Monday, February 14, 2005
Interview with Chuck Ciarlo, CEO of Left Bank Solutions
My interview today is with Chuck Ciarlo, CEO of Left Bank Solutions, a company focusing on call center optimization. The company is in the midst of looking for funding, and I thought it would be interesting to hear the company's pitch.
BK: What is Left Bank Solutions, and what area of the market does your product target?
CC: Left Bank Solutions, Inc. is an Enterprise Software provider specializing in workforce optimization solutions for call centers throughout the world.
BK: Who are the typical users of your software?
CC: Businesses that operate call centers for the purpose of providing customer service, order taking, tech support and many other tasks. They range in size from as few as 10 agents to well over 1000 agents. These call centers use our software to organize the activities of their agents and to maximize the effective use of their time. This helps significantly reduce the overall labor costs of a center, which are typically over 70% of its total operating costs, and increase customer service levels.
BK: Can you describe what the need is at your customers, and how your software works?
CC: Our customers everywhere need an inexpensive, easy to install software system to forecast and schedule their agents hourly and daily activities so as to have the right number of agents at all times efficiently performing their assigned tasks. Our system is flexible enough to be used by enterprises with multiple call center sites, each with multiple tasks and multiple input sources. No matter how simple or complex a clients' call center operations are, our software is designed to minimize labor costs without reducing customer satisfaction.
The process begins with the collection of incoming statistics from the client's ACD (automatic call distributor). This data is then processed by time-tested algorithms and simulations to forecast the desired number of agents needed for particular time intervals throughout the day and week to meet a desired service level (time to answer). This forecast is further refined by the center's management to incorporate agent availability data such as agents start and end times, off days, vacations, breaks, etc. that can be further modified by the agents themselves over the Internet.
Once a schedule is finalized, our software looks at each agent's adherence to determine whether an agent is performing his/her task correctly. This helps reduce "shrinkage" which can be expensive for any center if it is not controlled. Shrinkage is also a good indicator of agents' involvement and approval of the scheduling process which again relates to customer satisfaction.
Finally, our system integrates with other call center software designed to further enhance an agent's performance according to criteria developed either by the center or other management levels of the enterprise.
BK: What's different about Left Bank than existing solutions?
CC: Our software is highly cost effective for most call centers with under 1,000 agents; particularly those who primarily handle incoming calls. It fully integrates with most Automatic Call Distributors (ACDs) and with many CRM software packages. These packages assist in the enhancement of customer relations and include monitoring and recording (M and R) and agent performance analysis software.
BK: Is your product available, and has it been deployed at end user sites?
CC: Our product was first fully launched at the end of 2002 and is currently deployed at contact centers throughout North America and the UK. These sites range in size from as many as 1,000 agents to sites with as few as 50 agents.
BK: Who is involved in the executive team, and what do they bring to the table?
CC: As CEO, I have over 20 years of call center ownership and management experience. I am primarily responsible for the development of Monet as a result of the challenges I experienced in managing various call center agents with less than cost effective tools. Increasingly as our marketing efforts expand, I will direct my attention to the overall direction of the Company to insure that it is strategically positioned to become a major enterprise software provider.
Mark Surico, our Sr. VP is primarily responsible for New Business Development and heads our (at the moment) sole in-house sales team that is spearheaded by Yvette Simpson and administered by Ilene Sturrock, who recently came to us from Siebel. The above team is experienced in both sales and distribution activities, each of them bringing at least 15 years experience in either or both fields.
Josh Griffin, Director of Technical Support and an experienced software engineer, is responsible for our service and support activities. Josh is supported by a team of dedicated software engineers located in our Pune, India development center.
Ted Loud, Director, with over 30 years of financial experience and more recently as an Angel Investor, is active in strategic financial planning and fund raising activities for the Company.
BK: Have you scoped the overall market size, and are there many competitors in the field?
CC: There are perhaps 200,000 call centers worldwide today, of which 100,000 or so are located in North America. As we look out over the next 5 years, we estimate that between 5-10% of these centers (or 10-20,000) may be in a position to consider a workforce management system in any given year. This estimate is based upon the fact that there is a low penetration rate of this market now because many centers have been unable to use or unable to afford these systems.
This condition may be changing (if our recent experience is any guide), due to many technological innovations and a changing perception of the value of a call center itself by senior management. Increasingly, call centers are becoming a more integral part of many enterprises, not just cost containment divisions.
Our objective is to install "Monet" in at least 2,500 of these better-integrated centers during the next 5 years, and to use the call center as a means of penetrating other parts of that enterprise.
The market is broken out between 4 major vendors that make up around 75% of the market and then 25% of the market going to another 4-6 vendors. It is worth noting the major vendors having primarily focused on the large center market, leaving a huge opportunity for us in the SMB market where we have established ourselves as the price to performance leader.
BK: How did you come up with your software, and where did the idea for your product come from?
CC: I have always been somewhat of a technologist; in my previous companies, even as CEO I was primarily responsible for our IT and Software Development Teams. I have been running call centers for the last 20 years, so I know all the pain points trying to properly forecast and schedule agent activities to improve service level while trying to control costs. During that time, all automated solutions were priced for only the largest centers, leaving small and medium centers to make due with manual processes or inadequate tools. That experience gave me the idea to create an easy to use and affordable solution that had all the features necessary to do the job.
BK: With the shift of much call center business to offshore locations, are you finding you are also getting more oversees business for your product?
CC: We are seeing a huge surge in interest from overseas. Today our sales pipeline includes centers in India, Philippines, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Denmark, Germany, and many other countries. The rise in contact center offshoring has increaseed the awareness and need for workforce optimization. We predict strong contact center growth outside North America in English speaking low cost labor regions.