DRMA Spotlight: Growing Smiles on Customers’ Faces1 Apr, 2014 By: Doug McPherson Response
In the past 10 years Jason Levesque has gone from a guy on his couch with a laptop and $400 cash to an employer of 462 people and a man who reformed call center management into full customer engagement.
“In the beginning it was just me in my apartment on my couch with a laptop and $400 cash,” says Jason Levesque, CEO and founder of Argo Marketing Group. “I could only get cell reception near the front door of my house. This was AT&T and Maine — it was horrible. And I went through that $400 pretty darn quick.”
It was a humble beginning for sure. After leaving the Army and finishing college, Levesque says he wasn’t qualified for much of anything. He ended up working at a local call center. He eventually felt he’d learned enough to start his own call center.
“I eventually got a client and so I hired an employee. Got another client, hired another employee. And then we started evolving and growing,” Levesque recalls.
Within five years, Levesque had 15 employees managing all facets of call center operations — from inbound customer acquisition to customer service retention operations, Argo became the go-to company for nationally recognized brands such as Irwin Naturals, Rug Doctor, Aloe Cure and many others.
Levesque was traveling around the world, building and managing call centers. “Then pretty soon we started getting calls asking if we were a customer service center,” he says. “I thought, well, we had all the mechanics in place, and we knew how it all worked. We knew what it took to give high-quality work and service.”
Evidently he did know how it all worked, because today Levesque heads an internationally-recognized marketing consulting firm tapped by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing companies in the country. Last year the company grew 250 percent. Now Argo, a Direct Response Marketing Alliance (DRMA) member, is home to 462 dedicated employees in three cities in Maine.
And this not your typical customer service center. This is full 24/7 customer engagement, brand protection with text, chat, E-mail, Skype, social media — handling customers online and offline from Canada to Brazil to Australia and New Zealand to Germany and many other spots around the globe.
That’s a lot of work, but for Levesque it boils down to engagement.
“We’re an engagement company — we like to say our job starts right after the phone rings. And that’s true,” Levesque says. “We’re handling acquisition for our customers; we’re doing customer service; we’re building social media connections for our clients. Any way the customer wants to communicate, we’re there to do that. We’re there to do everything the client needs done, sometimes even before the clients realize they need it.”
Levesque says his clients run the gamut — small, medium and large clients in consumer package goods, nutraceuticals, skincare, beauty. One thing these clients do have in common is that they need a higher touch agent. “We handle the tough stuff,” he says.
One of Argo’s clients, Linda Bean Lobster, may ring a bell. She’s the granddaughter of famed clothing retailer L.L. Bean — an iconic Maine brand. “Linda has singlehandedly transformed the lobster business,” Levesque says. “She wants to use direct response to let everyone know they can enjoy a quality lobster meal in their homes, and we’re going to help her. We’ve started her out with social media, getting her on Twitter and Facebook, and from there we’ll take her to offline media — print, radio and TV. I see no reason why we can’t sell a three-pack of lobster to people in California. After they call, they get it the next day.”
That can-do attitude certainly hasn’t hurt as Argo reaches newer heights in the industry. But another plus is Argo’s willingness to do what Levesque calls bridging the gap between online and offline.
“Yes, we keep working with traditional media — radio, print and TV — but we also understand we need to keep looking at online opportunities. That’s a challenge we’re up for,” he says. “One thing we do know for sure is that affiliate marketing is viable — committing a large portion of your budget to an online marketing campaign will pay big dividends in the long run. The days of having online versus offline are a thing of the past. If marketing can bridge that gap and run a comprehensive campaign that hits all the mediums, they’ll be healthier and last longer.”
Further proof of Argo’s willingness to invest in the kind of technology it needs to stay on top is its announcement late last year that it has added new integrated voice recognition (IVR) services. Levesque says adding IVR offers his clients robust, real-time monitoring and reporting and seamless integration with back-end applications and databases for thorough return-on-investment reports.
“We’re using IVR technology in a smart way to triage customer needs,” he adds. “We’re marrying customers’ needs with the appropriate agent to maximize lifetime value and solve problems.”
“We want to continue to communicate what Argo Marketing Group can do for the direct response business,” Levesque says. “Yes, we offer call center management and customer service — but it’s so much more. I don’t think many people realize we have 462 employees; that we speak English, Spanish, German, Portuguese and French; that we’re a veteran-owned small business; that 15 percent of our employees are veterans. That means we’re giving back to a historically disadvantaged group of employees. So when marketers need a niche, when they need nuance, we’re the company to handle it for them.”
And Levesque adds he and his management team will continue to explore and find ways to serve clients.
“We have divisions that are forming in the company,” he says. “The Argo business division, for example, is now handling profit-and-loss statements, chargeback management and return processing. Historically those kinds of things were handled in the marketers’ offices, but now we have customers who are outsourcing that to us, and they’re doing that with a high degree of confidence. That’s a good thing.” ■
Argo Reinvigorates a Community
One of Jason Levesque’s proudest achievements doesn’t have to do with the nitty-gritty of serving his clients. Instead it’s about how his company is helping reinvigorate an entire community. Last year, Levesque moved Argo Marketing Group’s flagship corporate office operations into a 25,000-square-foot dilapidated department store that had been vacant for 35 years in downtown Lewiston, Maine.
It opened on December 20, 2013 — an early holiday present to the community.
“We felt this was the best thing we could do to empower the community — bring the jobs right downtown, help local businesses come alive and build a sense of community,” he says.
Levesque says the fact that the break room only fits eight people was by design. “That’s the way we wanted it. We want our employees to go out and get in the sun, walk around, go out for lunch. That way they come back refreshed,” he adds.
He’s also happy that he could help make the downtown area a little better looking. “We were able to turn a horrible looking building into something beautiful … it will always be one of our biggest and best accomplishments,” Levesque says. “This doesn’t happen in our industry — we usually see direct response-related businesses and contact centers in strip malls or out hidden somewhere. I hope more direct response companies do this. I think sometimes we have a chip on our shoulders — we should be proud of our industry.”