Expertise in back-office service delivery continues to be top-of-mind for companies leveraging customer experience as a competitive differentiator. Such was the case for IMP Customer Care—part of IMP Group—who launched contact center operations in Bathurst, New Brunswick in July 2000. Beginning as a reservation center with one client—a large airline—IMP grew over the next few years, supporting major clients from multiple verticals. The ability to attract and retain strong talent is a significant factor in that success.
To grow their customer care business, IMP Group acquired Blue Ocean Contact Centers, an award-winning customer service solutions provider, in April 2015. Just over a year later, Blue Ocean is fully integrated with IMP, and is expanding its employee base in Bathurst. Why New Brunswick? The location has been the right choice to recruit and keep great talent.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with Michael Estabrooks, Managing Director, to learn more about the company’s success, operating in New Brunswick, and his thoughts on the industry.
ONB: Let’s begin with how Blue Ocean arrived in New Brunswick.
Estabrooks: With Bathurst’s IMP Customer Care team so successful, we decided it was time to grow. We could spend money on Business Development people, or we could find a like-minded organization and acquire them. IMP Group is a big company employing upwards of 5,000 people. Acquisitions present their own challenges and we knew from experience that the right “fit” for IMP was critically important. So we started from a philosophy that said focus on finding a successful company that was culturally and philosophically aligned with us. If we found that type of business the rest would work.
Perhaps because they were also an Atlantic Canada company Blue Ocean seemed to see the world the way we did. They also had a solid international reputation, had won numerous awards, and sported a blue-chip client base.
ONB: What do you see as advantages of operating in New Brunswick?
Estabrooks: When we established that first center for our airline client there were some specific requirements and bilingualism was a large part of that. In fact, many of our clients have rigorous language requirements and we do very well on that end. That’s the first advantage of New Brunswick.
Like any sector you need to go where there is a skilled labour pool. Bathurst has seen some of its resource-based industries take some significant hits. As a result there was a strong labour pool that we could draw from. We can offer a good, stable work environment and advancement opportunities. We’ve managed to land incredible employees in Bathurst, hard-working people with a real sense of loyalty.
We understand the contact center business isn’t for everyone. Our hope is that employment with Blue Ocean will be “time well spent.” Employees get to work with top tier brands leading their industries, and they gain valuable experience and skills to add to their resume. Fortunately, many people recognize that this is a terrific starting point. We have had amazing loyalty in Bathurst and our retention rate is a positive factor for clients. With the size of the Bathurst center, there are also opportunities for career development and growth into non-agent roles, like training or management positions.
ONB: Can you tell us about trends in the contact center industry that Blue Ocean is focusing on?
Estabrooks: Social media plays such a huge role in our clients’ operations now. People talk about your company and your products on Twitter and Facebook, and everyone can see what they’re saying. You’ve got to be monitoring and managing your customer service on those channels. Phone is still a large part of the business and will continue to be, but chat and email are always growing. Every consumer has their preferred way of connecting with their service providers and engagement is no longer limited by location. In the past you had to be at home in front of the phone, now you can do it on the street, from anywhere. It’s all about the convenience to the end user and all the avenues they have.
As a outsource service provider a huge part of our value proposition is our knowledge and understanding of all these various channels. Our ability to stay on top of all the ways people want to engage our clients is a large part of what we bring to the table.
ONB: Blue Ocean has a strong online presence itself. The company has won awards for the social media customer service work you do on behalf of clients, and your own customer service blog has some great tips.
Estabrooks: We are in a highly competitive global industry and our business has grown to support, for example, the largest travel insurance and assistance company in the world, and the global leader in networking technology — and we’re bringing these sought-after clients to Atlantic Canada. Our online presence showcases the strength of our people, the experience and expertise of our leadership, and reflects the real value we add for clients through a differentiated customer experience. And we make it pretty clear being based in Atlantic Canada is a competitive advantage for us and for our clients.
ONB: What role has ONB played with your company up to this point?
Estabrooks: We’ve had a good relationship with your organization since 2000. The only concern we had heading into the acquisition was the technology infrastructure in the Bathurst centre, it was not on par with Blue Ocean’s environment. They had just invested a million dollars into their infrastructure, so it was top of the line. We knew we had work ahead of us in order to effectively integrate both systems.
It would cost money to get there. We had to find a cost-effective means of getting our Bathurst infrastructure updated and fully integrated so that when new clients come in, the business case for servicing them from Bathurst is solid. Bathurst needed to be on equal footing with the rest of the organization. ONB obviously has an interest in seeing growth in Bathurst, so they were able to provide us with assistance on the infrastructure upgrades.
Next we had to think about training and retraining employees. It’s not just contact center agents that need to be trained, but financial services, coaches, management — everyone. This is where things like payroll rebates come into play; it helps with investment in training.
We could have left Bathurst the way it was, and the center would have continued to do well. It likely wouldn’t have grown much, however. Investments were needed in order to make the kind of growth announcements we are making this week.
ONB: Finally, what’s your best advice for someone looking to make a career out of your industry?
Estabrooks: My son is a recent university graduate and he’s been looking into opportunities. A big bank would like to hire him, and offered him a few different avenues — the retail branch environment, wealth management, and the electronic banking/contact center environment.
I told him if he went into the contact center environment he’d touch everything the bank does. He’d understand more about the bank’s environment and their customers. They would train the heck out of him and he would never suffer from a lack of knowledge. He would also quickly learn whether that is a vertical (financial services) he would enjoy working in.
As an outsourcing provider, our client base covers all sorts of verticals. Beginning a career with a company like ours gives one an opportunity to understand all of these verticals and determine if any of them are interesting in the long term. So for a young person like my son, fresh out of school, that’s where I see real value in working inside this type of environment.
New Brunswick is the right investment. For nearly three decades our highly-skilled bilingual workforce and competitive business costs have attracted Business Services to New Brunswick, North America’s nearshore centre.
Images via Blue Ocean