Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2011
By Linda Bailey
GCS, a Salisbury-based contact services company headed by Greg Alcorn, is in good health as it celebrates its 10th year in business.
The company had its best financial years in 2009 and 2010, Alcorn says, by playing offense.
“We did not hunker down,” he says of the current recession. In 2008, GCS’s clients, big names in banking and insurance, were on the front pages of newspapers “for all the wrong reasons,” Alcorn says.
GCS, which operates 13 contact centers in the U.S. and the Philippines, huddled with its entire management team. The theme of the annual meeting was “Thrivor,” a take-off of the television show “Survivor.” The group planned to thrive. “We took advantage of the situation and hired more sales people, more marketing people, and invested in technology and it worked for us,” Alcorn says.
GCS is Global Contact Services and the name has nothing to do with geography. The company handles multi-touch points for clients, including telephone sales, email, chat rooms and Facebook management, direct mail and video conferencing, data entry, verification, and BPO (back office processing).
As the future unfolds in a social media blast, Alcorn is prepared to meet the needs of clients. Currently, 85 percent of his associates do voice work. In five years, text messaging may be 80 percent of the work. “The generation today doesn’t use the phone,” Alcorn says. “We have to be prepared for the preferences of our customers.”
Looking back on the challenges of the past decade, Alcorn doesn’t put the recession at the top of his list.
“The ‘perfect storm’ for us was 9-11 and the craze for off-shore outsourcing,” he says. GCS was still in its six-month start-up phase when 9-11 occurred. “It spooked a lot of clients and hurt our momentum,” Alcorn says. Adjusting to off-shore outsourcing was the next big hurdle. “Now, we’re benefitting from ‘re-shoring’ with folks coming back,” he says.
Alcorn attributes GCS’s success to continuous improvement. “That’s really core to our business,” he says. “We realize that we represent our clients as if we are the client.”
In other words, associates have to know the answers to questions about insurance products.
“We focus on listening and speaking skills significantly more than the industry norm,” Alcorn says. Associates need superior presentation skills. GCS has passed every audit and received every certification it has sought since Day 1, Alcorn says.
With the majority of its business in insurance, GCS concentrates on hiring associates with the competencies of becoming insurance agents, Alcorn says. Training is essential.
“We pick places to open our centers that are close to resources to teach those classes,” he says, and where students have a high success rate in passing insurance licensing tests. “We purposely pick smaller communities to make a long-term impact,” he says. “The main thing we do in those communities is offer meaningful employment.”
At its 10th year anniversary, GCS has surpassed $1 billion in economic impact in the 13 communities through payroll and the economic multiplier effect, Alcorn says. Three associates are also celebrating 10th anniversaries with the company this month. By the end of this year, 27 more will celebrate 10 years with GCS. In the next few years, another 100 associates are expected to reach the 10-year mark. “The longevity of our management associates and insurance agents speaks to the loyalty and commitment of that group,” Alcorn says. “Hopefully, we are doing something right with this business.”
He’s most proud that GCS lives up to its mission statement: “Always enhance the quality of life in the communities where we work and live, for this generation and the next.”
From a start-up of two employees, GCS now has more than 1,000 employees with 400 who are bilingual.
“We’ve revamped technology at least three times and survived a horrific virus attack,” Alcorn says of the first decade.
GCS encourages associates to use their training to volunteer in their communities. “We want them to use their communication skills, their interpersonal skills and their business process skills,” Alcorn says. Associates participate in a company program called “Helping Hand,” contributing to fellow associates and their families during times of disaster, such as the tornado near Pulaski, VA, or the typhoon in the Philippines. GCS associates provided 500 kits of basic needs such as water, toiletries, and food to associates and their families in the Philippines.
With a 10-year concentration in the insurance and financial industries, GCS is moving to diversify into catalogue sales, lead generation, motor club support and government programs. “Insurance will always be there but we don’t want to rely on one vertical,” Alcorn says.
Alcorn, with a background in marketing, was fortunate to work for Dick and Chris Virtue at Southern Alloy in the 1980s. The Virtues had a lot of values and principles, he says, and offered to provide opportunities to those of us who wanted them. “Dick Virtue said, ‘If you want to run a company, I’ll let you run a company.’ ”
Southern Marketing, soon to become SOMAR, was formed, concentrating on its core strength of mailing lists and direct marketing. Executive leadership classes at UNC-Chapel Hill helped with strategic planning, and management figured out its strength was customer service, or telephone sales. The company exploded, going from 200 to 2,000 employees from1991 to 1994, Alcorn says. “Before that, we were trying to be all things to all people.”
In 1996, SOMAR joined five other private companies in a roll-up, in order to be large enough to go public as Telespectrum. With headquarters located in Philadelphia, Alcorn had to make a choice — move to Philadelphia or leave the company.
He stayed in Salisbury, waited out his four-year non-compete clause, and in 2001, went back into business as GCS. “We knew the decision-makers from our SOMAR days,” he says, and re-established relationships with companies such as Sears, JC Penney, Bank of America, Allstate, TransAmerica and others. “We did a lot of research,” he says. A lot of asking: What do you need?
The answer was insurance agents good at working on the telephone.
Alcorn took that answer and changed it to agents superior at working on the telephone.
Today, if your bank statement comes with an insert enclosed about an insurance program, the toll-free number you call will likely send you to a GCS agent. Alcorn is confident that agent will have the answers to all your questions. And, hopefully, he intends for the business to be around for another generation.
GCS, based in Salisbury, is one of the top five providers of direct insurance programs in the U.S. The company has more than 1,000 employees in 13 locations, 12 in the U.S. and one in the Philippines. Associates communicate with more than two million customers per month. GCS provides many of its services to major corporations such as Chartis, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Valero Energy, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC and others.
GCS provides contact center services for companies in the areas of customer engagement, both inbound and outbound and back-office processes (BPO). Using one-with-one voice dialogue to engage current and potential customers and members, GCS places products, services requests and strengthens customer relationships for their clients in the insurance, banking, financial, telecom, and other markets.
Non-voice activities include data entry, social media monitoring and data processing.