Meet the Managing Director Driving the Success of BDM
Launched in 2001, the BDM Group is one of the UK’s leading contact centres and telecommunications companies. Working with numerous businesses across the UK. I sat down with Managing Director Sharon Powell, to discuss the businesses growth, her journey with BDM, coping with the pandemic, and the future of customer contact.
What was your career background before joining BDM?
I left school after my A levels in 1987 (yes I am that old!) and joined Lloyds Bank on their Management Training Program. I worked my way through the ranks with Lloyds reaching Group Customer Manager position by the time I left. I took voluntary redundancy in December 2001 moving to Oman in the Middle East for a short time whilst my husband was working there – our daughter Ella was born in 2003 and I joined BDM in August 2006.
How has BDM changed during your time there?
Talk didn’t exist when I joined BDM it was just Mike and me in a two-man office. So you could say he was one man and a cupboard box when I joined. The BDM Group was founded with BDM Voice providing trackable telephone numbers and voice recording into the automotive sector – from there we started providing critiquing of calls on behalf of our customers and then training. One day Peter Isted from the Lifestyle Group (since bought by Hendy) asked if we could set up a call centre making outbound service booking calls – from 2 desks BDM Talk was born.
Since then it has very much been my baby and we have grown into a multi-seat business taking and making more than 500,000 calls per year.
What sets BDM Talk apart from its competitors?
I like to think that it’s the passion of our staff. Unlike a lot of contact centres, we have colleagues who have been with us and indeed their accounts for many years. We also have our boomerang babies – those people who go off to university or go travelling but come back to BDM. They miss the supportive nurturing atmosphere of BDM – we are a bit like a family. This has been very evident during the pandemic, with everyone supporting each other and their clients.
What key skills or personalities traits do you look for in people applying for positions with BDM Talk?
An ability to talk might sound fundamental but you would be surprised how many people think the idea of working in a contact centre is a good one but don’t like talking to people. Attention to detail and a good level of computer literacy is also essential in a job like ours. In addition, someone who likes processes, almost everything we do has to follow a process and if you cannot do that then you can get yourself and ultimately your customer in a right muddle!
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome running a contact centre during a global pandemic?
For me not having the answers straight away was the biggest challenge. Staff were often seeking reassurance in terms of ‘how long will this go on for’ – ‘what do I do if…’ – I didn’t always have the answers but for many staff, I was having to almost be a parental voice providing reassurance and guidance when the world was upside down!
The way consumers are looking to engage with companies is changing.
Online engagement has grown massively in the last 18 months. Customers have more confidence in online processes now and are happier to use them in conjunction with a traditional telephone. That said telephone contact cannot be replaced completely as humans do not fit nicely into boxes that online processes sometimes put people into. I think it would be a mistake for a business to believe they can push consumers solely into an online environment.
What do you see for the future of customer contact? Be that WhatsApp, Live chat or AI ChatBots for example?
I think online options have their place but will never completely replace the need for telephone contact under some circumstances. They have a way to go to replicate human behaviour/language and regional variances and can sometimes leave customers increasingly frustrated at not being able to get the answers they require. So in short, I believe these technologies will become more commonplace and we will look to embrace the new methods in combination with the more traditional and trusted.
How do you plan for expansion and growth? For example, if a client needed to double the number of agents let’s say?
Everything we do for our clients has to be in terms of a partnership. Partnerships are based on trust – trust on both sides. We very much believe in transparency in terms of expectations and deliverables. So in the scenario, as you have described it is all about agreeing and planning for realistic timescales – even if plan expectations need to be adjusted. We want to be working with our clients to achieve both their commercial goals and our own commercial targets. Working with your clients might sound like an obvious answer but it can often be different in reality so you need to make sure that you build trust from the outset.
The contact centre is based in Burgess Hill, tell me something interesting/ you like about this location?
It is a vibrant and opportune location for businesses, with the likes of American Express and Virgin. Our offices in Burgess Hill are only 3 minute walk from the mainline train station – this makes it very easy to recruit, as transport links are good.
What are your interests outside of BDM Talk and the automotive contact centre world?
My daughter and her horse take up a lot of our time as a family outside of work. My husband curses the fact the I put her on a pony at age 2, she’s now nearly 18! He thinks about all the Aston Martin’s he could have owned instead! I love films, music and theatre and have an unhealthy ‘obsession’ (my daughter’s words) with Lin-Manuel Miranda!