This Columbus Startup is Reinventing the Call Center, Even During a Pandemic

How Fortuity survived COVID-19 by caring for employees, emphasizing quality and staying flexible

Call centers can sometimes come with negative connotations. People think of a dimly lit row of gray cubicles with an unenthusiastic staff selling low-level products, providing poor customer service or collecting debts. But Fred Brothers and Katie Robinson have other ideas of what a call center could be, and founded Fortuity in Columbus’s Franklinton neighborhood as a new approach to the concept.

“We are a high-quality, professionally managed corporate outsourcer with a 75,000-square-foot call center facility,” said president and CEO Brothers. “We can do work for large corporations, governments, midsize companies and small, closely held companies. We’re totally omni-channel, and can do inbound and outbound customer service, telesales, email chat, SMS, social media and voice work. Ohio is a great place for us to do voice work because we’ve got a very neutral accent relative to the rest of the United States.”

In more than 30 years of experience in business and customer service, Brothers found that call centers tended to either be expensive and high-end or cheap with very poor quality. There are lots of call centers in Ohio, but Brothers and Robinson wanted to create a company that provided great service while still treating its employees as well as its customers and giving opportunities to people who need them. But you can’t provide good jobs without a successful business model, and Brothers says that’s where Fortuity truly excels, providing excellent customer service for a wide range of needs, giving employees room to grow and businesses the support they’re looking for.

“Even though we’re a for-profit company, we think of Fortuity as a social enterprise,” said Brothers. “We’re based in Franklinton, only five blocks from the state house. In central Ohio, many good jobs that have career advancement opportunities are located outside of the outerbelt in the suburbs. But we have a lot of folks that live in our urban core and are reliant on public transportation for whom this would be a great job opportunity. So we are located right on one of the highest-volume bus lines, where there are 400,000 people that live in our urban core and can get to us in less than 30 minutes on one bus.”

Fortuity invested $12 million in a bright, modern space in Franklinton that launched to great reviews Feb. 24. But just a few weeks later, the world had changed. As COVID-19 began to dominate the news, Fortuity leadership decided to start preparing for the future, sending their employees home to test their remote working capabilities for a day. Two months later, they’re still there and Fortuity is still thriving.

“We wanted to test it, so we sent everybody home on a Monday afternoon with equipment and testing went fine,” said Brothers. “As a leadership team, we said, ‘Let’s leave them home tomorrow.’ On the seventh day, the state ordered the same. Fortunately, we had been running the whole call center remotely for a week. More than two months later, we haven’t missed a single call. We’ve signed two new customers in the middle of all of this and we’ve hired new people with virtual onboarding. We’re not prideful people, but it is satisfying to see what our team has accomplished. I’m so proud of them; this has been unbelievably hard and stressful.”

The company’s customers have been impressed with their perseverance as well.

“We launched with Fortuity just before the stay-at-home order and they were able to seamlessly transition to a work from home model while continuing to provide the sales support we need to grow our base of accredited businesses,” said Kip Morse, President of the Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio.  “Our mission of supporting central Ohio businesses is critical, now more than ever, to helping them navigate the challenges COVID-19 has brought so they can continue to thrive in this new environment.”

Fortuity does have plans to return to its brand new home, and has the space to implement social distancing policies and extra safety measures. And whether the company’s employees are concentrated in one building or working around central Ohio, Brothers said Columbus — and their Franklinton neighborhood in particular — is where they want to be.

“This was the fastest growing economy in the midwest before the pandemic and I have no reason to believe we won’t still be the fastest growing economy after this,” said Brothers. “We’ve developed an incredible culture of venture capital-backed companies and entrepreneurial spirit here. It’s so rewarding to watch. And we love being in Franklinton; it’s kind of a magical location where I can go out front and get on the bus and be downtown in four minutes. We’re five blocks from the center of everything. The spirit of collaboration in Franklinton between non-profits, social enterprises, for-profit companies like Fortuity and CoverMyMeds and developers like Thrive Companies is really unique. It allows new business and development to
enhance the neighborhood’s rich history.”

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