April 27, 2020 – Work from home companies are on the rise. Meet one Croatian company growing quickly to meet the demand. Interview with Q Experience CEO Domagoj Makar on customer experience strategy and embracing the unique challenges of the current crisis.
The world is changing rapidly, and the coronavirus crisis has only accelerated that change in certain directions. Work from home companies are on the rise, and remote work is only going to be more popular as an increasingly digital world takes shape. Shaping a customer experience strategy in this brave new world brings its own challenges. One Croatian company which is not only adapting to the new world order of working remotely, but expanding rapidly is Q Experience, which is one of the fastest-growing startups in Europe, specialising in building dedicated teams to outperform customers’ targets. TCN caught up with their passionate CEO to learn more about this great Croatian success story.
Domagoj Makar is the Co-Founder and CEO of Q Experience, a Croatian BPO company (Business Process Outsourcing Company) specialized in premium customer service. He has over 15 years of experience in the industry – starting as a front-line agent in big telecom company, going up to coaching and team leader positions, up until the director’s level, he learned the ins and outs of customer experience.
Founded in 2017, Q Experience has grown to over 300 specialists and 10+ clients. Their primary focus is delivering exceptional customer experience through all customer service channels.
I am finding that people in the corona era are either passing the time with little to do, or have never been busier. I am guessing you are working quite hard… How has business activity changed since COVID-19 changed everything?
We have been following the situation carefully from the beginning, even before the Croatian government implemented quarantine, we started working on transferring our entire operation to a work from home set-up. Since at that point we already had over two years of experience with onboarding and running remote teams, the transfer went smoothly. I must say I am proud how the entire team approached this situation and handled all the challenges that came with it. This allowed us to give peace of mind to our clients, as it meant we could provide them with business continuity despite the situation.
As far as future partnerships and opportunities are concerned, we obviously had to switch our focus to different industries than our usual targets. However, we were able to continue with business as usual, even in an unprecedented situation like this. We have even managed to get three new clients in this period by adapting our business model in a way that that the entire client onboarding operation was done completely remotely. Obviously, there is a lot of uncertainty on the market. No one really knows what the future brings nor what will change permanently. In such times, we take things week by week with our existing and potential clients, avoiding long term binding decisions. Flexibility has shown to be the key currently.
Tell us briefly about the Q experience product, and who is your target client?
QX is a BPO company that provides premium customer service for our clients, across all communication channels (phone, email, live chat, and social media) in 18 different languages.
We try to do our job differently when compared to other BPO’s there. The general approach is that we cover the entire operation for our clients – from recruiting and training to onboarding and management. However, we included our experienced management team with an “all hands-on deck” approach, with each new project. Together with our clients – we see them as our partners, and we tend to seek win-win solutions for every situation. Acting as a proactive partner, we provide flexibility, suggestions and implementation of latest technologies and trends in this business, so our partners can transform their business at a faster pace which is now, during coronavirus outbreak, extremely relevant.
For example, with one of our clients, we implemented smart live chat support on their website, which prevented lead leakage and led to an increase in online sales while optimizing customer service cost year on year growth. Based on this, we’ve won the Bronze Medal at the 2019 International Customer Experience Awards in Amsterdam, in the category of Customer Experience Team – Transformation/Solution, and we were a finalist in another category: Business Change or Transformation – Customer Experience. That was a big deal for a 2 and a half year-old company when competing with companies like Shell, Dell, various Telecoms etc.
But our main asset is the great people that we were able to employ during past 3 years. Our specialists mostly hold university degrees, are fluent in multiple languages, and contributed to building a multicultural working environment within our company that can easily fit into any company culture from our clients. Our prices, albeit not the lowest, are competitive, and they reflect the premium quality service we offer.
We do not limit ourselves in terms of types of industries we work with and have experience working with clients in e-commerce, fashion, consumer electronics, tourism and hospitality, car sharing, and other businesses. Each industry has its specifics and challenges in providing customer service, and we have been able to take on all of them successfully.
For us, the most important thing is that a potential client appreciates great customer service, believes that exceptional customer experience is important for their business overall, and that client seeks long-term win-win partnership as we do.
With a client that shares our views on these 3 aspects, we are at our best.
Why and when did you start, and how has the journey been so far?
Although having very successful corporate careers at the time, we always had the desire to build a business on our own and according to our values. We knew that there is a demand for great customer service on the western market since businesses are moving from traditional brick and mortar to online and digital channels. We also knew that there are many great people in Croatia who are capable of fulfilling that demand. Croatia is a Central European country and historically and culturally belongs to the West. This is of high importance in our business, where one needs to understand the culture, and not only the language of the customer he or she is serving. This has been one of the biggest struggles for offshore and Eastern-European companies that work in our industry. So, we just needed to connect these two points and we started our company in 2017 with just three employees. It has grown to 300 in less than three years.
On our journey so far, we have managed to set up 8 different and beautiful offices, and now with the virus outbrea,k we’ve all switched to work from home. It has been quite a ride for so far in just three years.
Also, with this pace of growth, there have been many challenges, but along the way we have been able to build a great management team that is now running the entire operation.
From day 1, the extreme focus has been put on the work experience of our employees, since we know that the only way we can deliver a great service output, is to have people that are coming to work feeling content. That part includes many different and small details in daily business, and I would say that this is embedded in our working DNA.
You have some eye-catching clients. Without naming names, how does a small Croatian startup get big names like this on board?
We have dedicated a lot of our time in developing a sustainable sales/business development process that generates quality leads monthly. In customer service, one of the most important aspects of getting a new client is timing. Even though some of our current clients have not had a need for customer service outsourcing when we initially contacted them – when the time was right – we were ready to jump in.
It also makes us exceptionally proud that some of our clients recommended us to new and potential clients.
In addition to this, you must show your potential client that you are ready to dedicate yourself to their project and take it to another level. We always make sure we have a single point of contact for every client. At first, it is a C-level person, and later, we designate a team manager for each client. We like to think that, during our long-lasting business development process, the right customer recognizes our attitude, energy, and business values.
Corona will speed up the process of digitalization globally, which is good news for you. How much have enquiries for your services increased in the last months, and what are the key services being looked for?
Correct. We noticed a lot of businesses switching to online/digital channels: switching from retail to e-commerce and offering their services remotely. This is an opportunity for companies like us, because businesses need an experienced and flexible extra hand to transition their whole customer experience into the digital environment quickly.
The demand for supporting businesses whose business model has been based on physical/offline operations (car-sharing, travel and tourism, retail etc.) has seen a substantial decrease in demand, while on the other hand industries such as fintech, e-commerce, IT and software etc. are growing exponentially, and there is a higher demand for our services such as: sales assistance, helpdesk, complaint management, delivery issues among many others.
Tell us about your ability to upscale from the size of your present operation
With the coronavirus outbreak, an increasing number of businesses are starting to realize that work from home ensures business continuity even in challenging times. For us, that means better recruiting possibilities, since people can work for us anywhere, not just from Croatia, but from different countries as well. I would say that in this aspect, we have a limitless opportunity to grow but still hold on to our core values and ways of delivering the service.
Where will you be in 12 months in terms of staff, projects, revenue (% growth)?
Well, in terms of our growth thus far, we have managed to grow from 1.4 mil euro revenue in 2017 to 5.56 mil euro revenue in 2019, having a 106% of average annual revenue growth rate. The same growth rate was expected for 2020, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, it is hard for me to say what the situation will be in 12 months or at the end of 2020. We did manage to get several new clients this year, as mentioned earlier, and now we are in negotiation with some big European brands. Also, as mentioned earlier, in terms of staff, we started with 3 employees in 2017, and ended 2019 with over 300, our hopes are high as our remote work approach removes all the obstacles in front of finding new talents for our company.
Let us finish with Croatia, which has a very lively tech and IT startup scene, despite not being established hub. Tell us a little about that, and how you see the process of digitalization here. How much will Corona force Croatia into the new era?
Indeed, Croatia does have a lively tech and IT startup scene. I think this situation will be a fresh start for us, a kind of a reset, and it will speed things up, if not push for even bigger changes. We are seeing digitalization happen in our government institutions as well as in the private sector. It is something we were aiming at for years, and now it is happening overnight. So, I do see a lot of possibilities for these new-age companies – IT, tech, digital agencies and even us at Q Experience – to find a way to push old businesses to use the new ways of doing business.
I find that most people in Croatia now realize that the old way of doing business is not the safest in terms of contemporary challenges. We are even noticing people in the agricultural industry looking into finding their ways to end customers by using Facebook groups, digital platforms, and so on. People are becoming increasingly more aware of new digital tools and channels, and they understand that doing digital is currently the cheapest and most effective way for them to reach their end customers. This is happening not just in Croatia, but on a global level, and when there is a big demand for a change – it is a wind at your back to push for novel solutions, even in customer service.
Of course, with my entrepreneurial mindset, I see only opportunities. I am sure there will be challenges and hardships for businesses that will not be able to adapt, that is inevitable. However, I do see a chance for all the new era, modern, and young companies in Croatia to get their piece of the cake – such as Q Experience.
In an increasingly unpredictable job market, the work from home option will only become more commonplace. In an era of growing unemployment, see if this innovative and expanding Croatian company is for you in Work from home jobs: Join the Q Experience Team