Episode 9 - More Success Stories and Lessons Learned through the Covid-19 Pandemic
Nadia: Hi, welcome. Thank you for being with us today. And joining us for another edition of Insights. We’re together with Roberta, my colleague and our guests today Kai and Robert.
Robert Schneider: Hi,
Kai Zuchold: Guten Morgen
Nadia: …from Tas AG that have joined us to discuss the lessons learned and success stories that the company has been through the COVID pandemic, both when it started, and now whilst we're transitioning not only as a country, but I think as the whole world is transitioning to the next phase of the COVID pandemic. Thank you, Kai and Robert, once again, thank you for joining us. And perhaps you would like you would like to start by introducing a little about Tas. I know that Tas it’s an outsourcing company focusing on customer service primarily established the head office in Leipzig. But definitely you have definitely more details to share with us today.
Robert: Yes, for almost a roundabout 30 years and today with around 700 employees. The Tas again is one of the largest family run companies in the PPO business in Germany, meaning Business Process Outsourcing, as you said, Nadia, mainly for customer service.
As a certified CRM provider certified means we're certified by the German TIFF, which is the German technical inspection association. With a strong focus on bank and assurance industry, that means that every process has to be in accordance with ISO standards and so on. And within that context, our company transformed well over the past five years, let's say from the classical call centre into CX customer experience as a manufacturer that means we are offering customized and tailored strategies for an excellent and very excellent customer service. Nowadays for the entire financial business, including all the Fintechs and the ever growing e-commerce advance.
Kai: Let me complete. For this change, it was necessary to rethink our entire mind-set to be very enabled now to revolutionize the market as a service pack. That's our new and second name. And in our current positions, Roberts and me have focused new business opportunities, we design new products and new services.
Nadia: So what changed? Was this change instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic? No, Kai, you saw this change even beforehand, because the shift in customer service has been long coming, right? Indeed, I think that's the initial aspects, and the initial context of customer service was about the call and the call centre, as Robert mentioned. Now, it's more about not only a call centre, but it's really this Omni channel, all different contacts, and the full customer experience.
Robert: Exactly like we're providing. Yeah, we're providing all the technical background, for example, like WhatsApp business solution API, being the first in Germany, offering that on a scalable level. And so the classical concept is the customers want us to answer calls emails. But now we are creating how to write those mails and the calls which technical setup is the best, and as you said, which are the best channels for the customers to reach out to service users.
Kai: And you're right, the change in transformations was not based on COVID-19.
Nadia: So we're definitely different industries as well, as you've said, not just banking, but not the financial industry, but you had different myriads of different industries as well. Which is interesting note taking the conversation a little bit back to perhaps February this year, when this COVID pandemic started.
What where, I know that you're quite used, you're not new definitely to off-shoring to because obviously, the main remit of your business is outsourcing. So definitely I'm pretty sure you have all the redundancies in place and all the technology required in place to ensure the continuity and the business continuity of your own business and your own clients. But it will be interesting for us and the audience, client, Robert, to share perhaps, what were the challenges you faced, even in an organization, when within a within the context of having a company prepared, so to speak? What were the challenges that you had to face with your employees with the shift with your clients, perhaps? What were the challenges that you encountered?
Robert: Well, for our core corporate strategy there was no need to be aligned. So COVID had no disruptive effect on our core strategy. The very important step of doing some sort of redefinition to the strategy was done last year, there is an annual, they are annuals strategic sessions, where the management and the board members come together. And always try to have, let's say, a top of the line strategy, from the technical perspective from the demands of the customer from what is going on, into customer research, and so on. And, of course, as you said, from a BCM perspective, and for everybody's sake, COVID-19 didn't had any effects on the core strategy.
Some new opportunities came out like products or things. And let's say, I guess it was at the end of February so very early, we had the crisis team installed with the team who were developing and specifying tasks for pandemic related emergency scenarios and procedures, and Kai can say something about it.
Kai: Yeah, of course, these measures were immediately shared with, with our customers and we we're happy that we had consistent contingency plan ready in time, because we didn't have it in February, right. And this even more strengthening our status to a secure and, and reliable service provider and partner. And let me say, some smiles at us. Some protect us to fear for, because we take it very early, you know, we, we cancelled and caught off our most important trait for the CCW. By the end, the board was right. And but right made the very right, cautious decisions. I think. So.
Roberta: I think this is interesting, the fact I think that you took very quick action. So being agile, I think, again, another theme that emerges from one Insights episode to another, which also highlights the importance of good leadership. And in this regard, maybe it's also interesting to see how you, there's a culture of and a style perhaps of leadership, which is ingrained within the organization, because you also mentioned the strategy sessions, which are held every year between management and the board. So perhaps, because of this history within the company, you are also able to take these quick decisions, would you say?
Robert: Yes, very right. As you said, the leadership is one of the main pillars in the construct of a good company. And I guess speaking for all of our managers, and team leaders, team leading and managing people are not only just key factors, to employee or for employee satisfaction, or KPIs like fluctuation, attrition, or the very right motivation, and the very right moment for the individual employee. And even in a crisis or even more in a crisis, it's important that all the team leaders and managers are acting now as the tower of strength as a port in the storm as rock in the surf. And there must be strong anchors for the employees. And they have to provide some sort of safety and confidence.
You know, the people, the employees come from home with all the mass media information, maybe fear about a pandemic. And it's very important to have leaders here that take away this stressful moment. Because we think that employees or only employees can deliver a reliable and remarkable performance. If they feel protected. And if they are, let's say appreciated with their fears and needs, longings, all things are triggered by the crisis.
Nadia: Even though even though leaders are always present, but even more so and even more important, I think, Robert, that's what you're highlighting. And I think that's extremely Important and important points to share and like Roberta mentioned, which has previously been mentioned by our participants as well, that leaders have to be present and make themselves available to provide the confidence, provide the comfort, provide the security, because obviously, everyone is going through a different mind-sets. I'm sorry, everyone has a different mind-set. So having a leader trying to realign all the different mind-sets, that's extremely important.
Did you feel that your presence or the presence of your leaders had to be more frequent? Did you have to increase the orders is was something part of your structure already?
Robert: Well, as you said, the importance of leadership was pushed to a new level. And we're talking about remote leadership, which is new for all the employees and home office. So of course, when we needed new structures for that, and so, the presence or the importance of presence, is the same, but presence has to be realized in another way.
Kai: So, the entrepreneurs to our employees to a time when they needed, you know,
Nadia: I know the family Geyer as well, I know them very well, and how closely knit they are with the employees. Very nicely, they blend in and they make themselves very present. And that is remarkable, I must say. And but apart from that, so all your employees were home-shored, immediately, as soon as the pandemic started? Or did you have a hybrid approach? Where your employees working from home in February immediately? Or did you have some at the office and some at home?
Kai: Of course, of course, around about two thirds of the employees were enabled to start working from home just after the first meeting of the of the crisis team, right. And then all upcoming technical challenges and issues were resolved by the by our by our IT department. And since it affected a large number of employees, you know, and of all ages and capabilities and the set to be done things in 16 hour shifts, you know, by our IT guys, and it paid out to specialists and on board to be independent from any outside services. And then one week the job was done.
Roberta: Quite a radical change. Did you encounter any resistance to this change?
Robert: Well, yes and no. I mean, let's say half a year before the pandemic broke out, no one thought it would work or it would be possible to push so many employees in the home office. The concerns were about where they work at all, will the quality be sufficient for our customers with the service level will be all [unintelligible]. So of course, it was a big change.
And for all employees, we updated our framework of work in the sense of code of conduct and we aligned all the rules of cooperation. Like we were using a Microsoft Teams since then, since then, and made a strong approach to use it in the right way, not as kind of fill up tool. So we made sessions and we created rules how to use Teams.
And I guess it's important that employees have a clear and distinct direction where to go for the home office. You can't just send them away and say do your work at home. If you don't do that, they will just be left overstrained, you know, and for us, our employees our most valuable asset that we have. It's not the technology it's more the employees and having them in an overstrained condition is no desirable condition for us from the perspective of our BCM. And as you said, we are a family company of course also from the perspective of our values that we share all together and of course to our wishes though, it was a major change. But we assisted everybody with all the fears and all the concerns and all the critical the critical thoughts that to create a whole framework that works and of course you have employees who will still find it not amusing to work in home office but this is the minority.
Roberta: Amazing. So you're going to retain the homeworking structure now? Are you looking at retaining this kind of working style from home.
Nadia: Will you read it in this business model?
Nadia: That's very interesting. Please remind me the amount of the number of employees that you have, because I know it was definitely…
Nadia: Last time I visited was 450. Now it's 700.
Roberta: So that's just about the size of little village in Gozo, I suppose!
Nadia: So, I must admit it, that's, that's really a remarkable structure to organize and reorganize everything. And it's an interesting comment, Robert, that you mentioned, that technology is important, that technology is an enabler at the end of the day.
So the Human Resources aspect, the employees are very important, because without the team, without the having a very much aligned team, you wouldn't be able to provide a very good, outstanding service to your clients. And also an interesting comment that Kai, you mentioned a bit earlier was the opportunity, you had to strengthen the relationship with your clients, and which I think, as you know, outsourcing hasn't always been viewed in a very good and positive light, historically. So having the opportunity that during the crisis, you managed to strengthen, to provide business continuity, the contingency plan for clients, especially those that didn't have it, I think you have taken the opportunity to a very good level, both to strengthen the relationship with your employees, but also with your clients. So I think that's very interesting. But you weren't going to mention something beforehand. And I think I stopped you halfway. Did I?
Kai: Yeah, absolutely. Let me complete another thing to the question before that, we had to create a new framework and Robert designed a new concept for remote coaching and remote leadership's because we didn't have before, you know, that are the new concepts we needed to manage the new situation. Yeah.
Nadia: Excellent. No going forward. What are your views now we're transitioning different names, different titles, the new normal, the new, the New World, new beginnings. I mean, different taglines, all of it. I think in a nutshell, what we're trying the message here is that the whole world kind of was shaken. And in one way or another, each and every industry in one way or another was affected, whether it's a small business, locally focused, whether in Malta whether in Germany, everyone was affected in one way or another. For Tas AG and the team, looking forward now from this point onwards, what were the opportunities? What are the success stories, which you've built upon? And you would like to maintain and continue remote working was one, what are your plans for the future?
Kai: Yeah, Robert, you want to start?
Robert: Well, let's say if you are, if you're about to move, all impacts are less severe as if you stand still as a company. So regardless, if there's a crisis going on or not, you have always to rethink or scrutinize your strategy.
So as you say, speaking of digital transformation, a lot of companies suffer independent from any pandemic, it's just the view on digital transformation they're suffering from, from success. When say 70% of all projects fail, and the sense of doing successfully the transformation. We think the reason for the failure is quite obvious because it can't be a transformation, transformation always needs a start and an end you know and beginning and the end.
But every company the whole life around the company is permanently evolving. So let's we're talking about the digital evolution, because this hasn't an end you know, even if you have installed the latest techniques and technology. From that day on there will come new techniques and technologies so you can't finish your transformation. So it is a lot of to do with mind-set as Kai said before, we calling ourselves service punks, so we're about to do things never stop never standing still. And of course not going like this power and 1000 directions but having one direction formed by a wish and we're moving, we don't want to stand still. And I guess this is a learning that made us successful going through the crisis. And this is our approach to the companies just do the things don't stand still. Don't wait for the perfect moment or the perfect circumstance, this will never happen. So just move on, start to build up things, even if you fail and stand up and try again.
Roberta: This is this is really crucial. This idea of having the positive mind-set the can do attitude, which really, I think makes a difference between growing a business or breaking a business, would you say?
Robert: So, you need to have a positive mind-set. You know, it's all about motivation, and being a role model for employees for the business. In a summer. It's like, you know, the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think bad, bad things will happen. So if you don't believe in the goals, and all the action necessary to achieve the goals, you can move anything and you will fail. So thinking positive is not naive. It is, it requires mental strength and the strong resilience. And especially in time where no one can even predict tomorrow's events, then you need to be shining as a leader, as a manager as a company. And you shine by moving with the sun not falling into the shadow.
Kai: To the question before, we didn't change our business strategy at the COVID-19 in-country. For us, in our opinion COVID-19 was more some sort of booster for many digital processes that our customers have found difficult before, under the guise of GDPR. You know, but in reality, they were just the old dinosaurs, and the three wise monkeys. Always the situation shows us that we have a business continuity management still, and our companies know where we have a situation like Corona like that. Maybe some of you lost the large customers or natural disasters like tsunami, an earthquake or whatever, or the sudden death of the boss. I know somebody can hardly wait. But you know what I mean, you know,
Nadia: Yes, I think what you're saying is something which myself and Roberta, we discussed at great length, which I think is building sustainable business models. Whereas before we used to, okay, building a model, because there is a demand or building a model because of a particular situation. But I think what the pandemic has given to Tas AG is definitely it has proved that your concept and your structure is really solid, and resilient and sustainable. And that is amazing for every company to be able to build towards it. And I pick up what Robert mentioned earlier, an evolution rather than a transformation, which is extremely important. We never stop evolving, not as a company, not as individuals, and not even as a as an economy as now we're seeing.
So obviously, having that that those structures always thinking always questioning, even at a board level at an operational level at a leadership level, are we going towards the right direction? That's very powerful, I must say, and Roberta has very much at heart sustainability as well as in terms of sustainable models. And I think…
Roberta: Yes, it also proves that sustainable business model also has a very strong business case attached to it, because usually we talk about sustainability. Maybe we focus more on the impact we're having on the external stakeholders. But now we have also living proof of the fact that when you build a sustainable business model, it's also good for the business itself, you know, the win-win approach, which we always talk about in theory, and we see it now being applied in practice. So that's great.
Kai: Absolutely. And that Robert told us that we should not feel like in that we are in a transformation process. We are in the evolution process because there is no end and you asked me if we have any success stories based on the COVID-19. For example, we designed in the last weeks, and in the last two months, I think, a new scaling option. A new scaling option through virtual agent platforms. For example, if you need to 200 contact service agents just for one or two months, you know, you can't employ it in real life. And so we can use freelancers around the world with the skills you need.
Nadia: And you have that opportunity as a service as well to address the peaks and the troughs.
Kai: And I told you the COVID-19 was a booster and to be in we could say this is new services because the mind-set of our customers has changed. We've always rejected this option, you know, upscaling.
Nadia: Indeed, I remember, I remember my days, my call centre days and obviously outsourcing too, and is it multilingual as well, Kai? Is this opportunity, providing a multilingual service? Wow, that's really amazing.
Kai: We needed a huge number of German native speakers, and we got agents around the world from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and wherever, you know, it was a great experience for all of us.
Robert: With a native speaker, quality.
Nadia: Of course, that is very important. And so will this give you now the opportunity and the stepping stone as well to accelerate your internationalization process? Because I know the Tas has always been on that path, not to internationalize and, and, and be more available not only in Germany, because I know you're very strong within that market. But also beyond. Is this something which will help you accelerate the process?
Kai: It was not necessary, it was necessary.
Robert: I guess it enhances our ability to offer more flexible solutions for our customers. From a short term perspective, or even from language. I guess this this is something that broadens our, our offers. But is there's no direct connection with an international growth just to have the ability to work with these virtual agents worldwide.
Nadia: So it's more of a service provision, the proposition of being more flexible, more, obviously more open to different customer’s needs. So whatever they require, at this particular point in time, they can scale up or downsize or dry. Right, again, depending on the requirements. That's amazing.
Kai: Also technology is not only services, you know, we Robert told you that we transformed to customer experience manufacturer and that's why we prayed not only services like before also, technologies or like in model system for all the services the client needs, you know,
Nadia: Are using more AI transformational applications now for customer from a customer experience point of view.
Kai: Yes. Including AI's. Excellent.
Robert: So there's a lot happening in Roberta, I think,
Roberta: Yes, yes, a lot of innovation in terms of processes in terms of new products in terms of equity,
Kai: Just in just two or three months.
Roberta: That is another thing that has emerged today, but also in previous editions where we see the most the best innovations happening when people are put under pressure. So
Robert: Like the Chinese say, an all crisis that is a chance.
Roberta: Yes, totally. So obviously not unless you have the right mind-set. If you don't have that kind of mind-set view. If you give in to fear to pressure to anxiety, then there's no room for, for growth for innovation. So I think that's a deal breaker. Totally.
Kai: Yes, and I guess, as you said, we're still talking about people, in people in shops, people doing the business. And it regardless if there's a pandemic induced change, or just a change by digital evolution. That's quite regardless, there are always two success factors that you need as a company, whenever you're in a crisis or you want to have a change is two factors. Leaderships all employees always need, because you know, they want and they deserve to understand what's going on. What’s happening, what are the reasons of the measures? And what is the background of the decisions that have been made.
And second thing is, speaking about managers and leaders, you need to have very good persons and that not only being good at the thing that they do, but being good as dealing with people, they need to exude things like serenity, you know, structure, courage, and, and kind of confidence, which is an authentic confidence.
Roberta: You know, emotional intelligence right?
Kai: Super, super important, super important. And if you don't have this, you know that also leading leadership comes from the heart, and there will be chaos, there's brinkmanship, there's no, it just leads to the very opposite of what you want to have. And this is then frightening the employees. And of course, then they will, or the result will be reduced performance, increasing sickness rate, or even the termination. So always have your employees on board, wherever you are traveling. I think
Roberta: These are our key takeaways today, Nadia,
Nadia: Amazing, indeed, I think we've learned quite a lot. Thank you for sharing your stories with us, Robert and Kai with myself and Roberta, I think we have a lot to share, even with our audience, the fact that there's resilience, the importance of leadership, the importance of management, importance of structure of evolution, rather than transformation. I think that's that was a big one, in my case, so I wish you all the best in the future upcoming months for the Tas AG and the team well done to all of you. I hope to meet up somewhere in Europe very soon as we will share a beer or something or a glass of wine.
Thank you for being with us. I'm also very happy to know that the outsourcing world is and the mind-set has shifted, that customers that company that clients are becoming more accustomed to look for additional help from experts from customer service experts.
Kai: Yeah, not only for the outsourcing business, I think everything has changed and all strategies, I think we wondering anytime, maybe COVID-19 was a necessary break or a lucky change, you know, because we see a rethinking all over the world right now. It's true, it's true.
Roberta: Let's hope we stay on that path now. And let's not forget our lesson
Nadia: And take the opportunity to change. Robert, would you like to close off and wrap up any comments which you have?
Robert: Yeah, always expect the unexpected, always be aware that things will not will not go as you want to go them. So be flexible, be agile, have a positive mind-set. And yeah, keep in mind that you can only change things together, no one can change things alone. So you need your colleagues, you need your companies and you need to share knowledge. This is I guess, my important message here knowledge.
Nadia: Excellent. Thank you for that.
Kai: How can I say, in the last years, we all was chasing highs and economic records all the time, 24 hours the last decade and we own neglect our private life, me too, and the health and the nature and we live in a kind of frenzy. Yeah. And then and I hope that in the future, we recognize now that we can redefine growth, and, how can I say, more sustainability you know and the credit to credit business to more independence that this change.
Nadia: Thank you very much.