The 20th annual Customer Experience (CX) Summit organized by BPro, Colombia’s BPO industry trade association took place in Cartagena this year, and was bigger and better attended than ever. Held at the Hotel Hilton Cartagena Resort, the event brought industry heavyweights from throughout The Americas, and from across the Atlantic and Pacific Ocieans.
Long-time CX Industry luminary Shelli Ryan was on hand, and was kind enough to spend a few minutes with Executive Editor Loren Moss of Finance Colombia and Cognitive Business News to talk about the specific challenges the BPO & CX sector faces when marketing up and down the hemisphere, along with some exciting new things she is doing in the field of blockchain as applied to customer experience.
Cognitive Business News: I’m here with Shelli Ryan. Shelli is a colleague and a friend. It’s great to see you here in sunny Cartagena. We’re on the second day of the CX Summit, which is the largest–. I think it’s the largest customer experience and BPO industry event in Latin America, certainly in Colombia. So, first, it’s great to see you down here.
Shelli Ryan: It’s been a while. I think the last time we were in Windsor.
Cognitive Business News: Right, at Peter Ryan’s thing, exactly. So tell me, this is, I think, the first time I’ve seen you at the CX Summit. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to come and your first impressions of the summit.
Shelli Ryan: It is a fantastic organization (BPro); I have to say first of all. I was shocked at how many people were here, I mean over 700 people, and the best thing about it is that it wasn’t like old people, like you and me, they were young people, and that’s really what we need in the BPO industry as we look at omnichannel, we’re looking at the Metaverse and that really interested me because all the sessions we’re talking about, those things and more and that’s really what’s driving business today.
Cognitive Business News: It’s interesting because you saw some of the speakers, and even talking to some of the exhibitors, they’re doing these innovative things. They’re talking about how blockchain is being applied in the contact center, and that’s something I honestly never thought of. How these different technologies—distributed finance—and then how do you apply customer experience to these new modalities of not just commerce but of investment. People are now using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as stores of value, and because they’re not traditional banks, people still need some type of customer service, but it’s not traditional because it’s distributed and that creates a whole new layer of challenges, right?
Shelli Ryan: Yes, and actually blockchain is the next technology for call centers. It is one that’s going to help secure. Omnichannel, secure the transactions and the workforce management. All that and above, I think it’s really going to be something we have to take a look at.
Cognitive Business News: One of the things I wanted to ask you is…Let’s talk about your company because I know you have a considerable organization. You have some very interesting specialties that are relevant not just to BPO but really to the professional services industry. Give me an idea of what Ad Hoc Communications does.
Shelli Ryan: We do a little bit of everything, quite frankly. I have to say If you think about it, we are the ones that are marketing departments in a box for B2B, B2C and business services outsourcers, call centers in particular. If we’re in talking about call centers, and really what we do is we help them build demand by communicating, build demand by helping them with a sales channel, build demand by helping them scale in different geographies; so the reason why we’re particularly interested in Latin America is that they are looking for sales scalability in North America and we’re the ones that they usually call to help build their presence in North America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and APAC, and those are the places where we have our team members. And Ad Hoc’s been in business for now 26 years, and prior to that, I was in financial services and online banking, ATM, EFT, ACH, all of that great vernacular if you will, and so all of those talents are put to use in helping financial services, telecommunications, travel, all those verticals that…Call centers, in particular, the ones that you and I work with, want to scale with, and so Ad Hoc is one.
“I think the call center industry looks at blockchain as the next thing they’re going to put on their RFP list. Are you ISO certified? Are you PCI certified? Are you blockchain certified?”- Shelli Ryan
The reason why I named the company Ad Hoc, as the founder and the owner, is because we’re “on demand.” They can turn us on, turn us off, and that’s very attractive to the LatAm marketplace, but also very attractive to the outsourcing community in general because they tend to offshore some of their marketing executives and their resources, and sometimes you just need a little more horsepower, and we bring that.
Cognitive Business News: You said something really interesting. Working a lot in Latin America and the Caribbean, I see where companies that are based down here often falter or struggle as they try to enter the US market, because even though there is a strong cultural affinity, there are nuances that cause them to struggle. The marketing, the flavor of marketing, if you will, is a little bit different. It’s fascinating because you’ll see the big global companies get it and they understand that and they…Just like McDonald’s tailors their menu a little bit for different markets, we have to tailor not just our marketing but our approach, even our sales approach, if we’re going to go and approach somebody and say, “Let’s go to lunch and let’s go do some business”, that’s very different, not just say from Colombia to the US, but from Mexico to Colombia, avery different business culture.
Shelli Ryan: Yeah. Here’s where I see they fall and this is often very predictable. One is they enter the market and they hire a bunch of salespeople, they’re unsupported, and then they say, “Well, we’ll hire an inside sales or a cold calling team”, but they have no marketing and no one knows who they are, and so I always counsel them to do the marketing first because then you would have the leads in the demand gen and then bring the salespeople. Then they also hire brokers, and you and I and Peter Ryan have talked about this, ad nauseum, is that it doesn’t work, frankly. You need to have an integrated marketing plan where there’s some content, there’s some thought leadership, there might be some events, there might be, you know, demand gen, a whole integrated campaign. And then, lastly, a lot of times they don’t put the budget behind it and that’s really key, so it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but you do have to put an investment into your marketing so that your sales guys are properly supported.
Cognitive Business News: And understand how marketing works too. Some people think that marketing works like, “OK, I put an ad in the paper for one week and nobody called me yet, it must have failed. Maybe it failed, you know? I put one ad on the radio.”
Shelli Ryan: Exactly. Right. And ads are interesting too because a lot of the newer marketers are putting a lot of money into digital: Google ads, Facebook ads, and waiting for the phone to ring. It’s not going to, right? Especially in our industry, it’s a relationship type industry. It’s who you know. Your reputation and then also what’s your value, what’s your value proposition, and that last one’s pretty keen, as you know as a thought leader yourself, you have to have the messaging straightened out before you go sell yourself, and that’s another thing that we do a lot of with companies around the world, is we help them with their messaging, what is it that makes them so different, what is that makes them unique, what’s the differentiator, and then what’s their value prop, and that’s key.
Cognitive Business News: Right. I think one of the things that companies have to understand is that marketing prepares the prospect, OK? So that when the sales process begins, it’s not the sales process, there is a prospect that is prepared and that is familiar and that is open to receiving your story, and to understanding, and to listening to what you have to offer, OK? But if you call me up and say, “Who are you?” Then if I’m the salesperson and I have to do the job of marketing and at least you’ve never even heard of me, then I’m going to have more of a struggle, and so marketing really is to pave the way, and that’s where, like you said, a lot of companies down here either try to do it on the cheap.
You know, you and I have both had people call us up and say, “Look, why don’t you give us some leads?”, and I’ll say: “So in other words, let me rephrase that—you want me to give you free marketing qualified leads and not pay for them and only get paid if you happen to do something down the road.”
Shelli Ryan: But look, here’s the other thing that’s probably pretty key. It’s that a lot of the companies who want to scale in the States, they don’t know who their buyers are, you know? So what they do is they say, “Oh, just market to anybody.” But are they the ones you want to and will they buy from you? And so personas are very important.
Cognitive Business News: The Buyer persona.
Shelli Ryan: Exactly. And so I think that would be another tip, if we were talking about tips, right? You know, the messaging, the personas, the integrated plan, but also having that face-to-face connection with your buyers, because it’s pretty key, especially in this industry.
“As you look at all the call centers now, some of them pretty much look the same, and people, technology and process is what they always say. But if you have blockchain, that’s a game changer.”- Shelli Ryan
Cognitive Business News: Absolutely. Now help me understand just concisely. Companies should contact Ad Hoc Communications when…What does that company look like and what is that situation that they’re facing? What’s the ideal time that we need to reach to Shelli and Ad Hoc?
Shelli Ryan: Pick up the red phone right when you want to scale, when you want to go global, when you might have an issue with your messaging, you know? The phones aren’t ringing or we have a situation where maybe a product isn’t moving as quickly as it needs to, because quite frankly it might be that we need to re-swizzle what’s been said about the product, the service, the company, what have you. And then just quite frankly the demand generation. You need to create leads. Usually, our profile is a mid-market company in a business services industry. Call center is one (sector) in particular, but also the B2B, B2C, technology companies that may be either a startup or a mid-market, but then also may be a bigger technology company that needs to pivot, needs to rotate, but needs to rotate it pretty fast.
Cognitive Business News: OK. Now I understand. You know, we talked about mid-market companies, but I know that you’ve done some exciting things with some of these new…I don’t know what they call it, web 3.0 companies, and you’re in some pretty cool things, so let’s kind of, get outside the box, because I know that’s sort of like a separate segment for you. But let’s go ahead and talk about that a little bit, and maybe if you want to touch on what you’re doing and who it might be, who might be interested in finding out more about it.
Shelli Ryan: Yeah. Web 3. I mean, we all have to realize that it is coming and it is coming fast, so the Metaverse and NFTs and crypto and blockchain. We have a separate company, at least I have a separate company that helps call centers in particular implement blockchain in their organization, and so we work with them to not only implement it but also to train their employees and their stakeholders so they understand that their job isn’t at stake and they’re not going to be shut out the door, but maybe even retrained into a blockchain enabled position.
I think the call center industry looks at blockchain as the next thing they’re going to put on their RFP list. Are you ISO certified? Are you PCI certified? Are you blockchain certified? And we’re the only ones in the world—the CX Blockchain Institute is the company name—only ones in the world who will certify call centers for blockchain, being blockchain ready, and then recertify them every year to make sure that they’re continuously on the leading edge.
Cognitive Business News: That’s really important because you can either disrupt or be disrupted.
Shelli Ryan: That’s right. Well, that’s a differentiator. It’s certainly a differentiator because as you look at all the call centers now, some of them pretty much look the same, and people, technology and process is what they always say. But if you have blockchain, that’s a game changer.
Cognitive Business News: Wow. And like you said, I think we saw such a young crowd here, which is—Not that we’re old yet, but still, it’s really cool because I think that a lot of these guys get excited about this and really want to participate. How can people reach your organization?
Cognitive Business News: Wonderful. Thanks so much for your time.
Shelli Ryan: Thanks!