Meet Martin Toha. He owns VoIP.com, a smaller competitor to Vonage. They’ve basically built a business model around making everything as simple and cost effective as possible, which really came through in this interview. Martin has spent a lot of time working with international call centers and has come up with a rather unique solution for working with call centers with his company.
Full Interview Audio and Transcript
Hobbies and Interests: Work and Travel.
Favourite Sports Teams: Doesn’t follow any sports teams.
Favourite books: Doesn’t have any favourite books.
Company Website: http://profinity.com
Adrian Bye: I’m here with Martin Toha, who is the owner of VOIP.com. Martin, can you tell us what the company you’re working on does?
Martin Toha: We’re primarily in the consumer recurring billing business model. Right now, we run a small VOIP company, VOIP.com. We also have a club membership company where we provide membership products to consumers through an up-sell channel. We basically have two main directions: recurring billing and monthly fees.
Over the past two or three years, we migrated from a widget provider to both a widget provider and a service by picking up a few domain names, and those have pushed us into these markets.
Adrian Bye: You went into these markets because of the domain name?
Martin Toha: Yes. About two years ago, I bought a telephony switch as an investment. I was going to lease it to a friend who owns a hosting company, a data center and collocation facility. After we set the whole thing up and got it running, we thought we might be interested in building a billing system of sorts for the VoIP industry.
We started to dabble in it and decided we could probably get into the home phone service game because of the available volume. In March of last year, I picked up the domain voip.com. We decided we needed to do everything to make it work. We thought it would be fairly simple, but it took about a year to realize it was probably one of the most complicated processes.
Adrian Bye: Was the hard part selling it or was the hard part running the service?
Martin Toha: The first year the hard part was getting all of the plates spinning at the same time. You have to provide better service, more features for less money, and you have to make money at the same time, which is a very hard equation.
Adrian Bye: I know you wanted to talk about project management. You have a team of 40 people, including a lot of software developers, and you’re running the whole thing virtually.
Martin Toha: The ability to work remotely is one of the benefits I have been able to guarantee myself and all the people that work with us. If someone comes to work for us, we need to make sure they have two forms of internet connectivity and a laptop computer, possibly even a wireless setup for their cellular card. Everything we do has to revolve around the concept that we don’t have a need or a use for a physical location. We also have a work-from-home call center.
The switch that I bought actually had a plug-in for call center, and it was about $100,000. I tried a 30-day trial, but it didn’t do anything we needed.
We decided to build a solution and use it to manage the outsourced call centers. Our solution watched and tracked every call in real time. Through this real-time system, we can effectively see everything going on with each of our businesses because we have two main business segments. One is Profinity.com, and one is VOIP.com.
We have real-time dashboards that let us see what reps are logged in, how long they have been logged in, their current status, and their past history and such. After putting that solution in place at the outsourced call center, we decided to become a call center.
We ran ads in Craigslist and Monster for reps, who become independent contactors with us.They interview through an automated voice interview process we built. Every morning, we have someone listen to the recorded interviews and pick the people that they want to hire from that list.
The reps are given self-study materials and then go through a testing process. After the testing, we put them on the phone and require weekly scheduled trainings. We watch very closely their first call resolution ratios, their average handle times, and their quality score. Then we arrive at a score for every user.
We pay anywhere between $0.15 and $0.21 per minute for their talk time, which is probably 45 to 65 percent of each hour. The reps can schedule to work whenever they want. They can make about $8 to $10 an hour working from home. All of our reps are based in the United States, and we have between 30 and 50 people working for us at any given week.
Adrian Bye: You just set up the systems in place to manage them?
Martin Toha: For every set number of people working from home, you need to have a team leader, who can simple say “I’m here for you if you need anything.” A team leader can handle things like payroll mistakes, questions about a call, training questions, and such.
We also created a simple public forum for the reps. If they can’t solve their problem one on one, they can post it on the forum, and other people will watch it. We have several safety nets in place. Things like automated payroll where the rep can see their call log and how much they’re going to get paid, how much they were paid, how much the balance is, agree to the payment before we send it out, and things like that. Stability, support, and all these things put together create an effective call center.
If you want to bring your call center in-house, it’s something that you have to be committed to doing. We effectively save about $100,000 a month and provide double the quality of service than we were when we outsourced.
Adrian Bye: Let’s talk about project management.
Martin Toha: We currently use a “ticket system” that we built five years ago. In essence, we have about 20 users that log into this ticket system, and they can create tasks between each other. It’s very simple. You can put a subject and a body and even attach a file. You create a ticket request, and you assign it to somebody. The person receiving it has to complete it or pass it back to the original person. That one little function reduces a lot of the runarounds.
We create different views for different groups, so project managers can see certain sets of people’s tickets. We effectively know what everybody’s working on with the ticket system.
We use Skype or any instant messenger for immediate back and forth conversation. The ticket system and instant messenger account for 80 to 90 percent of our interaction as a team. We rarely call each other, and we effectively get everything done that way.
Adrian Bye: When you talk about tasks going back and forth, how small can a task get and how deep can a task get?
Martin Toha: A task should never exceed four hours. If it’s more than four hours, it’s too big. You need to chew down the task to 10-minutes, an hour, or three hours. If you create a task that takes three days, after three days you could look at what was done and say it isn’t what you wanted. Then you have lost three days. It’s far better to break it down and make sure you see the steps of the process.
Adrian Bye: Do you have team members send out daily progress reports via e-mail or is everybody monitoring your dashboard on a daily basis?
Martin Toha: We don’t waste time with progress reports. I can watch in real time the screens and the tickets as they’re getting completed. Since the tickets are five minutes to four hours, it gives you an idea of how many weekly tickets someone should get done.
Adrian Bye: What happens if you bring in a brand new 21-year-old marketing guy who’s going to change the world with his marketing ideas and then starts putting a lot of jobs for your developers in their job queue?
Martin Toha: You have to have a team of people that understands what’s relevant. That is the only real way I’ve been able to find what’s effective.