Dialing in on success Featured

9:39am EDT July 22, 2002
Being an Entrepreneur Of The Year finalist is nothing new to Thomas Tyler.

Tyler, president and CEO of Xtrasource, was not only a finalist, but also a winner in the 1993 competition as head of Universal Electronic Inc.

“It’s quite flattering,” Tyler says of the experience. “You get a chance to meet a lot of very interesting people with similar problems and ideas.”

It was that experience with UEI that led to his current venture. Tyler took UEI, a producer of universal remote control products, to $100 million and led it through a public offering in 1993.

“As with all high flying companies, we had our ups and we had our downs,” he says. “In 1995, I decided I’d had enough there.”

At UEI, Tyler learned the art of customer service. It began with a couple of people answering questions and ballooned to a help desk operation in which 450 people responded to 250,000 calls a month. When he left UEI, Tyler investigated and found that teleservices was a $90 billion market, and the help desk portion accounted for $15 billion.

“It was a much bigger business than I was competing in with Universal,” he says. “And I felt that we had the experience of operating a help desk and that we know how to market and support on a global basis. That’s why we started Xtrasource, and that’s how we made the transition.”

His company now outsources customer service via telephone, e-mail and the Internet. There are about 600 companies that offer the services Xtrasource provides, but most are entirely located within the United States. Xtrasource is one of five or six companies that provides help desk services on a global scale.

It’s a very fragmented market. Tyler has opened offices in the Netherlands and France and has a partner in Asia, in addition to facilities in Kent and Raleigh, N.C. The company has plans to open an office in Sao Palo, Brazil, in the third quarter of this year.

Xtrasource has about 900 employees who answer about 50,000 calls a day about some 500 products.

The company offers support in 25 languages in more than 40 countries, through the use of sophisticated software that tracks where calls come from and sends them to the appropriate operator.

“It’s unlikely that we can dominate this market, but we should be able to command a reasonable share after a period of time,” Tyler says. “We’re the smallest, but we’re the newest, too.”

In its four years of existence, Tyler says the company has doubled its revenue each year.

“Our goal in life is to be a global player, which we are already,” he says.

Fueling some of that global growth is the Internet. About 10 percent of the “calls” Xtrasource operators answer come through the Web, in the form of e-mail or Internet chat. In the next five years, as technology integrates telephones, computers and the Internet, Tyler expects that number to increase to 80 percent. How to reach: Xtrasource, (330) 673-3316

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN Cleveland.