How Moneypenny is tackling workplace transformation in 2021 and beyond
We’re continuing our New World of Work interview series in this new year with another special guest, Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny, a leading virtual answering service provider and a Proxyclick partner.
To understand how such a key player in workplace tech continues to transform in 2021 and beyond, I recently sat down with Joanna for a very insightful and promising conversation.
We talked about how Moneypenny has grown, common misconceptions in the industry right now, and what everyone should be doing to better understand their employees and customers - and to ultimately move forward from the chaotic year we called 2020.
Joanna, thank you so much for joining me today. If you wouldn't mind just starting out by telling us a little bit more about yourself and Moneypenny.
Joanna: I'm the CEO of Moneypenny. We are based in North Wales. We've got 750 people in North Wales and about 250 in the States. And, what we do is very, very simple.
We answer telephone calls and live chats for about 20,000 businesses ranging from the very small one-man-band, usually on a Tuesday because they want to go off and play golf, right up through multinational corporations, global law firms, etc. And we are almost their best-kept secret because if we do our job right, nobody actually knows that their calls or chats have been outsourced at all.
And, how did you start with Moneypenny?
Joanna: So, I've been in the business for about 15 years now. I started off as a salesperson. I had my own small business that wasn't going very well, so I decided to go and get a proper job for six months, and now I’m still there. It's just been incredible. Moneypenny always felt like my own small business.
I've been CEO now for about five years. And, in that time, we've grown tremendously. We had an acquisition in London called MadeSimple, which is the biggest online company formations business.
We also had acquisitions in the States, with a recent one being VoiceNation, which is in Atlanta. They've done really well. They've doubled their EBITDA in that time, which is just incredible. I've got an amazing team over there.
I was actually in the States last week, hence I’m not in the office today - I'm locked inside now for two weeks. So, I can't go to the office, which is a real shame.
What was that experience like doing a transatlantic flight in the middle of all this because I've got that coming up in a month or two now, and on a very personal level, I just want to know what to expect?
Joanna: It felt really organized. First of all, we had to get permission from the US Embassy, which is just extraordinary in these times. We had to prove that our trip was worthwhile and of benefit to the US as a nation. We're really trying to drive growth there, we're trying to create new jobs.
We got on a plane with a certain amount of trepidation. There were lots and lots of safety measures, but it was really sad to see that the plane was just so empty. I'm sure on the way back there were about 10 people on a Delta flight, because normally, you get off the plane in Atlanta and you race to the front to the immigration and you look behind you and there's a whole pile of people. This time, there was nobody there. So, don't expect to have to queue for anything when you're going home.
It's funny because I think maybe a year or two ago, that would be the ideal situation for so many business travelers, and then now it's something that is very, very creepy and unsettling.
Joanna: It really is. It's not sustainable that's for sure, but I do think there's a lot of pent-up demand now. We say that the world's change forever, which is true.
Doing things virtually is wonderful, but sometimes when you've bought a business and you need to work with people, and you need to have culture, and you want to go design some office space, etc. That human connection is really, really important to us. (click to tweet)
I couldn't agree more. So, if you think about this business in this industry that you've been in for over 15 years, what is one of the most commonly held beliefs that you passionately and absolutely disagree with?
Joanna: I would go back to the early days, when the impression or the reputation for outsourcing was that it was always a bit of a dirty word. It was always, "I've outsourced because it's cheap."
It didn’t matter about the quality, but rather that these were the reasons that businesses have done it in the past, but I think that's such a misconception now.
So many particularly large businesses and brands are really waking up to the fact that you can outsource something that might not be your core strength anyway. (click to tweet)
And, actually, if you can find a real trusted partner who can represent your brand properly and look after it as if it was their own, then there are some really good partnership opportunities. So, I would say that that whole outsourcing "label" is a lot different than it used to be.
Also, if people call us a call center, I tell them we aren’t your standard call center. The term “call center” brings to mind lots of people in boxes, or low touch to the same client, for example.
We've got 20,000 clients, but the reason why we've been successful and people trust us is because those clients have their own dedicated receptionist who looks after a small portfolio of businesses.
It's all about making the relationships and making sure that people know that we give the right receptionist to the right brand. So for me, Moneypenny isn’t really a call center.
And, is that a perception that's changing thanks to companies like Moneypenny, or is that something that you still struggle with?
Joanna: No, I think that perception is changing, and it's nice that people can actually see the difference. We're a Sunday Times’ Best 100 Companies to Work For. Quite often we come in the top five or top ten and we're really, really proud of that.
And, particularly, if you do get lumped into the call center bracket, it’s important to know that culture is so important to us. Even just in the UK, we've had 4,000 CVs over the past 12 months from people who want to work for us. We hardly advertise anywhere. That's just coming from being a great employer brand in the local area.
So, I would say my main job is to keep our people happy. If I can attract, recruit, and train great people and keep them happy, safe, motivated, and engaged, and then they stay forever, we're actually selling a client relationship there.
My true focus is on keeping my people happy and keeping them in the business. And, that seems to be the complete antithesis for standard call centers.
It really does sound quite different. So, if you think about what your peers or your competitors are doing in the industry, is there something that people are just doing because it’s the common way of doing things, and that absolutely needs to be stopped?
Joanna: Okay. So, here's my favorite hobby horse here now. I think if you empower people you need to explain why you’re having them do something. So, go and hire great people, which we can cherry-pick. Go and tell them why what they're doing is important. Go and tell them what the expectations are and the end result. What does the caller want for the person on someone's website? What does the client want? What does Moneypenny as a business want?
Give people clarity and give them freedom, and you can empower people. (click to tweet)
So, the short answer is: scripts. Stop giving people scripts. If you empower people and give them all the reasons why, and make them really truly understand what it is that they're supposed to be doing, nobody needs a script.
Going beyond that, what is something in the industry that either people don't know about at all or they know about it and just haven't gotten around to it? What is that one thing that people in your industry need to start doing?
Joanna: We definitely need to all start and put energy into an alternative to voice communications. Look how videos come on since spring. This crisis has spring boarded video to the communication channel of choice for lots and lots of people.
Everybody in our space needs to be embracing AI, embracing video, embracing text as well, understanding that there are different channels that people want to communicate through. (click to tweet)
And, as a provider, we really have to make sure that we are able to provide the technology for however consumers want to communicate with all these different brands.
I also think that integrations with Microsoft Teams is important. There are so many big brands now using Teams and other new technologies, so we’re thinking about how we can have more integrations there, how we can work together with more tech partners, and how we can up our game and do things in a different way.
And, does Microsoft Teams really seem to be the common denominator there?
Joanna: That’s what we're finding. There are still plenty of Zoom calls, etc. But, I think because Microsoft Teams is integrated into the tech that most companies are running anyway in their business, we can certainly integrate so we know when we can put calls through, we know when someone's busy. That, for us and for our clients, is absolute gold dust.
My last question here is really zooming in on the current pandemic and how we're all dealing with that. If you think about people within your industry, combining that with the current situation that we're all in, are there questions that your peers or your competitors or even Moneypenny itself should be asking themselves that they aren't? What are those vital questions?
Joanna: We've always been very, very keen on something, which has been a big ethos of ours since our founders, Ed and Rachel, set up Moneypenny. That is:
You have to walk in your people's shoes to understand what it feels like to work for your company. (click to tweet)
And even more so now, we need to understand what it feels like for someone to answer calls from home. Because 50% of our people are still at home. At one point, we had 100% of our people at home.
Understand what it feels like to work for your company during these times. And wear your customer's shoes - what does it feel like to be a customer, and how has their world changed?
Our relationship now between Vpod and Proxyclick brings to life the future of front-of-house technology. It’s so cool to think that all of these business leaders now can take a real step back, reimagine what their world looks like, and can wear their visitor's shoes. (click to tweet)
What does it feel like to be a visitor at their company, how does it feel to walk into a different office space now and what does that experience need to be?
I'm a big fan of moments of change and this is a big moment of change for lots and lots of businesses. We all just have to stop and take a breath, wear different people's shoes, and think about how we all move forward, and the smartest way of doing that.
Joanna, thank you so much for joining me.
Joanna: It's a pleasure. Nice to chat with you, too, Michael.