INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Geared Up for Change: SuperStaff’s Matt Narciso on Innovation in the New Normal
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Matthew Narciso: We are all doing well, relatively speaking! Both my immediate family, as well as my SuperStaff family, have been able to do an excellent job in using the time constructively and watching out for each other.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined SuperStaff.
Matthew Narciso: I’ve been toiling at the intersection of technology and outsourcing for nearly my entire career. I started out as an outsourced call center worker right out of college and then went on to join the technology sector during grad school. I bounced back and forth between outsourcing and technology throughout my career until about a decade ago when I took a job in the APAC region for a firm that customized outsourcing solutions for Silicon Valley firms looking to expand. Tech firms, especially once they begin national or international rollouts, are especially vulnerable to creating a base of operations that simply isn’t scalable. What I’ve developed over the course of my career is the ability to structure an outsourcing strategy that allows companies to scale, take that extra 20-50 percent that offshoring removes from their overhead costs, and funnel it into other mission-critical operations.
About a year and a half ago, I was asked to come on board as the Managing Director of SuperStaff and build off the decade of experience they had. Since then, even in the midst of a pandemic, we have more than doubled in size, expanded our coverage area across North America and the Asia Pacific, and embraced the silver linings.
How does SuperStaff innovate?
Matthew Narciso: So, being in the outsourcing industry, innovation is the main differentiator. Pretty much everybody offers the same suite of solutions, but what really makes a BPO stand out is their wartime track record.
When the pandemic first started, it annihilated our sales pipeline. In late February, we were bracing for a record number of new partners coming on board. These new agreements were going to expand us into travel, entertainment, dining, and hospitality. Then, on March 16th, a national lockdown was instituted in the Philippines, and a shelter in place advisory was issued in Pennsylvania, meaning both of our headquarters would need to activate their Business Continuity Plans. Within hours, we were hustling to get equipment out to all of our workers, checking internet quality, coordinating with clients—and it was insane. By the time the dust cleared the following Monday, our entire pipeline was decimated. In fact, eight months later, several of them are now bankrupt.
As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
The same Monday we realized our COVID-19 had killed our entire annual forecast, I sat down with my team and drew two questions on the board:
1. Which companies will need us now more than ever?
2. How do we build a stronger workforce that will propel us to attract the unforeseen growth that every economic disaster creates?
So we got to work. We started researching past pandemics: H5N1 in 2006, H1N1 in 2009, et cetera. Which industries grew? Which industries suffered? Which companies in the growing industries are most vulnerable to unsustainable overheads, and therefore must outsource to survive? Who do we know there? Did they outsource last time?
Once we clocked out for the day, we had a list of companies to avoid and companies to target. And within six months, we had doubled in size.
The next task was to build a workforce that was equipped with mobile and state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure. We checked the upload and download speed of every employee’s internet connection, coordinated upgrades where needed, installed tracking software to ensure accountability and strategized with clients to mirror their own US-based work-from-home protocols.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Matthew Narciso: We have been much more selective when choosing our clients. In the past, outsourcing was based on past trends and present delivery models. But now, with entire industries collapsing and others emerging seemingly overnight, we are very picky with who we work with. Outsourcing is now entirely forward-looking and based on forecasting, not just a company’s viability, but its overall industry. We are purposeful in our prospecting and relentless in our background research. We target companies that we know we can deliver for and companies we know are poised for long-term and sustainable partnerships.
We are also much more collaborative with our contemporaries. Before COVID-19, BPO call centers didn’t communicate. We all developed our own best practices and constantly tried to outdo each other. Unfortunately, this led to endless reinventions of the wheel. Once the pandemic struck and entire industries sunk, we were humble enough to admit that we were in uncharted territory. I reached out to other Managing Directors from BPOs and call centers in alternative markets and had a round table discussion where we could share ideas with folks we knew we wouldn’t compete with directly. This has allowed for an accelerated learning environment that our clients really benefit from.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Matthew Narciso: Oh, yes. Too many to count. As Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” We had a plan this year to expand into travel and hospitality and three other new industries. We quickly had to abandon a year’s worth of planning in order to put our marketing dollars into targeting industries where we weren’t a known brand. We had to learn to let go of deals we knew would compromise the company’s long-term health. In all of this year’s challenges, we have tried to emphasize adaptability as one of the core principles.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and SuperStaff in the future?
Matthew Narciso: On a personal level, exercise is a huge part of my anti-stress routine. It involves lifting weights, running, biking, and even a little calisthenics. On a professional level, I sit down with all of my senior managers on Monday and forecast the week’s challenges as much as possible. We spend a couple of hours trying to imagine every possible wrinkle, exchanging ways to deal with those challenges, and offering support to each other. It is important to keep things in front of you as much as possible.
As far as projection goes, I try to present myself as a leader who puts a premium on dialogue and the free exchange of ideas. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that adaptability is the most versatile capability. And to truly be adaptable, you need to be willing to listen to new ideas from people all throughout the organization. You need to be able to uniquely leverage your people, uncover their hidden talents, and listen to their needs. And you definitely need to be able to listen to your clients.
I also think we are crafting a company that projects the same emphasis on data and dialogue-based adaptability. We want to be a company that trains and encourages its business unit managers to engage with their counterparts on the client-side and to consistently be asking questions. We want our solutions to have their own unique fingerprint and for clients to know that what we offer can’t be replicated elsewhere.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Matthew Narciso: Everybody. While in the past, we competed with boutique mid-sized Business Process Outsourcing firms, everybody is now working from home. We are competing on RFPs with mega-companies like Convergys, Accenture, and Teleperformance. What used to make larger firms stand out was all of their centralized infrastructures. But now, in a post-COVID-19 reality, nimbleness is strength. Decentralization is the new centralization. Clients do not want all of their eggs in one basket, and they are wary of partnering with a huge organization that is slow to react to change. Firms like SuperStaff that can move quickly, adapt to changing environments, and really invest in smaller clients by relying on growth, are the future of outsourcing.
Your final thoughts?
Matthew Narciso:Things will never be the same. And honestly, in some areas, that is a good thing. While this pandemic has been difficult, it did force us all to examine some things that were long overdue for a change. Things such as Business Continuity Plans, decentralization, flexible working arrangements, the overuse of commercial real estate, and installing accountability measures that are more focused on productivity and less on simply being present.
As is the case with all crises, we have the choice to emerge stronger. And the companies that prioritize innovation and the health of their human capital will not only live to fight another day but can revolutionize the industry or even create a new one.
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