Lynette Green runs Virtual Head Office in Northgate Street in Bury St Edmunds. She has spotted me through the window as I get out of my taxi and she opens the door before I have a chance to ring the bell, which rather characterises the sort of enterprise that Lynette and her husband, Baz, have been running here for 5 years. Lynette came from recruitment, Baz from project management, which seems a good fit.
Smartly and attractively dressed, but with an air of getting on with things, Lynette shows me round the office of which she seems very proud. Here is Rachel, on the phone with a client; and Sue, who finds us some chocolate digestives to go with the tea that Jordan has made for us. Not in today are Jo, and Will, who is the technical side of the organisation, a busy man I should think.
So what is a virtual head office? Well, it can be as simple as a registered address for a business – a virtual brass plaque, if you like – to phone answering, mail handling, document creation, credit control, book-keeping, telemarketing, web design, social media integration, office supplies… whoa… hold on. “What is a typical client?” I ask.
If such a creature exists, he or she is someone who has realised that they do not possess the resources to do the work and run the business. Often an organisation of 10 or so employees. Frequently, an individual who remains employed but is starting up their own enterprise, and who plainly can’t be dealing with phone and mail contacts while at his or her current workplace. The importance of confidentiality runs through our conversation at frequent intervals.
Here is how it works. A woman is starting up – let’s say, a book-keeping business of her own. She has school age children, and at 8:30 is herding them into the car in readiness for the school run. Her phone rings, at precisely the point at which the youngest realises that he has left his homework behind. She cannot afford to lose the call; but neither can she safely take it, nor seriously give it the attention it deserves as she looks for keys to open her front door to retrieve the missing homework.
Now just in case you think I’m embellishing this, Lynette has considerable insight in this situation because she has children aged 7, 5 and 21 months. All boys.
Back to the lady who is, by now, putting the front door key in the lock. Her phone has now rung three times, but she is unconcerned – not serenely so, but stay with me – because the call now diverts to Lynette’s office. And this is the really, really, clever bit.
The call is answered thus: “RPG Book-keeping, Lynette speaking, how can I help?” Because, you see, each client has individual phone numbers assigned to their account, so Lynette and her staff know exactly for whom they are answering the phone. Each team member is familiar with every client account, although with the passage of time one member might become more associated with a particular account, in which case the conversation might continue, “I’m passing you over to Sue, who has been expecting your call”. The lady with book-keeping ambitions doesn’t miss the call; the enquirer doesn’t ring the next business on his short list, passing over our lady; he feels engaged with; and, above all, confident that the call will get a response. Sue will now email the message through to the lady as soon as the phone is put down, allowing her to take matters back in hand at a point in time when she is better able to give the matter the attention it deserves, and with the resources at hand to conduct the conversation.
It might just as well be a chef, renting premises, setting up his own restaurant but still working for a restaurant chain and unable to field the call from a potential backer. Or a PE teacher who is setting up his own gym, unable to take a call while in a class. You get the idea.
Lynette introduces me to the concept of “Seven touches”. Evidently the marketing people have discovered that, before a consumer reaches to the shelf in the supermarket to place a product in the basket, seven or more points of contact need to have been made. A TV advert for the product; a poster at the bus station; overheard in a conversation; mentioned on Radio 4; seen on social media. So, energy is directed at developing as many potential points of contact as possible, with social media being at the forefront. But telemarketing has a place here too; not the intrusive, totally unwelcome, 6pm phone call taken in the kitchen, but a more carefully considered and targeted phone call, business-to-business. The call in your kitchen is termed business-to-consumer, and Lynette has nothing to do with this sort of approach. If the skill in targeting the call is measured in inverse proportion to the number of times the recipient slams down the phone, then Lynette and her staff don’t get those. An immediate sale is highly unlikely, but it might just be the first of seven touches.
I leave an hour later much wiser than when I arrived. It is a bright, cheerful workplace populated by bright, enthusiastic people. They deserve to succeed.
113 Northgate Street
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP33 1HP
Tel: 01284 363463
Member since: 1st February 2013
Born in the baby boomer years, John Urquhart was educated in London and Scotland including a year as a schoolmaster before studying Medicine at St Thomas' Hospital. This took him back to London and Surrey...