DRMA Spotlight: Built From the Ground Up1 Dec, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response
Bruce Stone says Applied Perceptions has grown immensely during the past 12 years due to a commitment to service and technology.
What we really care about is providing unequaled service to our customers,” says Bruce Stone, president of Simi Valley, Calif.-based Applied Perceptions (AP) LLC. “Our clients are companies that want to protect their brands. We want to be a profit center for our clients — and we are.”
Applied Perceptions bills itself on its website as “the call center you would create if you had the time, money and expertise to handle your many customers in the best possible way.” The Direct Response Marketing Alliance (DRMA) member company is 100-percent U.S.-based, offers bilingual call center services for inbound customer service and sales, and utilizes state-of-the-art Cisco technology throughout its varied services.
“We help our clients protect their brands through excellent customer service and sales,” says Stone. “Each call is important to us and to our clients.”
Stone and his wife Robin founded AP in 2001. She serves as CEO and is an attorney — with a degree from Georgetown Law School — who once served as vice president and senior counsel for Merrill Lynch. Bruce Stone’s background is deeply focused in the call center space, which he joined after early career stints as a government aide and lobbyist.
“I was offered a job by a very large, privately held direct mail company,” he recalls. “Initially, I worked with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general offices on consumer complaint issues.”
The number of complaints for this company was miniscule in comparison to its sales. “We took the company from a D-rating to an A from the BBB,” Stone says.
After that success, Stone was tasked to look more closely at the company’s shipping issues and customer service agents’ work on the phone. “Over 19 years, I eventually became the senior vice president in charge of customer service, public relations and government relations,” he says.
The company grew significantly while Stone was there, and Stone built its 250-seat call center. The company’s owners reached retirement age and decided to close the business. Stone says, “I thought why not take the things I learned and start a high-quality call center?”
The Stones started AP together. “It was literally the two of us working 14-to-15 hours a day,” he recalls.
Not only was it hard work — it was a culture shock as well. “I was a senior vice president of a very large company and Robin was a vice president at a huge company. We used to be ‘somebody from here’ and ‘somebody from there,’ and now we were ‘nobody from nowhere!’”
“Little by little, we built the business,” Stone says.
Now with more than 185 seats, AP prides itself on top-notch service for its clients. “We don’t have long wait times when somebody calls our call center,” Stone says. “We understand that when we’re on the telephone representing a client, we are that client.”
Stone also points to AP’s “save the sale” prowess. “If people have continuity orders, we make sure we work with our clients to help keep their customers on those continuity programs,” he says. “Not only that: customer service is usually considered a ‘complaint’ center. We make it a profit center, through saving sales and bringing in new sales as well.”
The breadth of clients at AP is also impressive — from weight-loss, diet and fitness to beauty, electronics, toys and education. “We have sweet spots, like anybody, but we have teams that are really experts in most product categories,” Stone says.
And in an era where many marketers are still considering using offshore call centers, Stone and the AP team are passionate in response.
“The only reason people typically choose overseas call centers — they’re willing to risk the dialect issues and security problems — is that it appears to be less expensive,” he says. “At AP, we can make it just as inexpensive to get a high-quality U.S. call center. We do such a good job helping the customers saving their orders and making new sales that we become less expensive — and more profitable — than going overseas or to ‘cheaper’ U.S. alternatives.”
And regarding other companies pushing into the customer service realm, Stone says, “We have an independent duty to keep the client informed of what’s going on at the shipping and fulfillment level because we have the same goal as our clients’ management — to protect the client. I’m a firm believer in separate customer service and fulfillment to give a solid ‘checks-and-balances’ coverage to make sure problems are reported quickly, so client management can react.”
It’s hard to argue with Stone when you hear how AP is using its technology to provide its clients with automated reports showing how callers are relating to their marketing campaigns. “We do an enormous monitoring of calls,” Stone says. “We can statistically categorize what customers are telling us. We encourage our clients to have weekly calibration calls with us to share that data.”
Looking ahead, Stone believes building on AP’s technological and personnel leadership will pave the way to a bright future. From skill-based call routing (which gets each call to the best agent) to firmly grasping the social media world (see sidebar), AP is poised for growth.
“We expect to grow with our existing clients, via referrals and by finding some new clients by marketing ourselves,” Stone says. “Our plan is to continue to grow on a solid basis and to continue to provide fantastic service.” ■