My Week: Ed Reeves, Penelope and Moneypenny

After some years in marketing, Reeves saw a gap for high-end bespoke call centre service for big companies. In a decade, Moneypenny has become the biggest such service in the UK.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

We started about 10 years ago, just my sister Rachel, and me. The idea was that we both used answering services, but found that call centres were always impersonal and often the person on the other end of the line didn’t have all the information to hand. We thought that there must be a niche in the market for a service where the individual can be held accountable for how they handle the call.

At Moneypenny, our people handle calls on behalf of other companies. It is essentially an outsourced receptionist or call centre service, but our staff focus on a company and are required to have advanced knowledge of it. We serve about 6,000 companies - everything from law firms and accountancy firms to SMEs that just need some additional HR power. It has grown dramatically every year, and with more than 200 staff we’re now the biggest in the UK.

We’ve also recently launched Penelope, which is an digital receptionist system using voice recognition - but when the system doesn’t recognise a word, it routes through to one of our staff who quickly listens to what the customer said, and makes a decision. It means customers are much less likely to give up on the call because of shoddy voice recognition making things tricky.

This week has actually been great because I was surfing in Anglesey on Monday - you’ve got to make something of the bank holiday - but generally speaking the week normally kicks of with a meeting of staff working on Penelope. It has been all about the marketing side of things recently. We’ve been trying to find a way of explaining in a very simple way what the service does. The process has made me realise why huge companies spend so much money on marketing - it is very difficult to create the right language and get the message across without using marketing-speak.

This week we’ve also being doing a bit of ‘bomb-testing’ our latest IT developments, seeing where the problems lie in the code and trying to iron them out. I am not actually from a coding background: I have a managing director who is excellent at translating my often vague ideas about the direction of the product into meaningful instructions for coders. He can also tell me where the difficulties lie in implementing certain features. Of course, we’ve also been looking at feedback from clients to make sure our ear is to the ground in terms of fine-tuning the product.

We have an office in New Zealand so that if someone calls one of our clients during the night, then it is handled in New Zealand, and that means our UK staff move out there on six month secondments. I don’t travel around for the business that much though, as I tend to spend about 30% of my time doing other projects outside of this. I’m doing up a property at home and I do a lot of water sports.

The best thing about running the company is dreaming up new stuff and seeing it come to market. I know categorically that I really wanted to see these two products, and to put them in a box and find that other people want them too is incredibly rewarding. The exciting thing is seeing the company grow: touch wood, we’ve always experienced phenomenal growth. I don’t know what it will be like if we don’t have that growth experience all the time, but I suppose to try and continue the operation with the business receding would teach me a hell of a lot more again.

In terms of balancing work and home life, I’ve got two wonderful girls who are very demanding. They are nine and 11, and I always leave the office in time to spend an hour or two with them before they go to bed, and then I’ll pick up the laptop to do a bit more work later in the evening. But it is golden to spend time with them and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

If I had to offer some advice to other entrepreneurs, it would be to ignore everything else except for the customer. In the higher circles in businesses, a lot of people can become complacent about the quality of their offering. It should constantly be a question of ‘what does the customer want me to do for them?’ Oh yes, and nail cash flow as quick as you can - life is a lot easier that way!

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