By Karen van Kampen
In 1989, while studying business administration at the University of Calgary, Desirée Bombenon joined the dispatch department of Page Direct, a Calgary-based paging and telecommunications company — typing out messages for pagers. “It was extremely interesting to hear the variety of messages that were going over the voice message centre with people not realizing that a person was actually typing the message,” says Desirée.
With the rise of cellular phones, the company sold its paging assets. Desirée had worked her way up in Page Direct, and she had an idea to reinvent the dispatch centre as an after-hours answering service. Instead of shutting down, Page Direct became PDL Contact Centres Ltd., and Desirée helped grow the business into a multimedia call centre providing more complex applications, including emergency response.
Then in 2013, along with business partner Marc Bombenon (who is now her husband), Desirée launched SureCall Contact Centres Ltd., offering customized services for clients while creating more of a consultant role for frontline staff. Desirée followed her passion to utilize business as a force for good and built SureCall into a purpose-driven Certified B Corporation, maintaining the highest levels of sustainability and ethics while creating a dynamic and positive work environment.
After more than 30 years of helping to transform the contact centre industry, Desirée is being recognized for empowering her employees while demonstrating business excellence. As CEO of SureCall, Desirée was the 2020 winner of the RBC Momentum Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has created a responsive business that can adapt to changing market environments and leverage opportunities for continued growth.
“People are not loyal to companies. They are loyal to other people. We need to treat people with respect and kindness, and they will be loyal.”
Desirée’s road to entrepreneurship was driven by her passion to help build community, diversity, and gender equality. She decided that through business, she would make an impact. “I call myself the accidental entrepreneur,” says Desirée, who focuses on finding creative, innovative solutions rather than taking on a figurehead role. “If you find the best entrepreneurs, it’s not people who think, one day I want to be an entrepreneur — it’s people who think, how do I find the best solution to this problem? How do I create something cool and interesting? This is going on in my community, what can I do about it?”
In the call centre industry, there is often a high turnover rate of frontline staff doing the same routine tasks every day, and Desirée questioned how she could create change in the industry. SureCall began with a team of 40 staff from PDL, and as the company grew, Desirée wanted to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. This included taking the cognitive bias out of hiring and assessing candidates in terms of their values and talent.
In 2016, SureCall implemented a no resume, no interview process. Instead, potential candidates fill out a profile that is based on their cultural values. Applicants who score at least 85 per cent are typically hired. “We don’t know what gender you are, what religion you are, what colour you are,” says Desirée. “It enables us to have diverse, non-biased recruitment. That’s really important to the creativity and the inclusiveness that our team feels.”
SureCall continues to invest in employee education and training, offering meaningful work for frontline staff. As clients rely on frontline employees to help improve business operations, the employees feel valued for their contributions. “People are not loyal to companies. They are loyal to other people,” she says. “We need to treat people with respect and kindness, and they will be loyal.”
SureCall supports the health and wellness of its diverse team, providing a weekly session with a nutritionist/trainer, 15-minute back massages on Wellness Wednesdays (which is suspended temporarily during COVID), and a meditation and prayer room. “We respect everybody’s differences and we try as much as possible to make accommodations that help them feel like they belong,” says Desirée.
“Leap, and a net will appear.”
Today, SureCall has approximately 130 employees across Canada who offer customized services to clients around the world. The company is expanding its global clientele and has a 2022 vision of at least 25 per cent of its business coming from outside of North America. Desirée also remains focused on giving back to her local and global communities.
SureCall contributes two per cent of its top line revenue to its GoodCall program that supports local, national, and international causes. SureCall’s Hero Girls program, which Desirée built while attending Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, helps to educate girls in underserved and developing countries. This includes Nepal where a rigid caste system is a significant barrier to girls’ education. Currently, more than 100 girls are being supported through scholarships and other Hero Girls initiatives. In her local community, Desirée mentors young girls into leadership roles, helping them embrace their true selves along the way.
When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, Desirée says, “Don’t worry so much. Don’t sweat the small things and lose your focus.” It’s also OK to fail. In fact, “Failure is your first step to your best performance,” says Desirée, adding that it is necessary to fail in order to reach your full potential. Even though growing her business has come with some sleepless nights, she says it’s important to let go of your fear, “leap, and a net will appear.”