INTERVIEW: Theresa Wishart, Journeycall
‘To be the best, you have to set the bar high’
A lot has been said about contact centres, much of it consigned to a time before many of those now working in the sector would have any first hand experience.
Theresa Wishart looks horrified at the mention of any of the malpractices that gave the industry a bad name in the seventies and eighties. As many of her counterparts now testify, it has matured into a sophisticated business which rewards those who are no longer just passing through on their way to a “proper job”.
Wishart runs Journeycall in Arbroath, which, among others handles calls for Transport for London.
“Yes, some of the customers do seem surprised when they call about their Oyster card, or a timetabling issue in north London and are put through to someone in the north east of Scotland,” she says. “Our staff are fully trained and very knowledgeable about the clients. They can handle anything. A broken toilet, a late train. They have everything under control.”
She speaks about the company and her staff as if they are close family. Asked how many are on the payroll, she replies without a pause: “303”.
She is taking time out from a trip to the Scottish parliament to speak about progress since winning a businesswoman of the year title, an honour she also attributed to the dedication and hard work of her staff.
She admits to being “demanding” but says that she believes you get out what you put in, and she expects the same of those who work for her. Her side of the bargain is “incredible loyalty” and a commitment to providing the right support and conditions for the staff to prosper.
“In order to be the best, you have to set the bar high. People are not always aware of what they can achieve and I enjoy nothing more than bringing the best out of them,” she says.
She admits that winning the top prize at at last year’s Association of Scottish Businesswomen Business Awards came as a huge surprise, not least because she had been nominated in one category by Angus Council and Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce and thought that was the extent of her involvement.
She said she was humbled to win, but her story is one of achievement in helping to build a substantial business, in a somewhat unlikely location. From just three staff in 2003, Journeycall, part of Yorkshire entrepreneur Terry Dunn’s ESP Group, has become Arbroath’s biggest employer. The payroll has doubled in the past year, a third of the recruits joining straight from the dole queue. The average age is 29.
Apart from TfL they work on flagship accounts such as Abellio ScotRail Passenger Assist, National Railcards, ATOC and Stagecoach. It demands a knowledge of the client that includes everything from the location of the nearest toilets to how the ticketing system works. Being 400 miles away barely matters if they can provide a sometimes distressed caller with a quick solution.
Wishart joined the company in 2006 as an agent, initially to top up the income from her fledgling business as a self-employed beautician. She worked long hours, coming home from the contact centre at 8pm and starting work on her other job.
“I don’t think you achieve anything without working hard,” she says. However, the dual role came to an end when she landed a senior job at Journeycall and quickly progressed to deputy manager, company director, operations director and then managing director a year ago next month.
She believes she is an example to others about what they can achieve from the same humble start given to her and she takes great satisfaction in knowing that people want to work for her and the company.
“We have a waiting list for jobs,” she says, adding that the company will be expanding over the next year to eighteen months on the back of new business wins.
“We look after the staff. It’s basic stuff, just treating people with respect and paying them fairly,” she says.
“Like me, they come and they do not leave.”
Education: travelled the world due to her father being in the Royal Marines. Schooling was in Oman and St George’s in Edinburgh. She completed a degree in business administration through a distance learning course at Robert Gordon University.
Career highlights: Worked for an oil company in Congo; in a bar in Spain
What annoys you?
I don’t like it when people say: ‘We have always done things this way.’ I also dislike bad time keeping and people who are disrespectful.
Who have you most admired in business?
Steve Jobs (founder of Apple). But really, I admire anyone who is prepared to put the effort in.
Photos: by Terry Murden