Gabriel Bristol grew up in Michigan and got his start in the call center business when he was just 18 years old. He moved to Los Angeles where he worked at call centers for the Los Angeles Times and MetLife. He headed up sales and marketing initiatives as he progressed up the ladder of success. He then applied his skills helping turn around stagnant businesses in the Internet marketing, manufacturing and garment industries.
He is president and CEO at Intelicare Direct, a Las Vegas-based provider of call center services.
When he joined Intelicare Direct two years ago, it had 60 employees and revenue of about $3.5 million. Today, Intelicare Direct is near $11 million and has more than 330 employees in Las Vegas and San Diego. Intelicare Direct hopes to double in size through 2015, he said.
Bristol spends half his time at home in Las Vegas with his family and half his time working at the second location in San Diego.
He said the goal of Intelicare Direct is to provide the best customer service in the world.
Q. Has the number of international call centers had any effect on Intelicare Direct?
A. When I joined Intelicare Direct, my vision was to take it from a small call center to a global leader in customer service and to fill a niche or a void in the marketplace. I strongly believed — and I still do — that there was a hunger among companies to provide the best customer service possible, to treat their customers in the best way possible; not to try to cut costs and outsource them to employees in another country who didn’t understand the language let alone the product.
I decided to buck the trend, which is not to tell a customer service rep who works for us “you have to get that customer off phone in 2½ minutes” so that you can go on to the next call and we can service this call as cheaply as possible. That is the model; that is the trend. And I knew people wanted something different; companies wanted something different. Most importantly, potential customers wanted something better. So, we are focused on those clients and that’s who we work with.
Q. Are you seeing growth in the call center business?
A. I see a very interesting trend. Over the last four or five years, a few companies reached out and asked if I would be available to help them bring their call center activities back from the Philippians, India and Eastern Europe. These companies realize that what they did when they moved those services over there was very penny-wise, pound-foolish.
In the short term, they may have been able to pay the agents the U.S. equivalent of $2, $3, $4 an hour and avoid paying them benefits, but in the long run they found that their customers weren’t pleased with the level of service they were getting, thus they were complaining on various websites, plus the calls had to be escalated to managers because they were so irate. They went from call times of three minutes to resolve an issue when they were in the U.S. to all of the sudden customers having to be on the phone on average nine or 10 minutes. So, they were paying additional telephony costs and the ill-will that they were breeding just wasn’t worth it. So, I’m definitely seeing a trend of bringing that work and that customer service experience back to the United States.
Q. What type of businesses should seek your services?
A. Intelicare Direct is in a very enviable position right now. Since our niche is working with customers who want the best experience for their customer and want the best customer service in the world, we have been able to flip the script a little bit and actually assess the needs of customers. (We can) say “you know what, we don’t think you’re a fit for us. We do not believe that you may be focused on the customers as much as you should be and that is how you will achieve the bottom line growth.” So, we have the reputation of being best in class. People that come to us are really generally looking for that experience. We have some key customers that we work with, that are committed to world-class customer service — including Century 21 and some other insurance companies and background check companies.
Q. Is there a large need for new customer service representatives and what type of people should apply?
A. There is always a need for customer service reps. Customer service work is a very important part of the United States economy. It’s often overlooked and undervalued. Different companies have different methodologies for finding customer service agents. For us, we look for people who by nature are empathetic and have a certain level of intelligence. We find if we have those qualities, we can teach the finer points.