Within three years, former physics major John Monarch has grown his customer service and tech support company Direct Outbound to 200 employees
John Monarch, the 28-year-old CEO of Direct Outbound, has a degree in physics from Clemson, and though he doesn’t use the major directly at the growing customer service and fulfillment company, he does see how the fields are similar.
“It’s problem-solving,” he said from his busy headquarters off of Woodruff Road in Greenville. “I’m not calculating electromagnetic fields anymore, but I still use some of that problem-solving.”
Since its founding in February 2012, the company has grown to 200 employees, has moved to larger facilities three times, and is now working for about 50 clients, including two high-profile companies featured on the television show “Shark Tank.” As the company ventures into serving a wider array of industries, Monarch believes the growth is just beginning.
“Everyone says we are a sleeper, and that no one knows who we are or how we got to this size being quiet in the Greenville area,” he said. “We’re working to get more involved in the community.”
What does Direct Outbound do and what sets you apart from similar companies?
We are an outsource customer service and tech support call center as well as a fulfillment center. We work with a lot of e-commerce. We save companies a lot of money by bundling everything together – postal service, UPS, FedEx. It ends up being a lot cheaper because we are doing a much higher volume blended into one client – us. We host all of our own equipment in-house and built all of our own servers, so that’s a unique set-up.
What prompted you to start the company?
I started out in high school, making websites for businesses. Then I had a couple of smaller ventures and got into online advertising. That’s how I got into this side, working with e-commerce partners. I learned there were a lot of things that could have been done better – things they were not able to handle as well in-house, like customer service and shipping.
Why do you think you had such steady growth?
Everyone needs a call center. It’s a utility that can be used for anything. I think we are seeing more text message-based support, but everyone still wants to talk to a person. And a lot of overseas call center work is coming back to the U.S. People are realizing the value of having a support base in the same country you are selling to – the net cost of having it domestic is better.
What is the significance of the name Direct Outbound?
We initially wanted to be an outbound call center. We thought sales would be a good idea. But my partners [Owen Vahey and Stephen Perry] and I realized that we are bad at training telemarketers, so we went to customer service, and it was too late to change the name.
What is the main difference between training salespeople and customer service people?
It’s a different mentality entirely. Training sales is a lot more aggressive. Customer service offers a measurable benefit to the customer, and people are happier as a result of calling in.
You focus on e-commerce now. What are some industries that you would like to add?
We are focusing more on help desk and b-to-b support. Corporations have internal software and they need tech support for it, so they can call in 24/7 when it doesn’t make sense for companies to hire internal techs to do it. We are working with companies in homebuilding that need customer service on phone calls. Also, insurance companies are hiring call centers staffed by nurses and nurse practitioners to reduce costs, so that’s something we’re working on.
Are different employees trained for different clients or industries?
We have a training program. Our face isn’t out there – we answer the phone as the company we are representing. Our agents are trained on multiple clients, but some specialize. My partners and I are Internet nerds. We hired other Internet nerds, and that’s worked out really well for us.
What aspect of the business have you found the most challenging?
As we grew, hiring. Unemployment is very low here, plus there are a lot of call centers around. And we never took any investment. For something that seems capital-intense, that was challenging at times. But growth happened very quickly.
What do you find the most fulfilling about your job?
Walking in and seeing everyone that is working here. Our first employee still works for us. All our managers started out as base-level employees and moved up to management.
What have you learned through the growth of Direct Outbound?
In general, just dealing with people and the variables that come. I’m used to data, physics, computer science. But you can’t predict human beings – it’s impossible.
What are your plans for the next five years?
Continued expansion, getting more clients for an outsourced medical call center. We were at 4,500 square feet and now we’re at 16,000, and we’re going to get a second warehouse that is 50-60,000 square feet. We want to expand into more traditional warehousing for industrial and retail.