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SUCCESS STORIES

ASKOSCA

Super Fired Up & Focused is not only the title of Clint Crowster’s forthcoming book, it’s the mantra he lives by. Crowster is the CEO of AskOsca, a Cape Town-based company offering local and international businesses social media marketing support, online coaching, business consulting and business & recruitment process outsourcing services. Clients include UK-based specialised nursing recruitment agency Nursing 2000Serco Global ServicesTeleperformanceLufthansaSanlam and Direct Axis. Invest Cape Town caught up with Crowster for a quick Q&A about his journey, the business and his vision for the future.

Take us to the beginning. Where did it all start?

The journey started in 1998. I got a job as a contact centre agent at HomeChoice after flunking out of university after receiving a bursary from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Looking back now, at the age of 39 and thinking about it, what an opportunity I let pass up. But being here today, owning my own business, it’s true what they say: you never know where life is going to take you. From HomeChoice I joined a company called the Dialogue Group, which I used as my institution. I really got to know the industry and the world of business from some great mentors there. I was also afforded an opportunity to go overseas to absorb and learn. In 2008/9, the Dialogue Group closed down because of the financial crisis. From there I went to a few more companies and ended up at Summer Mobile. After a year and a bit, Summer Mobile started retrenching people. I took the leap, put up my hand and said I wanted to be retrenched as well. That’s where everything started. I used the little bit of money I got and started my own small contact centre. Initially, I rented seats in Bree Street with just four staff in June 2013. As we grew, the landlord pushed up the rent thrice in the space of a year. We just couldn’t afford it. I told the wife that we’ve got to sacrifice if we wanted to make this work. That’s when we decided to turn our 4-bedroom house in Grassy Park into an open plan contact centre. On 1 June 2014, I moved my entire team into the new space and haven’t looked back since. Today I employ 53 people. We’ve expanded our UK market and grown into the European market, the US market, the Australian market and the Middle East. I also do sales training for several local companies including HomeChoice – where I started my contact centre career 20 years ago.

Where did the name AskOsca come from?

It was an idea that started in 1999. I developed a coaching application and wanted to take it into the call centre environment. I called it AskOsca. Osca being an acronym for Online Sales Coaching Application. The idea was that a call centre agent, when in doubt or in need of assistance, could chat to a coach in real time. You could just Ask Osca (the coach/mentor) for a solution. The idea never really took off and no one wanted to pay for it, but I kept the name and decided to use it for the current business. People still think that I’m Oscar. They call and ask: “Can I speak with Oscar please?”.

What is your business strategy?

I have a very simple strategy – I employ people from my immediate vicinity, train and develop them. My neighbour on my left works for me, my neighbour on my right works for me, my neighbour across the road works for me, people two avenues away from me work for me. The best part of it is that they are never late for work. There’s no transport issues. There are companies like Webhelp and WNS out there, but I pay my people exactly the same. My staff save on transport cost, they can spend more time with their families in the morning and evening because they are not sitting in traffic. My staff attrition rate is very low as a result. This strategy is one of my biggest USPs when I try selling business to other clients because they want people to be happy at work, on time and highly efficient.

What do you enjoy most about operating from Cape Town?

The lifestyle. It’s a great city to do business in, much better than other cities in South Africa. The quality of life is better here. I’ve been to Johannesburg and it is super far for people to travel to and from work. Most businesses in Cape Town are situated around other businesses, which makes it easier for staff to travel. Cape Town also offers the skill-set. The people we’ve hired are effective at communication, they have good written skills and data capturing skills.

How do you hunt for business?

I get most of my business through social media and contacts in the industry. Maintaining good relations with clients is paramount. The operations director of Nursing 2000, one of our UK-based clients, was a contact centre agent I trained in 2005 at the Dialogue Group. He reached out to me after seeing our social media marketing campaign. Today he is a client. Staying in touch with contacts help.

Your advice to start-ups and young entrepreneurs?

Don’t chase the money. That’s the biggest mistake people make. My goal was always to develop people and help improve their lives. If you do that well, then money will follow. Money has six legs, we’ve only got two – how dare we think we can catch it? What you put out there will come back to you. Focus on productivity and do that well, and you’ll get good commission. Design processes in the business to suit the customer and look after your staff, without them you are nothing.

Tell us about your awards and accolades?

In 2015, we were the first runner-up in the category Best Job Creating Business in the Western Cape Premier Entrepreneurship Recognition Awards. It was an absolute honour. We had to do a presentation, meet a panel and were interviewed. The prize was a tablet computer and ZAR50 000. We purchased laptops with the cash and presented the tablet to a staff member as a prize at our Christmas party. We also received several certificates when we were members of Business Process Enabling South Africa (BPeSA).

What are your future plans?

Currently I’m working on my book titled Super Fired Up and Focused. I’m on chapter three and have three more chapters to go. I just want to share my story with other people who think that you cannot carve out a career in a contact centre, or that you cannot realise your dream of becoming a contact centre manager or owner. In this environment you need a lot of energy. You’ve got to be a step ahead – not just fired up, but super fired up and focused. That’s me.

Who inspires you?

My parents, my wife and kids and the great Nelson Mandela. My dad had his own little plumbing business. I look at all his learnings. My mom is a retired school teacher. My favourite line from Nelson Mandela was at his 1994 inauguration. He read parts of a poem by Marianne Williamson. It says: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. In that speech, he called on us to go out there and be magnificent. Don’t be afraid of success, that’s my advice. Go and learn. I could have easily have said no one believes in me, but I persevered and today own a contact centre. A dream realised.

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