Interviews with Entrepreneurs

Melissa Kovacevic, Principal at CommPlan Consulting

CommPlan Consulting helps improve the contact center and front line service operations of companies through consulting assistance with Processes, Procedures, People and Metrics.

What prompted you to start your business?

My parents owned a small grocery business when I was a child and I often went out on deliveries with my Mom or worked the register with customers when I was 9 or 10 years old.  My grandmother also had owned a business at a time when women business owners were a rarity.  I think I have the entrepreneur gene.I worked in the Customer Service and Contact Center industry in management and found that I had a knack for coaching with employees as well as analyzing and finding solutions to operational problems. I like to think outside the box and unfortunately the upper management I reported to didn’t support that type of thinking at the time. I felt I could blend my love of coaching, customer service, contact centers and operational skills into a career as a consultant working with companies who were looking for someone from the outside to analyze what was happening in their Customer Service and Inside Sales areas — someone not caught up in the day-to-day firefighting, as so often happens with managers.

For most successful entrepreneurs, there is no typical day so give us a sample of your schedule from start to finish.

Up at 5 a.m. everyday. Checking emails, going on Social Media to post and share articles of interest, calling and emailing clients to check on project status, sometimes viewing contact center product demos, meetings with new prospects, working onsite doing coaching sessions with Supervisors or reviewing operational issues/metrics with Managers, and of course networking with other consultants and business people.  Every day is different.  The challenge of a one-person consulting business is to keep the prospect pipeline filled while meeting the current client project expectations and goals.

What are your “can’t live without” apps on your desktop/cell phone?

I live in South Carolina so the strangest one is the Hurricane Center updates. That does affect my business and my clients this time of year.  I love Hootsuite for social media checks and Office for Macwhich helps me keep track of projects, emails, contacts.  My technical needs are simple as long as I can research the internet, create documents and powerpoint presentations, email and track client and prospect interactions.  I make sure to use the hourly “Time Machine” backup built into my Mac to not lose valuable data.  I keep things simple so I’m not bogged down with time wasting technology instead of the key ones.

What are your tricks for time management?

I’m a Myers-Briggs type J so I don’t have any problems making lists, calendars and following-up. I use my Entourage and iCal calendars (sync of course)  to alert me to activities that are must do and important meetings. I’m old school at heart, so I will occasionally make a to-do list on my always present yellow notepad and cross off as done. Not very technical but I find keeping that nagging list next to my computer monitor keeps me focused in case I get distracted with non-essentials.  I also send out emails or post on Twitter and LinkedIn early and limit my social media checks.  Both have ways to have auto-notification of postings so they come into my email and I can check during less busy times. My slowest client times are Monday mornings and Fridays so I can schedule lunches with prospects or networking coffees on those days more often. Identify your best days to contact people based on your market and block those “contact” hours on your calendar so you can focus.

Best advice received when you started your career?

Don’t spend your consulting project money until you have the check in hand :-)  Also, it’s OK to “fire” some customers who don’t have the desire to really improve or to invest in the success of their employees and business.

Given the current economic climate, how has your strategy for building awareness of your work changed for the short-term and long-term?

Many companies are worried about not only the current economy but what will happen in 2012 and beyond. The services I focus on now are Customer retention so they can keep the business they have worked so hard to gain, and how to save money by working more efficiently with less staff and revenue.  I’ve had my business since 1983 so I’ve weathered many of the economic storms over the years.  I’ve learned that this is a great time to network with other consultants who don’t offer what I do or vice versa so we can share leads.  I’ve always had a business which had a mix of quick proposal results (30 day decisions) and some which resulted in work after 4 to 5 years.  My strategy has been to plan for today’s no may be tomorrow’s yes.  Entrepreneurs can’t afford to lose contact with prospects so keeping good records is key for me.  Awareness now includes Twitter and LinkedIn connections, and my Customer Service blog, all of which have resulted in recent projects.

What’s been your proudest achievement as such an immensely accomplished Entrepreneur?

My “proudest achievement” happens each time a client asks me to work with them again.  It means that they value what I have done to help   them be successful.  There are thousands of consultants out there so I’m honored by this.  Peer recognition means a lot too so I was thrilled to be voted as one of the Top 25 Influential in Customer Service by my social media peers (Mindtouch: http://www.mindtouch.com/blog/2011/08/02/the-most-influential-in-customer-service/)

What are some of the ways that you achieve balance in your life?

When I’m not traveling, I spend evenings with my husband, sharing stories over the dinner table or watching funny movies or TV shows. Laughter makes for great medicine!  On the weekends, we go for nature walks together at the local Audubon Swamp (part of Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC).  No phone calls, limited email checks on weekends.  I take time to email or call an old friend or have lunch here with a fun Tweet-Up group of women entrepreneurs.  I’ve stopped doing a lot of traveling, and focus more on local southeastern US clients.

Your top 3 book recommendations for our readers (and why?)

I’ve got two that your readers may not think of in regards to entrepreneurs.  Both of these deal with ethics and honor:

  •  “Harry Potter” series (stay true and focus on your goals and doing the right thing, even when it seems everything and everyone is against you).
  • Atlas Shrugged” ( What if the achievers, the business owners, those who move society forward, went on strike).  I also like
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” (these are common business killers I run into often when consulting).

There are a lot of entrepreneur niche books but again, I like the messages in the non-traditional “how to” books just as well.

If you had an exceptional month and earned double of your average month, what (if anything) would you spend it on?

A lovely Caribbean cruise and some on my favorite charities.

What are some of your most rewarding charitable involvements and why?

As a one person business, my time for volunteering is very limited but I have favorites I have supported financially for years.  I support CFCA (Christian Foundation for Children and Aging) and have sponsored a child through them for several years. I love knowing that with my support, she can focus on her education and her family is learning skills to support themselves as well.  I support Junior Achievement because this is a wonderful organization to help develop the skills entrepreneurs and successful business people during the early education years.  I enjoy supporting any charity which focuses on “teach a man to fish” philosophy.

Who has been the most influential person to you as you’ve advanced in your career?

In the beginning of my career, my parents who told me I could do anything I put my mind to.  At my first contact center job, an experienced Supervisor who shared my shift duties and taught me how to motivate and have fun working without sacrificing quality and productivity.  Now, it’s my husband who listens to my challenges and offers encouragement.  Also my faith in God has kept me strong at times when I wanted to give up. I count my blessings for having the opportunity to work for myself and still enjoy my business and my wonderful clients after 27 plus years of consulting.

What’s your advice to my someone interested in entrepreneurship?

Have enough money, planning and support from those whose opinion you value to make it through the challenging first two years in business.  Know that you are going to ride the roller coaster and be prepared for the ups and downs. Never lose your passion for your business or forget the business basics needed to continue your success.  Surround yourself by positive people and those who will tell you the truth too.  Lose the negative ones with the half-empty glass attitudes.Melissa Kovacevic’s BIO

MELISSA KOVACEVIC’S BIO

Melissa partners with her Customer Service and Contact Center clients to identify and implement ways their business can connect People, Process and Technology to achieve success.  Since 1983, her customer-focused approaches to coaching skills, setting metrics and processes have brought success for companies ranging from utilities and banks to start-ups and small retailers.  Melissa’s Blog, “Customer Service Power…Turn It On” was recently named one of the top 10 Contact Center sites by Call Centre Helper Magazine.  She was selected by Mindtouch and their readers as one of the “Most Influential in Customer Service”.  For more information: www.mkcallcenterimprovement.com

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