Success? It’s not all talk

Success? It’s not all talk

Chris Lee tells Brian Nicholls how he and his wife Wendy developed a small business now being acclaimed for its success culture.

It’s happened to most of us – a need to phone our mobile network provider. Long ring out ... “...sorry for keeping you waiting. All our lines are busy. Please hold. We’ll connect you as soon as we can.” Music plays – the sort you detest. If you’re really unlucky, an advertisement – telling you what good service you’re getting. Then, “...sorry for keeping you waiting” again. And again. Perhaps even again.

Thank heavens, many customers say, for CCS Mobile, an independent telecoms provider that takes the weeping out of waiting in these situations. That’s as well as working with all the mobile networks to find the best and most cost-effective solutions for businesses.

This remarkable little company has been guiding customers out of telecom frustrations and mysteries since 1987. If you’ve not heard of it, maybe that’s because the staff of 12 work flat out daily – and often into the evening – on their priority of bringing their customers peace of mind and, often, pleasant financial surprises.

It can get to network help quicker than you or I because of its priority accesses. And the networks apparently tolerate its price-cutting on subscribers’ behalf because that can deter them from switching to rivals in anger, frustration or simply in pursuit of a better deal. One customer looking forward to a well earned holiday abroad decided, eight hours before his 5am flight, he’d like a replacement phone.

Long-serving team member Jim Drinkeld – “a rock for us” – drove 37 miles through the night in his own time, and through a snowstorm on roads only just passable, to make the delivery. Another customer, a global sportswear and equipment provider strong in the North East, had introduced a new communication system enabling floor managers to receive an SMS with the current takings every 15 minutes. Unbeknown to the IT manager, that meant some 70,600 texts were being sent monthly from one Sim card. The bill was immense. The CCS Mobile account manager who spotted this during a bill review immediately liaised with client and network.

Result: an ongoing charge of £10 a month instead of a £3,500 phone bill.  Another North East business with a signal problem found CCS Mobile could free it from its unsatisfactory contract, and another firm observes: “They tailor our accounts so we are in control of what is an essential tool.” A well-known paint manufacturer says: “We’ve achieved savings year-on-year over the last 10 years, with the cost per user driven down at each review – and no deterioration in quality of service from CCS Mobile or in network performances.” A builders’ merchant adds: “CCS Mobile is not a call centre like those where experienced staff have failed to react to problems as quickly.” Finally, from another major group: “CCS Mobile has taken time throughout to understand our true needs, tailoring our services to deliver great savings and best possible communication tools for our people, who are better connected than ever before.

The difference to our business and its profitability is remarkable.” This group had been losing a grip on its telecoms costs. Over three months, free of charge, CCS Mobile’s strategy saved the group £40,000 a year. Lee says customer service for CCS Mobile is a matter for pride, often provided same day. “We’re passionate about what we do and how we compete in our industry,” he adds. The story goes back to 1985. Lee recalls: “Because of very poor mechanical and electronic products on the market, CCS was formed to specialise in vehicle security. We were well placed – Sunderland, unenviably, had Europe’s highest auto crime figures.

“Some like-minded specialists – a master locksmith, encryptologist, electronics specialist, for example – got together with the Police Scientific Development Branch in their own field. They formed Pact (Partnership Against Car Theft)/Sold Secure, in partnership with Northumbria Police.

Lee says: “Blessed and part-funded by the Home Office, our respective skill sets and knowledge created a set of installation and product standards for the vehicle industry that are still used. This original document is now manifest in Thatcham.“ What prompted Lee, now 50, to set up a business? “A very large client requested I supply and install something called a ‘cellular car phone’. This was early technology, circa 1986, and basically half radio, half cellular and known as a Storno. It was the start of our supply and service of mobiles for business-to-business in the North East.” Initially the company name was CCS Electronics.

“As business diversified and grew, the brand stuck and evolved. Our recent ‘rebrand’ now entails ‘CCS… talking business’. It sums up what we’re about.” In the past year its client base has grown 29%. Brand-leading clients such as Puma, Umbro and Head have come aboard. Even before its present phase the firm’s expertise and knowledge in aftermarket vehicle installations was widely known.

“We had many footballers’ cars with requests to install top-end audio, navigation and, latterly, Sony PlayStation, Xbox, TVs and so on.” The firm still has full-time engineers to install hands-free car kits, tracking systems and the like, and at one point when demand for mobile phones was soaring, the company opened retail outlets separate from in-car premises and covered the region down to York.

When it was felt, a few years on, that the firm’s skill sets lay more in B2B rather than retail, the branches were closed and activity centred on Sunderland again. CCS Mobile had long operated from modest premises near the Vaux site but two and a half years ago it moved into and transformed the shell of a building beside the headquarters of Sunderland and Portsmouth Newspapers.

The CCS Mobile centre now brightens Pennywell Industrial Estate, from where it covers primarily an area between Berwick and Northallerton, and across to Cumbria, though it has valued customers in London and other parts of the country too.

By the end of this year, clients’ annual communication spends with CCS Mobile may exceed £4.2m, and while CCS Mobile will continue to work nationally it will remain concentrated on serving the North East, since it envisages so much business still to be picked up on the doorstep.

Sales director Mark Lavender is currently relocating his young family back home to the North East. Since joining the firm less than two years ago he has galvanised sales performance. “He has a passion for the business and the young sales team he leads,” Lee explains. Lavender brings new ideas and processes, challenging his colleagues successfully also to believe they can acquire the larger clients.

Now CCS Mobile, co-owned by Chris Lee and his wife Wendy, has been named top small business in the region’s Service Network Culture for Success Awards. Emphasis in these is on culture and development methods giving companies distinction.

The judges found much to enthuse about at CCS Mobile. Lee told them: “Our team are part of our brand. We don’t headhunt staff. We develop them.” Nikki Lee, for example, once worked in fashion retail. She joined CCS to run the front office, proved herself and is now a marketing executive, studying for a marketing diploma with the company’s support.

Staff performances are fuelled by mentoring and investment in formal training. All get one-on-one guidance, appraisals and assessments, and every quarter they are sent on network-supported training courses. A network trainer visits monthly to give skills training, and staff are also encouraged to join external courses, paid for by the company.

They are also given study time. At work, they have clear targets within a transparent firm. They’re empowered to make decisions, each with their own dedicated list of customers – and often it’s a job to get them to go home. Vodafone has awarded the firm Premier Dealer status, making it one of 10 select partners around the UK, and the only direct-serve Vodafone dealer north of Leeds. It is also Vodafone’s choice as a pilot partner. Staff bonding? Every quarter there’s a get-together and there’s an annual family event centred around Sunderland Air Show.

One other thing: “We’re pleased to say we’ve the best paid team in our industry.” So churn is low among staff and customers. Indeed, its customer churn is lowest in the UK in Vodafone’s experience. In the past 12 months the firm has lost only one customer, a victim of the harsh economy. The longest serving employees have 15 years’ service.

With all its testimonials why hasn’t CCS Mobile won awards before? Lee says: “We’ve had our heads so much in the job, we haven’t looked at awards. Someone in the office said that if we each gave a colleague an award the display cabinet would start to fill up!” That doesn’t look necessary now.