All holds barred Featured

9:53am EDT July 22, 2002

As a call-center manager, Mark Williams saw first-hand how excessive on-hold time can drain a company of dollars and productivity.

“I had agents sitting there on 800 lines and I was writing a check every month to AT&T for about $4,000,” Williams recalls.

“I thought there had to be a better way.”

So he did some checking around. He described the on-hold time problem to some of the biggest telephone companies in the country, and was told repeatedly to overflow his phone traffic into voice mail, then later return the calls.

That was January 1995. By April 1995, Williams had sold his previous company and started Virtual Hold Technology.

The concept is pretty simple, Williams says. When a caller calls in on an 800 line, he is immediately informed how long the on-hold wait will be, then is given the chance to either keep holding or get a call-back when his place in line comes up. Right now, the technology is software-based, but Williams is looking into moving the application to a network, or Internet, level.

By eliminating on-hold time, a company can not only save on long-distance charges, but also retain customers, says Williams. “Thirty-four percent of abandoning callers do not call back, and the cost of regaining a lost customer is 12 times the cost of acquiring that customer in the first place.”

The statistics may be persuasive, but the service has been a hard sell. “The biggest challenge was convincing big companies that we weren’t going to bring down their whole system,” says Williams. “The phone systems and 800 lines are the lifeline for the business to their customers.”

Williams has managed to convince some of those big companies. He currently counts BellSouth, the American Cancer Society, Home Shopping Network and IBM among his customers.

While Williams won’t disclose revenue figures, he expects 1999 figures to be 10 times those of 1998.

The application, Williams says, will be standard in all call centers five years from now. Who provides that product depends on how fast VHT moves.”It’s a speed-to-market issue,” he says.

“The biggest challenge right now is going to be maximizing the growth — controlling the business while still not restricting growth. Right now, we’re starting to explode.”

Connie Swenson