Article by: Brian Womack – Staff Writer, Dallas Business Journal
In the early weeks of COVID-19, Tim Houlne saw his company get hit hard.
Plano’s Humach lost important customers, and the number of employees dropped from nearly 200 to less than about 100 in March, the CEO said. A key part of the business was call-center folks in facilities that helped outside companies.
“Over the course of four days, we lost about 60-plus percent of our business — it just came to a screeching halt,” Houlne said. “It was quite a week.”
Yet the company didn’t rest. It moved everyone to at-home work, an area Houlne already had experience with. It worked on technology that enables virtual contact centers – avoiding requiring physical sites as shelter-in-place policies were rolled out. At the same time, it offers voice services that help a customer.
By the middle of April, the company had rebounded to about 200 employees and pay cuts were restored. And now it has around a little over 400, he said.
The year is shaping up to be better than 2019, with revenue projected to climb by more than 140 percent, Houlne said.
“The uncertainty is there — so we are still are concerned about that, but we’re not stopping,” Houlne said. “If you go back historically — coming out of this stuff — there are always some companies that emerged stronger than they were going into it. And we want to be one of those companies.”
The growth this year is coming from the at-home agents and the tech service for getting customers connected to at-home call agent operations. And then there are the key artificial-intelligence efforts that include chatbots that automate the process of a conversation. The pandemic has quickly made these modern tools much more interesting to customers – so companies are more likely to move toward actually buying the services.
“This COVID has caused some people to make some decisions to ask, ‘Why weren’t we prepared?’” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to capitalize on now. Not only is it available, it’s working, and companies are using it to reduce expenses and improve customer satisfaction ratings.”
A new acquisition is also bolstering his business. Humach made a deal for Colorado-based InfinitAI, adding agent-assisting capabilities for artificial-intelligence powered conversational customer experiences. Terms weren’t disclosed.
Houlne discussed how things looked earlier this year and what’s ahead:
What helped you get traction early on?
Because of our experience running virtual contact centers and our technology, we were able to land some new customers. We can bring not only the ability to run virtual contact centers, but the technology so that you can manage, motivate and monitor these people in the home — that really differentiated us. To watch the world work from home in 30 days, I think is something that has been overdue. If you look at a virtual work-at-home model, it’s an inherent disaster recovery business continuity strategy. It makes sense to have at least a contingent that work from home — or the tools, the cloud-based tools, some of these applications — to be able to extend to anybody in a virtual environment.
What’s been kind of the go to market strategy that you see that you’ve developed here in the last couple months and what’s set for the future?
It’s continuing to capitalize on the experience of running the virtual agent business, and it’s been helpful. And then, delivering a managed service of some of this technology, it’s really set us apart from the competition — where we can come in and manage all of the AI.
Why can it grow on the digital side?
You have systems that have the ability to talk to each other. As long as we can have a natural language speech or chat session that can collect and disseminate information to your CRM or your database we should be able to transact some transactions — whether it’s a password reset or balance information or I want to make a payment. I think those are kind of the easy ones, but as long as you have access to some of this information, you can start to do more complex transactions as well.