Our technologies and processes are automated, and for small companies, this just doesn’t happen at the early stages,” Hui notes.
“We are big-company minded with big-company resources for our future and well-positioned for growth. Ron and I are always watching the various markets, shifts, and new entrants so that we understand the changing conditions in the marketplace,” she adds.
The company is watching, learning, and gauging activities in and around the industry so that it can be proactive and ready versus reactive. “Given the right client interest, we are also flexible to operate in other geographical locations, but for now, we are focusing our delivery onshore in the U.S.,” says Hui.
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