AnswerNet Scrapbook

Page

Welcome to the AnswerNet Scrapbook! Here, you’ll find a collection of articles and press appearances focusing or featuring AnswerNet Network (www.answernet.com), discussing everything from call center practices, outsourcing, telemarketing, teleservices and everything in between. Just click on the links below to be directed to the articles.

Appalling Behavior, This Time by Customers
The New York Times, July 10, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/your-money/11haggler.html?_r=1

AnswerNet President and CEO Gary Pudles recently spoke with The New York Times’ David Segal about the difficult calls contact center agents can handle on a daily basis. Click Here to read the full article!

Accent Marketing continues to fight in the face of a tough economy
Business First Lousiville, June 12, 2009
http://louisville.bizjournals.com/louisville/stories/2009/06/15/story2.html

AnswerNet President and CEO Gary Pudles contributed his thoughts and insights about the call center industry in today’s economy for a Sarah Jeffords Pister article in Business First Louisville.

AnswerNet Answering Call to Growing at a Fever Pitch
Philadelphia Business Journal, March 2008
http://philadelphia.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2008/03/24/story8.html?b=1206331200^1608040&surround=etf

Moving can be hectic for companies as well as people. But the AnswerNet Network’s relocation of its headquarters here from Princeton in September was more hectic than most.

That’s because the company was completing five acquisitions to cap off a period in which it did 12 deals in 12 weeks.

That pace was more frantic than usual for AnswerNet, which usually purchases about seven companies a year. But it’s indicative of the modus operandi that has made it the largest owner of answering services in the country in the 10 years since it was founded by its president and CEO, Gary Pudles.

“My guess is that they are four or five times larger than the next largest answering service business,” said Allan Fromm, who owns a Green Bay, Wis., service called An-ser Services and is president of the Association of Teleservices International, an industry trade group.

Since the move, AnswerNet has continued growing. Pudles won’t disclose the exact number of deals it has done, describing them only as a few, but said the latest involved buying a small answering service in a mall in West Memphis, Ark.

AnswerNet doesn’t just provide answering services.

Through MRC Group of Las Vegas, which it bought during its binge and has renamed AnswerNet Nevada, it does polling and market research. Through AnswerNet-Cerida in Methuen, Mass., it offers telemarketing services to information technology companies. The company also has other call centers with other specialties and a fulfillment company, Source 1 Fulfillment & Distribution LLC.

In all, AnswerNet says it has 55 call centers that employ more than 2,000 and had revenue of more than $50 million last year.

Locally, it employs more than 200, comprising about 10 at Source 1, which is in Bensalem, about 30 at its headquarters and the remainder at a call center in Northeast Philadelphia that offers services in Spanish, as well as English.

The company’s growth rate placed it on Inc. magazine’s list of the country’s 500 fastest-growing private companies in 2000, 2003 and 2004, when it ranked 166th for having posted sales growth of 1,011 percent over the last five years.

AnswerNet’s growth comes from being the most prolific buyer in a period of consolidation for a fragmented industry. There are about 1,800 answering services in the United States, and most are small.

Pudles calls AnswerNet an aggregator not a consolidator.

“We buy either well run or underperforming call centers and we run them in place,” he said. “They have a real personality that our clients really rely on.”

AnswerNet pays for most of its deals with seller financing, and an occasional assist from Conshohocken-based Firstrust Bank. Firstrust also helped Pudles and the company’s two other owners, whom Pudles said don’t want their names disclosed, buy out other partners last summer.

Pudles’ home in Lafayette Hill is where he founded AnswerNet. He moved there to work for Apex Site Management LP, a telecommunications real-estate firm in Conshohocken, but realized he would be happier running his own business.

He found three answering services for sale within an hour of his home, put together a plan to acquire them and got tentative financing for them. But his investors got cold feet after he was unable to prove to their liking that the businesses could generate the numbers he was projecting.

Through the process, Pudles met Bill Robertshaw, then 69 years old, and an owner of multiple answering services. When his investors bolted, Robertshaw offered to sell him half of Tel-A-Talk TAS Inc. in Allentown, and Pudles accepted.

A week later, Robertshaw told Pudles that one of his partners had a contract to buy an answering service in Portland, Ore., but that Pudles could take over the deal if he could raise the money.

Pudles got a $500,000 loan from Progress Bank, which has since been acquired, and he was off and running. In 2000, AnswerNet bought Signius Corp. of Somerset, N.J., and became the largest answering-service operator in the country.

Talking the Talk About Call Centers
DM News, February 2008
http://www.dmnews.com/Talking-the-talk-about-call-centers/article/107117/

*This is Gary Pudles’ excert from the “Technique” column, which featured three other prominent call center executives discussing staffing methods.

If you want your representatives to be successful, they need to be interested in succeeding and have a personality that matches your call center’s profile.

While training is a big part of creating the perfect representative, the training won’t stick unless you find an employee who is not only dedicated to his or her work, but who is also pas­sionate and genuinely enjoys the work as well. Selling in a call center environ­ment is demanding work that is not for everyone, so success is often determined in the recruiting stage.

Once you find that right person through screening and interviews, it is important to invest in the person through training. The training should supplement that person’s strengths. Aside from training him or her on the fundamental duties of the job, it’s important to train them on why they’re doing the job. For a telemarketer, they’re essentially selling somebody else’s prod­uct over the phone. Training should also teach them to believe in the product they’re selling.

The third part of the training must be sales training. At our company, we spend a great deal of time with our agents teaching them about the sales process, closing techniques, handling objections and the like. Many call center trainers focus so much on client specific-training or the call center technology training that they fail to focus on the representative’s need for basic and advanced sales training. The more your representatives can understand the sales process for the products they are selling, the more successful they will be.

THE TAKEAWAY
Passionate call reps who believe in the product will increase productivity


I Think, Therefore IM

Connections Magazine, March 2003
http://www.connectionsmagazine.com/articles/3/014.html

As technology has developed over the past decade, the Internet has become ubiquitous, and this is certainly true in the teleservices industry. Within the past five years, the use of instant messaging (IM) specifically has exploded. In fact, it was Web pioneer Marc Andreessen who predicted, circa 1997, that IM would be the next big development for the Internet.

Gary Pudles, CEO and president of AnswerNet Inc., explained how his company employs IM. When the company was first started, a personal America Online (AOL) account was used for communication between key employees and to provide corporate email addresses. Then, about a year and a half ago, AnswerNet started installing high-speed Internet connections to its sites. Now, half the AnswerNet offices, technical staff, and sales people use AOL’s AIM instant messenger application.

Just what exactly does AnswerNet find so useful about IM? “When carefully targeted,” said Knowledge Management’s consulting editor Lee Sherman, “IM can support some useful kinds of knowledge sharing.” IM allows communication in near real time and is a “presence technology,” identifying who is online at a given time.

According to Mark Chediak, writing in Red Herring magazine, IM applications “have gained popularity because they’re often quicker and easier to use than email or the phone.”

Pat Scott, owner of A Better Answer, Inc., explained how instant messaging is used in her company. The program that A Better Answer uses is part of the company’s Startel system, known as the “operator x” feature. Scott feels that the system is quite effective. When an agent makes an error during a call, the supervisor on duty can send an “operator x” message and let the rep know of the mistake and, if necessary, communicate with the agent about the issue without singling him or her out in front of everyone. “As long as we are logged into Startel,” Scott added, the agents “have access to us.”

Other companies also use IM for better in-house communication. In the end, time is saved because administrative employees don’t have to run back and forth between offices to ask questions, or try to catch someone on the phone. Alan Hamer, president of Exchange Network, Inc., explained, “The instant messaging feature is great for administrative purposes, it saves time trying to find the person you want to ask a question to (and is better than) getting their voice mail if they are on the other line.”

Also, if a company is spread across several offices, money can be saved on phone bills because IM simply costs as much as it does to connect to the Internet. This is especially beneficial for national businesses. Chuck Boyce of Appletree Technology Services uses AIM to communicate with off-site agents. “IM is a great way to get a quick message to the remote agent to handle routine items like breaks, account updates, and feedback on performance,” he said. “This works great because the agents are already online, and most only have a single phone line, so phoning them while they are logged in is not an option. We also looked at using Nextel two-way radios, but found that it would be cost prohibitive.” (The company limits the IM chat to the shift leader/supervisor and the remote agents, as they don’t want the reps chatting with each other.) Boyce also uses Amtelco’s software package to provide online customer service via Web chat, offering a communication option to Internet users viewing his clients’ Websites who need assistance.

Just as with anything else, though, this system is not flawless. Users may abuse the system. Dennis O’Hara of ACC Solutions said, “We ended up blocking all IM from our agent positions; it was being abused big time. They would wait and finish the chat sentence before answering a call.” Obviously, this is not conducive to running an effective operation. In fact, 23 percent of businesses surveyed, actively block IM traffic.

AnswerNet managers realize this potential problem, but according to Pudles, “While I am sure that some of the people abuse the system, I believe that we not only share more because of it, but that it adds to our sense of community that we try to instill within the AnswerNet Network.”

Many people recognize that a future of integrated technology includes today’s youth. Their dependence on technology has brought about an eagerness and energy for using their ideas in the business place. “Young adults who are experienced technology users also bring a confidence and openness to new ideas that sometimes freshen stale thinking,” stated Esther Rush, product engineer at Intel.

Ray Goel, CTO at Brainlink International, witnessed his interns’ use of IM. It was by observing the efficiency and effectiveness of their collaboration that first turned him on to the technology. “Sometimes, something completely different is just what’s needed to solve old problems.” Sometimes certain age groups tend to look at problems the same way. By factoring in another generation, today’s teens and twenties can generate a different and new perspective. The result was that their 9 to 5 operation effectively became 24 x 7 “because as long as they were on IM, they were reachable.”

One of the things that promotes youthful interest is curiosity. “[Young people] tend to have little fear about deleting files, freeing up memory, even taking apart software and hardware to troubleshoot or just understand how it works.” By being willing to take chances to learn about how systems work, it shows the comfort level with computers, data, and technology. Many younger people are being hired in the work place because of their interest and knowledge from growing up in an age filled with the necessity of technology.

Will corporations continue to embrace IM? International Data Corp. predicts that corporate IM use will increase more than ten-fold over the next three years, from 18.4 million in 2001 to 229.2 million in 2005. Forrester Research says that 45 percent of businesses already use IM, while Osterman Research puts the level at a more modest, but still significant, 29 percent. Gartner adds that “free instant messaging services are being implemented rapidly by employees and will be found in 70 percent of enterprises by the end of 2003.”

Numerous kinds of instant messaging systems are available from several different companies. AOL’s AIM system boasted 100 million users in 2001. Yahoo has a system called Messenger and Microsoft has MSN Messenger. These are not specifically designed for corporate use. However, Yahoo recently launched an enhanced IM product specifically for business users. It is designed to let IT managers grant IM access to employees based on their roles. The product, Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition, uses Secure Sockets Layer encryption from Verisign. Licenses will cost from $30 to $40 per user, per year.

 
Gary Pudles—Another View of Outsourcing
PrincetonInfo.com, July 16, 2006
http://www.princetoninfo.com/200607/60712c02.html

Gary Pudles, president of AnswerNet, a Witherspoon Street-based call center firm, has more than 1,925 employees in 54 call centers in the United States and 75 in Canada. But if a potential client wants rock-bottom prices, he partners with a friend who owns a 1,000-person call center in the Philippines.

So Pudles is not opposed to outsourcing to another country. “Our system is built on the philosophy that the company that can provide goods and services at the level desired at the lowest possible price is going to get the business,” says Pudles. “There has always been a lower cost place in the world to provide services. But my dad taught me you get what you pay for.”

Outsourcing was less controversial when jobs went from New York City to Iowa, but when jobs went from Iowa to Ireland, and then to Bangalore, Americans got uncomfortable. “It’s not so much that jobs are leaving the U.S. but that, more and more, jobs are not being created here,” says Pudles.

As globalization author Tom Friedman told Wired magazine, what once was “Finish your dinner, people in China and India are starving,” has become, “Finish your homework – people in China and India want your job.”

During the dot.com boom, Friedman explains, investors poured money into companies that were trying to “wire the world” by laying thousands of miles of fiber optic cables under the oceans. In a rush to solve the Y2K problem, some companies sought out cheap software workers to recode their programs, and the IT capital Bangalore was born.

Then the dot.com crash ushered in a greater need for companies to be able to cut spending – and outsourcing for cheaper labor abroad increased. It was in this climate that, seven years ago, Pudles bought a 75-person call center in Toronto.

Pudles grew up in north Jersey, where his father worked for Exxon in Linden and his late mother was a bookkeeper who worked in real estate. He went to Syracuse, Class of 1984 and to law school at American University. After a stint at a traditional law firm, he headed projects at Muzak and Sprint buying into the answering service business and leading its expansion. Now AnswerNet has 55 contact centers for outsourced calls and fulfillment services.

Canadian labor is not as cheap as Indian labor, but when Pudles bought the Toronto site, the Canadian dollar was worth just 73 cents. “We got into real price wars and I had an alternative that was much lower cost – it was 25 percent less,” says Pudles. “This allowed me to compete on price a little more, which I don’t like to do, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.”

It is significant that Pudles chose Canada. People are ethnocentric by nature, he insists, and Canadian agents are the most like American ones, which is part of the reason that, until two years ago, Canada was the fastest growing country for call centers. AnswerNet’s clients included Staples Canada (Business Depot), Motorola, and H&R Block. Also from Toronto, AnswerNet provided French and Chinese language services for American companies.

Language and culture can indeed be a deterrent for outsourcing contracts for call centers, which need to reflect the personality of the company. “For some functions, such as technical support, accents and cultural differences may not matter,” says Pudles. “It does matter when the call center agent must interface with a customer on a more sensitive subject, such as medical issues.”

Pudles tells an anecdote from a colleague who owns a call center in India. Its young agents were raised to be respectful to their elders. “When they first started taking calls for a medical company, they had a problem. Senior citizens were insisting that they wanted their medical problems fixed `right now’ and the agents were going off script to try to obey.” The agents had to be retrained.

What with the training needed for lower level agents and for middle management, outsourcing does not offer a dollar for dollar savings. “India is not very strong at middle management/operating levels,” says Pudles, “and this affects the ability to communicate with clients.”

But it certainly is cheaper. According to the Princeton-based Boyd Company, call center operation costs in India are 75 percent less than in the United States, compared to 25 percent less in Canada.

“For companies with small projects, the savings isn’t worth the extra hassle,” says Pudles, recounting the inevitable clock issues. “Because they are serving the American market, there is a night-time economy that never existed before. Their body clocks get upset.” Also, because of the 12-hour time difference in India, American owners may need to stay up overnight to talk with the call center managers.

“In some cases outsourcing works very well and in some cases it works terribly,” says Pudles, noting that Dell brought its help-desk support back from India because of many complaints.

American firms use the threat of outsourcing as a labor management tool, he suggests. “Last year in Newtown, Pennsylvania, ICT employees sued for not being paid correctly. One day the company announced that, because of a court ruling, it had to increase its reserve. And the next day it said it would take 55 or 60 percent of its business offshore,” says Pudles. He does not believe this sequence of events was a coincidence.

Severance benefits are also used as incentives for outsourcing strategies. Last month the Bank of America outsourced 100 IT jobs to India and the downsized personnel were required to train their replacements to qualify for the severance.

Pudles points out that he outsources in reverse: He has clients in India who bring their business development contracts to AnswerNet in Princeton. One of his favorite mantras: “Although the world outsources to India, India outsources to AnswerNet.”

This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the July 12, 2006 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.


Ensuring Quality Outsourced Contact Center Service
Electric Light & Power, August 2006
http://uaelp.pennnet.com/Articles/Article_Display.cfm?Section=ARTCL&ARTICLE_ID=261355&VERSION_NUM=2&p=34 

Contact centers and their agents are the first line of service and support for utilities. They communicate with customers, triage inquiries, open trouble tickets and dispatch repair staff. While web self-service is helpful and low cost, it is of little use if the lights go out. The big issue that hangs over all outsourcing arrangements is ensuring performance and quality. It takes a leap of faith to contract out contact center functions. The utility is trusting individuals-agents, supervisors and managers-who are not employees to be as efficient and to treat customers as well (or better) than its own staff.font>Steps to Performance and Quality
To reduce costs and provide greater flexibility to meet changing needs, many utilities and utility suppliers have been outsourcing their contact center services. Additional agents can be brought on more quickly, and for less money, than expanding or opening internal contact centers and hiring and training new staff. And should needs change, it is the outsourcers who reassign and lay-off staff or close facilities, not the utility companies. To ensure effective, high-performance, high-quality outsourcing, there are several steps a utility can take. Decide what performance and quality goals you want your contact centers to achieve, and select the right metrics to measure results against those objectives. One of our utility clients requires us to measure and report four statistics to them several times a day: average speed of answer, number of abandons, number of calls offered, and maximum delay. We must also answer 85 percent of calls in 30 seconds or less. These are quality-oriented metrics and high standards.Consider benchmarking against similar companies. Benchmarking gives you a rough idea where you are in the performance spectrum, but be careful. Going to a higher standard, e.g., 95 percent of calls answered, might not have an impact on customer satisfaction sufficient enough to merit the added expense. Customers’ attitudes are affected by many other factors such as rates, outages and the length of time it takes to get problems fixed, all beyond the control of contact centers.

Plan to Train Outsourcer Staff
Outsourcer agents must think and act like they are on your team when your customers call, because they are your representatives. This requires additional training and ongoing education if you change your program. Supervisors and managers should also be trained properly so they know what to listen for, and can effectively coach your agents so they perform to your expectations.
One of our clients undertakes the initial training of our agents at their contact center. They also arrange ongoing training for new software or changes in business procedures and/or any change to the existing database. Maintain Consistency and Performance
Customers should detect no difference between in-house and outsourcer handling of their calls; contact center agents must adhere to your protocol and style. Consistency and performance can be ensured by several methods:
• Have the outsourcers monitor agents to see if they are conforming to the programs’ requirements.

• To follow up on commendations and complaints, ask outsourcers to record calls, e-mails and chat sessions and archive them (up to 30 days.) Also consider utilizing mystery call programs and test e-mails or contact form submissions.

• Arrange for the outsourcers to provide dedicated program managers. They will be your single point of contact and are always available to you when you call. They will contact you if there are any issues; discuss issues/concerns/needs; perform daily quality checks; and continually monitor and check all account activity. They also handle training, changes in scripting or on-call schedules, and will prepare and send you reports.

• Arrange for site visits at which your representative listens in on calls. Use this technique sparingly. One of the reasons why you outsourced was to free yourself from the cost of directly managing employees. Frequent visits, which hike expenses, can disrupt the flow of operations and wound trust between clients and vendors. One of our contracts with a utility provides it with one two-hour visit, gratis, every three months; any more than that, and we will charge them. This arrangement has worked out very well: The utility has been with us for nearly two years.

Plan your internal requirements to support outsourcing, such as issue escalation.

There will be customer service or technical issues that not even the best trained contact center agent will be able to handle. At a major East Coast power company where we handle residential customer service calls, when calls are urgent, due to a power outage for instance, we escalate calls to a staff representative.

Consider Stipulating that Outsourced Contact Centers be in your Service Area
Electric power issues hit close to home and customers may prefer to speak with contact center agents who can relate to them and to any problems they are experiencing. For that reason, we assign one of our utility contracts to a contact center that is less than an hour’s drive from that firm’s head office.

Keep a portion of your contact center services in-house. By doing this, you can track and benchmark the outsourcers’ performance, which keeps them honest and competitive. It also provides backup in case there are sudden call spikes.

Insist outsourcers have business continuity plans. Your customers are counting on you to be there when they need you the most. If your contact centers have on-site emergency power, insist that your outsource partners have it too.

Another way to protect your operations is to require your outsourcer to have additional networked sites located in different climates or geographic zones so that they are not impacted by the same events. If a disaster hits the principal center, the other centers will keep functioning. Have the outsourcer direct a small portion of the regular calls to the backup location(s). This keeps that site’s agents and supervisors familiar with your program. If they suddenly need to handle more of your calls, they will be up to speed, delivering quality service. We have this arrangement in place for a Midwestern utility supplier.

Select Outsourcers that are the Best Fit
There’s a wide variety in outsourcer size and capability. Look for those that can handle your highest contact volume, have low staff turnover, a varied customer base and a successful track record. Be sure to obtain references.

Ideally an outsourcer will have utility experience. If it does not, but has worked well for other service-intensive businesses, such as cable companies and telcos, then it can deliver for your firm too. Also, consider those outsourcers with outbound capabilities and expertise for follow-up customer care calls and surveys, and to market new services.

Choose an outsourcer that has the capabilities you need at the right price and that’s a good fit culturally. Most importantly, be sure they have the same commitment to both performance and quality. 

Copyright © 2008: PennWell Corporation

Worldcom Keeps Services Going, But Hurdles Loom
USA Today, August 11, 2002
http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/telecom/2002-08-11-worldcom_x.htm

WorldCom has gotten kudos for keeping its network and service running well despite accounting woes, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing and fraud allegations against two former finance executives.

But pressure is building on the No. 2 long-distance carrier. Now, some business customers say service is faltering. “They’ve had issues since this all started happening, and now it’s worse because they’ve just let go of so many people,” says Gary Pudles, who owns 48 call centers that have several contracts with WorldCom.

Pudles says he has recently had trouble getting WorldCom to install lines and fix problems. Billing glitches have gotten so bad that he has hired someone to handle them. Telecom analysts say WorldCom’s ability to keep up its service will be challenged by:

• Staff cutbacks. WorldCom has had big job cuts, including 17,000 in recent months. Pudles says his service started to sag a year ago when his local representative was laid off. Staff has turned over several times since, he says. WorldCom says almost half of the job cuts involve discontinued operations and have had minimal impact on customers.
• Trouble with vendors. WorldCom’s bankruptcy agreement requires it to pay vendors with special bankruptcy loans it has received, the company says. But money owed to vendors before WorldCom filed Chapter 11 in July may never be paid.

Since then, some vendors have started demanding cash upfront for services and equipment, which telecom analysts say could delay deliveries to WorldCom, thus to customers.

WorldCom also says it has had some delays in getting some parts because of excessive demand.

“WorldCom is working closely with vendors to help them understand that payment is not an issue,” spokesman Brad Burns says. “We have no core equipment issues.”

Some customers, such as Superior Uniform Group in Florida, aren’t convinced. Mark Decker, Superior’s vice president, says the uniform maker is switching to Sprint because WorldCom was late installing services.

WorldCom’s residential customers have had few problems, consumer advocates and government officials say.

“They’re doing all the things that you would expect a company that wants to remain in business to do,” says David Heim, deputy editor at “Consumer Reports”.

But an outage Thursday of some of WorldCom’s dial-up Internet network rang alarm bells even though it was caused by accidental cable cuts. Experts say more service slips are likely because employee morale is low and money is tight. “People are going to slip up along the way,” says Meta Group analyst David Willis. “You’re going to have more outages.”

That’s something WorldCom can’t afford. CEO John Sidgmore, after announcing more accounting misdeeds Thursday, sent an e-mail to employees imploring them to be especially vigilant in their work.

Copyright 2008© USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.
 

Night Shift Appeals to White-collar Workers
Human Resources Executive, September 2006
http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/story.jsp?storyId=6957027

Increasing numbers of white-collar professionals have taken to overnight work hours, the shifts once associated with blue-collar workers in various trades or the manufacturing sector.

Almost 50 percent of the 24 million American employees who work the so-called “graveyard shift” do so in white-collar positions, such as technology, finance, health care and call centers, according to Stoneham, Mass.-based Circadian Technologies Inc., a consulting firm specializing in night-time work issues.

“One of the trends we’ve seen is that businesses that weren’t quite 24/7 before are getting that way, and the number of white-collar jobs at night are increasing,” Circadian Technologies founder and former Harvard medical professor Dr. Martin Moore-Ede recently told the Baltimore Sun.

“The world is becoming 24 hours because the Internet changes the rules,” says Gary Pudles, founder, CEO and president of Princeton, N.J.-based AnswerNet Network. Launched in 1998, AnswerNet Network operates 55 call centers in 22 states and Canada.

“Consumers now want businesses and companies to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Pudles says. “One of the things the Internet has done is change expectations.” People want to shop, conduct their banking, have health questions answered and manage credit-card accounts at all hours.

The conventional 9-to-5 stereotype of white-collar workers is disappearing as professionals alter their workdays to accommodate round-the-clock demand, he says. “A lot of jobs no longer need to be done during traditional daytime hours.”

Functions such as accounting, transcription and e-mail management attract white-collar workers to overnight shifts, according to Pudles. “All kinds of business-process workers, the same workers who are also being outsourced overseas, are working overnight hours here,” he says.

At AnswerNet Network, there’s no typical night-shift white-collar employee, he says. Employees vary across gender and age groups.

Some employees are hired as day-shift workers and choose to move to night work. “Knowing they’re willing to work overnight is a bonus,” Pudles says. Other applicants are hired specifically for overnight shifts.

Working at night offers some differences besides just the time change, he says, and it’s not for everyone. “Some people have a very tough time adjusting their schedules,” he says. “Sometimes their body clocks don’t adjust. And some just miss the daylight.”

“Many [employees] are working alone so you have to like working alone,” Pudles says. And overnight shifts tend to be somewhat unstructured. “There’s less management supervision,” he says. Best suited to such work are employees who work well independently.

Management of an overnight workforce is critical, according to Pudles, who says, “It is important not to ‘burn them [employees] out,’ — they need time to adjust to their altered schedule.”

Such employees, however, “like the flexibility of the schedule,” Pudles says. “It gives you the whole day to do your thing.”

It’s particularly beneficial to working parents, he says, who flip-flop schedules so that one parent works during the day and one works overnight, thus allowing one of them to always be available at home for their children. “It allows you to share parenting responsibilities more flexibly,” Pudles says.

Copyright 2006© LRP Publications
 

Executives Urge Reduced Usage of Jargon
Billings Gazette, February 6, 2006
http://www.billingsgazette.com/newdex.php?display=rednews/2005/02/06/build/business/55-jargon.inc

At the end of the day, if you think out of the box at work, it could lead to a paradigm shift in your career that results in a win-win for you and the boss.

Yuck.

There’s no doubting that such buzzwords or phrases have crept in and taken a chokehold on the workplace lexicon.

“But when you fall into the trap of using these buzzwords, your message can become hollow,” said Al Saverino, a Woodbridge-based regional vice president with the global firm Accountemps.

Saverino believes workers make the mistake of using such jargon in an attempt to come across as “in the know” or part of the “in crowd.” That’s one reason his firm recently commissioned a national survey that sought to reveal the buzzwords that bug corporate leaders the most.

“The ultimate goal was to explain to people the importance of communicating effectively,” Saverino said.

If anyone should know that, it’s Gary Pudles. He’s president and chief executive of Princeton-based AnswerNet Network, a telemarketing, Internet and answering service company.

“It can be annoying, but you learn to laugh it off, especially when people use words like ‘synergy’ and then apologize for using them because they know words like that are so overused,” Pudles said.

Even so, when it comes to dealing with clients, Pudles never gets annoyed.

“If they want to talk cool and jargon, I just go with the flow, but sometimes it’s hard not to laugh,” Pudles said. “I mean, how many new paradigms are there, really? I spent a whole career just trying to support the old paradigms!”

Accountemps, a staffing firm for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, asked company bigwigs participating in the survey, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?”

The executives’ responses included some of the phrases already mentioned as well as “metrics,” “take it offline,” “re-deployed people,” “on the runway,” “get on the same page,” “customer centric,” “accountability management,” “solution,” “core competency,” “alignment” and “incremental.”

Huh? How did this happen?

“Some buzzwords did exist 20 years ago, but they’ve really evolved and become overused,” Saverino said. “The problem today is there’s something lost in the communication when these words or phrases are overused. And executives are saying ‘Enough. Give me the one or two things I need to know to allow me to understand what you’re trying to say so we can move on to the next topic.’ ”

Even though Pudles’ business acumen allows for plenty of lingo leeway when dealing with clients, jargon is an absolute no-no for his telephone operators.

“Our operators are generally not having those discussions with people they’re talking to,” Pudles said. “Unless it comes from the person at the other end of the phone, we don’t do it.”

Not only does the jargon amount to another stab through the heart of the English language, Pudles said, it can be bad for business.

“We need to be all about clarity,” he said. “Most businesses do.”

Dean Guida, president and CEO of software development tools firm Infragistics, admits to using certain buzzwords.

“We’ve changed our lingo over time to really focus more on the customer,” said Guida, whose 110-employee company is in East Windsor. “We talk about things like ‘customer delight’ and ‘voice of the customer’ a lot. But it works for us because everyone here knows what we’re talking about.”

Copyright © The Billings Gazette
 

The Second Time Around—A Lawyer Shifts Gears
International Herald Tribune, June 21, 2003
http://www.iht.com/articles/2003/06/21/mpudle_ed3_.php

In 1995, Gary Pudles retired from the law at an age when most lawyers are just beginning to hit their stride. He has no regrets.

Pudles, then 33, was riding high as general counsel and general manager for Music Inc., a franchise of Muzak Holdings LLC, the folks who supply easy-listening music to elevators and other public places. He had a dream boss, he says, a six-figure salary and a business that grew almost effortlessly, thanks to automatic renewals of client contracts for the service.

But when his boss fell ill with kidney disease and decided to retire, Pudles found himself pumping up the business so it could be sold.

Pudles, who handled the sale, received a cushy severance package — and learned that what he really loved was building a business and being his own boss, not practicing law as a hired hand.

He began canvassing the then-nascent Internet for a company to buy: something not too far from his Muzak experience, subscriber-oriented and with recurring billing cycles.

After some false starts, Pudles came across what he described as three “good old-fashioned answering service” businesses that met all his criteria and were close to his home. He wrote a business plan and began negotiations to buy at least one of the companies. Meanwhile, he raised $2 million in private equity

It was about this time that Pudles read a magazine profile about a successful answering-service entrepreneur named Bill Robertshaw. The two met, and Robertshaw, impressed by Pudles’ energy and intellect, eventually joined forces with him.

Between August 1998 and December 1999, Pudles and Robertshaw made six more acquisitions, financed with a mixture of owner’s equity and loans backed by the Small Business Investment Corp., a U.S. goverment-affiliated agency. They closed the year owning seven call centers with a combined $2.8 million in gross sales. Though independently operated, all the centers shared the brand name, AnswerNet Network — Pudles’ idea.

Today, AnswerNet has five divisions that have more than 40,000 clients and 2,000 employees spread among about 50 locations. The network has projected billings of $35 million for 2003.

Peter DeHaan, publisher of Connections magazine, a teleservices trade journal, said he thought that Pudles’ status as an industry outsider and his legal background, gave him a leg up in a business that is dominated by second- and third-generation owners.

“He didn’t have all the historical baggage many of the other owners had about how things could be done,” DeHaan said. “As a lawyer, he also could see ways to do acquisitions that others might not have seen.”

Pudles chuckles at the praise. “I wasn’t smart enough not to know to do those things,” he said. “There is conventional wisdom that permeates this industry as with any. I just don’t believe in conventional wisdom.”

Copyright © The International Herald Tribune