‘There’s no point trying to screw somebody over for a few quid,’ says Ashley Unitt. ‘You have to accept that you may have to do things that aren’t in your interest in the short term.’ The entrepreneur isn’t here for quick wins. Playing the long game and thinking ahead has become something of his forte, founding NewVoiceMedia back in 1998 when the use of cloud software was still far off the horizon and contact centers carried a notorious reputation as being gloomy workplaces with irksome customer service. Sensing an opportunity (and a solution), Ashley tells CONVO how he turned the contact center market around through forward-thinking, diligent teamwork, and being in business for more than just money.

Ashley Unitt

In the mid to late 90s, there were a few companies doing contact centers really well. But, to do that, they needed a lot of bespoke, expensive technology that required huge amounts of professional services. The idea was, let’s take the best parts of this, but let’s simplify it. Let’s make it available to everybody so it doesn’t need expertise and comes as one complete solution that can be programmed over the web. And let’s provide a great customer service experience. Because that’s the way that companies are going to succeed.

There were many difficult moments in the first couple of years. A couple of times we were almost out of money, but we always managed to find a way to sell a bit more software to keep the company going.

Not everyone understood it at first. That was the most difficult part - keeping the faith that people would eventually see our dream of where the industry would go. Now everything’s gone cloud. The way we behave as a company is to think about that longer term exposure. By having the long-term view, you’re not always trying to get a quick win or a fast buck, but thinking about the long-term payoff.

The story flipped in 2009. Up until that point, we had to spend a long time explaining what the cloud was to every customer. It was the first time that somebody came to us and said they wanted a cloud solution.

One of the biggest moments in NewVoiceMedia history was launching in the US in 2013. It was a bold thing for us to do. We didn’t have the resources or the scale of our US competitors, but we were smart. Originally we were looking at an 18-month launch plan: we did it in two weeks.

We were able to scale so rapidly through building a fantastic team of strong individuals that are humble and willing to put the team success ahead of their individual success.

Don’t do it on your own. If you want to start a company, try and do it as part of a team. Find one person that you really trust, who can push you through and persevere together. It’s hard but you need to have that self-belief in your dream to see it through.

There was a backlash against outsourcing abroad and doing things as cheaply as possible because people weren’t getting good enough service, so it was moved back to local contact centers. There’s going to be a similar shift in AI. AI is going to be used not as a replacement for people, but as a way to make people’s jobs easier and more efficient.

Having more human connection is key for businesses. You need to connect with your customer and you can only do that with people. You can’t automate that - you lose depth, emotion and empathy. When people want to do the really important things, they want the human touch.