THERE is a certain symmetry to the fact John Devlin, a self-confessed music fanatic, is responsible for overseeing a business on the Isle of Wight.
The island is steeped in rock ’n’ roll folklore thanks to its famous music festival, with its original incarnation graced by such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and The Who.
Mr Devlin, who lists the latest albums by First Aid Kit, The National and Manic Street Preachers among his current listening pleasures, forged his own connection with the island when Ascensos, the customer contact specialist he leads, opened a branch in Cowes towards the end of last year.
It may not have been music which took Ascensos to the Isle of Wight, but there were lots of other reasons which made it an attractive location for the Lanarkshire-based business as it looked to expand. That there would be no direct competition for Ascencos, which handles in-bound customer service calls for retailers such as B&Q, Wickes and Karen Millen, was one attraction.
But equally the company was drawn to the idea of providing sustainable employment on an island which faces a continuing battle to stem the “exodus” of talent to the mainland. To that end, its decision to invest in the island received the backing of local stakeholders, including Isle of Wight Council, Job Centre Plus and Isle of Wight.
“It’s a real community there on the island, and that’s very much part of our DNA – to have community contact centres,” Mr Devlin said.
“That’s important to us, but equally it’s as vital to the island, in terms of the job creation we have there.”
It is not unknown for people on the Isle of Wight to commute to the mainland. But Mr Devlin notes that the ferry journey across the Solent to Southampton or Portsmouth is one of the most expensive commutes in the world. 
“We’re trying to retain jobs on the island, and indeed we have actually attracted some people back who were previously making that commute to the mainland, although they call it the north island!” he quipped. “They don’t like calling it the mainland, it makes them feel lesser. It was a compelling case for us, as well as a compelling case for them.”
Ascensos opened on the Isle of Wight on November 1, just in time for the pre-Christmas retail rush. By the time Black Monday and Cyber Monday came, now two of the biggest times of year for e-commerce retailers, staff numbers hit a seasonal peak of 500 staff. Mr Devlin said it has proven to be an ideal cultural fit
for Ascensos.
“It’s a unique place, it’s a beautiful place,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons that were really attracted to it – it’s a great place to live and work. 
“We have seen a number of the guys who came down from Motherwell to set it up for us choose to stay there because it is such a great work-life balance.”
Mr Devlin is all too aware that call centres can have an image problem. Media exposes focusing on stringent call targets and timed toilet breaks have done nothing to improve the industry’s reputation.
But Mr Devlin said Ascensos does things a bit differently. For a start, there is no out-bound telemarketing carried out by its employees.
“We do in-bound customer care on behalf of retail brands,” Mr Devlin said. “And our technology is easily delivered from different locations. We have got a central hub in London where all our data centres sit, then our contact centres operate on a hub-and-spoke basis, on a virtual basis.”
Ascensos was formed by Mr Devlin with Dermot Jenkinson and Katrine Young in 2015. It came after the trio had built up and successfully exited call centre business beCogent, which was sold to Teleperformance of France for £35 million in 2010.
Ascensos, formed after the three had observed a three-year non-compete clause, has since had a rapid ascent, with its growth coming organically and through acquisition. The company has established customer contact centres in Motherwell, home to its head office, Clydebank, and Romania, and moved into The Netherlands in 2016 when it acquired Dutch firm HECC. 
The investments in both the Isle of Wight and The Netherlands were made to give Ascensos the headroom to meet its rapid growth in 2016, when its revenue expanded three-fold. According to its most recent accounts, the company increased turnover to £9.7m in 2016 from £3.3m the year before. Writing in those accounts, the directors declared they expected turnover rise to “in the region of £22m” in 2017, and to be “comfortably profitable”, with staff numbers on track to increase from 1,170 to 1,500. Its accounts for 2017 have still be published.
Mr Devlin said that Ascensos currently has sufficient capacity to meet its forecasts this year, but revealed it is continually on the look-out for ways to grow. That could mean opening other sites or making further acquisitions.
“We’re always looking to where we go next,” he said, stating that the underlying profitability of the business is strong when expansion costs are set aside. The funding for its expansion has come from its board and shareholders, including himself. And there is no hint of Brexit getting in the way of the company’s ambitions.
“Our international growth is as a result of our clients having international expansion relating to their businesses,”
he said. 
“Our increasing growth of language requirements has taken us into more regions of Europe and beyond, as well as having a presence in some of these countries too. We are now supporting 11 languages from Bucharest, and six, seven out of The Netherlands as well.”
The structural change sweeping through the retail sector, meanwhile, is playing into Ascensos’ sweet-spot. 
As the bricks-and-mortar outlets run
by major high street names come under pressure from the growth of online sales, the opportunity for a firm like Ascensos can only grow. 
Noting that its clients include, the online-only clothing retailer, Mr Devlin said: “We’re positioned in the right place to allow retailers to move their business model from bricks and mortar to online. Hopefully there will be a benefit for us in that.”
Much of its work requires a high level of skill from its staff, who are often charged with finding solutions to complex customer inquiries. For example, its work with B&Q can see staff effectively project managing the installation of a kitchen or bathroom for customers. “It’s not simple, transactional activity,” Mr Devlin noted.
“Increasingly, we are delivering non-voice support, digital support. We have made a massive investment in live chat [and] web chat activities, and social media as well.”
And Ascensos is investing in the next generation of technology requried by contact centres, allowing Mr Devlin’s team to interpret and capitalise on data. That means, he says, Ascensos will shift from being a contact to an intelligence centre, able to offer “real, meaningful data, insights [and] analytics for our clients.”
Such is the level of sophistication, it means the firm can offer the prospect of rewarding careers. It is not unknown for people to take jobs at Ascensos who are targeting jobs within specific sectors, including fashion.
Mr Devlin said it is important that working for Ascensos is “not seen to be a monotonous, Groundhog Day-type activity [and] that we can create some fulfilling careers.”
Emphasising that employers must be aware of the demands of “millennials”, who value meaning in work as well as pay, he added: “We invest heavily in our learn and development academy, which we call the talent spa – that’s a very important building block and foundation for how we position ourselves for the future. 
“How we retain develop and attract staff by offering careers, not just a Monday to Friday nine-to-five job.”