It Was All A Dream...With Donald Spann
Updated: May 17
Juanita Coley: Thank you so much for joining us here at Call Center Chronicles. I'm super excited about today's guest, my mind is just super blown by all of the things that he's been able to accomplish. Last week we talked to Hosanna Hali. She works at Microsoft, she does a lot of different things in technology so if you missed that episode, I highly encourage you to go back and watch that episode, she talks through some things that were just so mind-blowing and phenomenal.
One of the things that really stuck out to me that she said, was she said technology and I'm paraphrasing, so, okay, don't quote me, because I'm trying not to quote her exactly, but she said, that technology is not biased in and of itself, its more so a reflection of society and so that is why it's so important that we have diversity in technology, diversity and leadership roles so that we can have the technology, and we can have things that mirror the customers that we are serving so that we can have better customer experiences. And so that was, that has just stuck with me since last week. And I'm sure it will stick with me going on. So that was just so phenomenal. So, I'm super excited. As you guys know, one of the missions of Call Center Chronicles is to normalize women in technology as well as women in leadership roles within the contact center space in workforce management and leadership.
And so, we are talking to guests talking through technology, talking through the customer experiences, talking to leaders in the industry about how do we advance and move forward, one of the episodes that really sticks out to me was Ebony Langston's episode. I believe she was in episode two or three. Go back and catch the replays, you can always catch them on solidrockco.net/ccc, and she was talking through a study that she had recently read. I think I believe it was a Mercer study that talks about how it would take women 95 years at the current rate of diversity and inclusion and equity of how we are prioritizing the initiative as 95 years to make the type of headway, that we are looking to make. So that was just mind-blowing to me as well, because it's something that we talk about a lot. Right now, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is something that I feel all of the companies are talking about, and they all have initiatives.
Even with that, it'll take 95 years!
Listen I'm just reporting the news. Okay. So, I think that having these conversations again the point of the show is having these conversations really allow us to talk more and be able to start to have action around, hey how do we get women normalized in technology, how do we get women more involved in technology.
I stumbled upon technology by working in the call center as an agent, reading, a blue pumpkin book, which is now Verint, and I took interest, and the rest is now history right. I said hey, I really like this piece of technology, I love what it does for call centers, I love how it takes call centers to that next level.
And so that is how I got involved in technologies in the contact center space, and there's not like there was a career path drawn out for it and so I think the more we get women to know about technology and about the options that they have, whether it be in call centers or whether it be in, you know, a whole different space. I was talking to Tara Rettley and she’s; you know space engineer for the NASA program. So, the point is just to get involved in technology, and my background is obviously, specifically in a call center so that's my point of interest, but I really want us to really start to have more of that dialogue in that conversation. And so, in today's show, we are talking with Donald Spann. He is the founder of Vicky Virtual. He does a few other things but I'm super excited to have him on today, I am going to bring him on the screen, and he can introduce himself. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Donald Spann: Happy to be here.
Juanita Coley: I'm sorry I had you muted. Say it again.
Donald Spann: Well, I'd like to meet everyone. Thanks for having me on here Juanita. I really appreciate it, I think you make a point about the importance of technology, as well as the importance of placing emphasis on encouraging and empowering women to be in positions of empowerment through technology and your case the call center industry.
Juanita Coley: Absolutely, absolutely, so we'll dive right in because I have some questions I am just going. I've been waiting on your episode because I got questions that need answers. All right, so first of all, tell us a little bit more about yourself and how did you come up with the concept of Vicky Virtual, we just going to go right on in.
Donald Spann: Okay. Well, how far back do you want me to go?
Juanita Coley: As far as possible, I got time today.
Donald Spann: Okay. Alright. So, my story is I wanted to, you know, like many others I've wanted to have my own business for a long time, and I was really looking for different things I could potentially do. I grew up in a situation where you know my family was middle class, but I went through very expensive private schools, a lot of very wealthy families from kindergarten all the way through high school. And you know, our family was on scholarship and all that, but it gave me an inside look into really incredible lifestyles and what can be achieved if you're able to achieve a tremendous amount of financial success.
And so, when I was going into the sort of college-age and going into college, I realized that traditional job, the typical path would make it very difficult to eventually get some of the goals that I had. And so, in starting different businesses, won’t go through all of that, but I started a lot of things. And one of the companies that I started which I was really excited to do with my dad was a cleaning company. So, we had a cleaning company in Chicago, where I'm from, go Bulls, go Black Hawks, go Cubs.
And so, we had a company, we built it to a certain size, but after the first year, we were in a situation when we needed to have our calls answered. I was sick of answering them myself and, you know, we just, we needed something, so I started to look into a different option to have the calls answered. And during my sort of general research, I eventually went from, you know, traditional answering service to the more, sort of, I guess, aptly fitting for us, virtual receptionist companies. And so, a virtual receptionist company as a call center concept and niche is essentially a premium answering service. It goes above and beyond in terms of the level of service, the quality of the agent, the amount of tasks that that company is going to perform as opposed to traditional answering service.
And so, in looking at the different options, you know there were some options but none of them were really all that impressive to me. And, you know, as the entrepreneurial mindset, the longer you do it the more you'll get returns. And so, I figured maybe I could reverse engineer, you know one of these companies, that I'm looking into.
And I also realized that as a cleaning company owner that had this very real, very strong need, there must be other people in my industry in the space that would have the same need. And so, I partnered with a fellow cleaning business owner, I'm in Chicago, he's in Kansas City, and we put this thing together. And that's how we, you know, prepared and launched Vicky Virtual.
Juanita Coley: That is absolutely insane. So, you were in the cleaning industry, and you needed your phones answered. So, you want to start to research, you know, different solutions that would be able, the services that would be able to meet the need, didn't find anything that was quite what you needed. And so, you started a company without any background that I just have to hone in on that. Without any background on, you know, telephony systems or workforce management or quality, any of those components of starting a call center and you started the service.
Donald Spann: Yeah, we didn't know anything. I didn't know anything at all. And one of the nice things is that I'm not a software engineer. But I do have sort of a technology emphasis in terms of my approach to different companies that I’ve started over the years. So, the first company I worked out all that their software company I didn't do any coding, but we built them, they got acquired for 7 figures, so we had like sort of experiences in terms of taking the different elements, technological element and putting them together into a company and solving some type of problem.
And so even in the cleaning business space, I never did a cleaning, but we did over 20,000 cleanings, just through the use of technology, connecting clients with potential cleaners. And so, looking into the call center space, the one thing that I sort of realized was that if I can figure out what the pieces are, I can figure out how to get those pieces to come together. So, as you can imagine, you know, I made every mistake possible.
Juanita Coley: Donald, how did you figure out these pieces, what was your process like for starting the call center.
Of course, I do call center consulting, so I understand when I'm going into a call center, or someone who has an idea about, hey, I want to start a call center, what are some of the things I have, you know methodology and this process. And so, I'm like but that has been through my years of working in call centers, working on the technology side.
So, I'm just so blown away by your ability to put those pieces together and make the mistakes, tweaks, so what was your process like, what was that journey like for opening up, Vicky Virtual what were some of the critical mistakes that you've made?
Donald Spann: Yeah, well, that's going to be sort of a long answer but when I have approached really anything in a business entrepreneurial sense, sort of first thing that I absolutely knew the first truth was that there are businesses out there that need the phone answered. And there are people out there that currently answer the phone. And so, my only real job is to figure out how to make that happen. Right. And so, the first step was, we need some type of call center software.
Now, thankfully you know we're just starting off with the bare minimum, we pieced together, two people, with my co-founder's sister. She had literally graduated high school semester-long these early, so she was like, I think she turned 18 a couple of weeks before she started working for us in January. And then my friend like semi pseudo retired mom that was 67 years old.
Juanita Coley: Wait, so you had someone who had just graduated high school, and then you had a retiree. So, we going to put a pin in that Call Center Chronicles, because that's going to lead to my diversity question next so put a pin in that go ahead and continue with your story.
Donald Spann: Yeah, so that was definitely the big thing. And one of the nice things that we learned from that is, you know, it is possible for people on essentially both ends of the spectrum, to be able to use them. So that informs us, in terms of really how to sort of getting people of different technological backgrounds, introducing the system that is going to be the sort of tool on a daily basis, how to approach teaching them about things like, you know, based off of where they are at, and it put us in a position that we had to just sort of jump off a cliff and figure it out.
So, we're two people. We didn't have to think about a lot of problems such as workforce management and getting the metric correct and all those types of things, we just focused on making things work.
And so, the first phone system that we went with was a system called XYZ, and it was built for marketers and stuff so not what we're looking for at all. So, like three months into running the company we switched over to a different system. And there was an entire, there's like a whole bunch of logistics and stuff that comes with doing that and learning how to do that as its own skill.
And, making sure that the client that we had, you know, making them happy, keeping them happy during the switch was something we had to learn. But I think the real benefit that we had all of these things that we're learning and we're on such a small scale, that if we screwed up, then it wasn't some monumental disaster. It was just a small-scale sort of incubator-type problem that once we figured out the answer to the problems and knew the best thing to do, by the time we got a little larger, we had some knowledge.
Juanita Coley: Wow. So how did you then go from- my mind is still blocked. Production team, can I please get a mind-blowing emoji okay mind blown emoji. Okay. My mind is like, it doesn't, it doesn't take much but anyway.
So how did you go from high school graduate to a retiree, I think you said she was retired at 67 to the now recruiting more and more and more agents to handle, volume, and at what point did you understand okay I need a different software because you say you started off with XYZ, at what point do you say okay this is for marketers, not really what I'm needing, and what was those like transition pieces for you. How did you transition smoothly while still keeping your customers satisfied?
Donald Spann: Yeah, I think. The difference between someone that's a beginner, and an expert, is the expert knows what questions to asks. Because once you get the answer to those questions, you know how to proceed.
And so, when you're a beginner you don't know what you don't know. So, we didn't know that XYZ was not a good fit until we started using them, then we had different clients that have different things come up, then we tried to sort of find many workarounds that we could within the system we were using and the tool that we had, but it got to the point, where they were too many things that we couldn't do, they were too many limitations. And so, after using that, though, after getting that experience we figured out and knew what th