How I Avoided a Tech Support Disaster

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Matt Bullock founded online payments group eWAY in the late 1990s, after realising the power of online retail. But instead of selling products online, Bullock has found success by becoming a payment gateway for retailers. The company now employs over 30 staff, turns over $6 million a year and has partnerships with the major banks and thousands of businesses. Two years ago Bullock expanded into Britain but ran into trouble when outsourced tech support didn’t come up to scratch. He says investment in training is one of the most crucial expenditures a new business can make.

So what made you want to move into Britain? I wish I knew. It’s a hard market. The banking network is the real reason. It’s similar to the banking network here, in that there are only so many banks, it’s a similar technical arrangement where someone connects to the banking gateway and then connects to the bank. This was about two years ago when this was set up. I went on two trade missions over there.

How was the tech support set up? It was all based on what we do here. It was backed through SalesForce.com, everyone was running on the same system and they had the same data in front of them, and they could answer all the questions. We set up our own company over there, under our own name, and then we were able to act as entity there in our own right. And then we hired this outsourced call centre to run that part of the business.

Why did you choose outsourcing? I thought it would be easier. The alternative was to get two or three people and move them to London. So this was just a way of getting some staff quickly and to get stuff happening, and then we could go from there. These people at the call centre were just trying to solve problems, explaining pricing, and so on. It was pretty much simple stuff. The answers were pretty much all on the website anyway, so it was basically reading stuff out after identifying what the problem was. It certainly wasn’t writing code. We just needed to establish a presence there fairly quickly.

And you went over there, is that correct? I did. I went over there for about two weeks, answering the basic questions and so on.

Were you confident when you left? At that point, I was very confident. I had a few doubts, but the managers over there told me they could all do it and they had confidence. So I came back to Australia. At that point, we started doing mystery calls to the UK and from that process, we started to see that things weren’t being down properly. The level of service that I wanted for the company just wasn’t there.

What do you think was the main problem there? I think it was simply the fact that the staff there didn’t get it. It was the temp side of it all. We’ve had lots of people coming through the business who haven’t got it, and I think it was that. It was also a lesson for me in that I realised that our business is a lot more complicated than I thought it was. It’s not easy to do, and to be honest I think this was a good thing for us.

What sort of answers were they giving? We would call up, and a lot of the answers would be, “I’ll call you back”, and then they wouldn’t call back. And when they did answer questions, they were usually answering them wrongly.

Was it at this point that you terminated the tech support over there? That’s right.

Do you think it did a lot of damage to your brand? No, I don’t think so. It was a small volume at that time, and tell me a business that hasn’t made any mistakes? I don’t think we crashed and burned at all because it was such a small operation. And we are in Britain and are continuing to grow there right now.

You moved tech support back here. Do you still think that was a wise move? I think so. From what I saw from the other companies over there, this particular one was the best. The whole training on the other side of the planet thing would be too difficult.

What happened when you returned? We started hiring internally. We hired people to work until four in the morning and have some sort of handover. It’s much easier, but you also have to find people to do it – and no one wants to do it. I’m also meeting with a company now to look at outsourcing here. They are a much bigger company, they operate out of Malaysia. The company we had in Britain only had about 20-something staff, and the company I’m talking with now has thousands. The cost will be significantly higher but you get a better product in the end.

Through this all process, what do you think was the most important lesson? Training. Training, systems and processes, and so on. We have a global system. It’s easy when you’re operating in one country, but when you’re operating in Britain and here you only have a limited amount of time. So training is a significant investment, but it’s worth it, and I think we’re definitely at that place now that I wanted to be.