In 1991, entrepreneur Mark J. Williams was operating Professional Services, Inc. This company specialized in call center outsourcing and consulting services.
Customers would call, and—because of the lengthy wait—would be put on hold. In response to this, Mark wanted to create a virtual call queue so that customers didn’t have to be glued to their phones while they waited. Like so many entrepreneurs, Mark’s search for available solutions in the marketplace led him to start a new business. In 1995, the “Hang up and we’ll call you back when it’s your turn,” virtual call queue business VHT was founded.
Short for “Virtual Hold Technology,” VHT is a customer experience (CX) solutions provider that uses automation to improve customer interactions. Today, VHT delivers its CX solutions across a broad range of industries serving contact center, ecommerce, mobile, Web and other channels. Its virtual call queue alone has been used for two billion phone calls. These calls are placed by customers who are seeking support from brands such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Lowe’s, American Airlines, Bank of America, United Healthcare, and many others.
Moving Closer to Where the Action is…
Matt DiMaria is the CEO of VHT. He says that it was serendipity that brought him to Nashville. Previously, he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over three decades.
Matt’s career has included a number of different software-related positions. From actually building the software to selling, marketing, or supporting it, Matt has helped create software products for hundreds of millions of consumers. These products are used by thousands of companies in almost every major sector. Matt estimates the market valuation of the projects he’s been part of developing to be at approximately $2 billion.
Inheriting his father’s determination, Matt’s son Nick came to him in 2009, and told his father what he wanted to do. Matt recalls, “He sat down and said, ‘Hey, I want to go to Nashville, Tennessee, [attend] Belmont University, major in music business, and become a professional session guitar player.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s pretty specific!’”
Matt says that at this point, he had only been to Nashville once. His presence in the city wasn’t to visit, but to drive through Nashville while he was moving. He was impressed with his son knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his life, while still in high school.
Matt and Nick visited Nashville in 2009. While visiting, they went to CMA Fest and enjoyed a show at the Grand ‘Ole Opry. Eight years later, Nick had graduated from Belmont, was playing lead guitar on a platinum single touring the world and performing on the main stage at the Opry.
Finding Renewed Purpose in Middle Tennessee
While Nick was on his journey, Matt and the rest of the family were still living in Saratoga, California. Over the years as their son was studying at Belmont, learning about the music business, they came to visit Nick.
“Almost every time for the first couple of years… he would say, ‘Everybody here is so nice!’ And it really put a hook in me. I started feeling affection for Nashville right away.” Over the course of their many visits, Matt and his family got to know and like the area. Then, as fate would have it, Matt’s business took him to Nashville with increasing frequency.
So, Matt’s decision was made for him. He and the family began planning a move to Nashville.
“I knew that I wanted to either build a company in Nashville, relocate a company to Nashville, or buy a company in Nashville and try and be part of the technology development of the town and have an impact on that,” Matt recalls.
In 2018, Matt partnered with Alpine Investors as they acquired VHT. The company’s main office is actually located in Akron, Ohio. However, Matt wanted VHT to have roots in Nashville. At his recommendation, VHT built a small satellite headquarters in Brentwood’s Maryland Farms area. This office has about 12 VHT employees.
Seeing a Bit of California in Nashville
In Matt’s opinion, there are advantages to being in tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley.
“What I loved—and what drew me to California in 1988—is what I see in Nashville today,” Matt explains. “Really. And this is this young, entrepreneurial, energetic, creative, business-oriented mindset.”
Though the Bay Area has finances, infrastructure, and a name that will always be associated with technology innovation that knows no boundaries., Matt says great software doesn’t require tons of people to create. This is good news for emerging tech hubs like Nashville.
“You can have small teams do extraordinary things,” Matt says. “Ironically, COVID has opened up the map quite a bit from a remote work perspective. So, you can have a core team that’s collaborating locally, but leveraging at a global scale—when and where it’s appropriate—more easily than ever.”
This is exactly what Matt has been doing with VHT since he joined the company. Working with his team, Matt has overseen exciting new product developments to serve every client touchpoint with their customers.
Matt explains, “We deliver these technologies on a new SaaS platform called Mindful. It’s really simple. If you’re on a company’s website trying to find some information… rather than having to dial into the brand, you just say ‘Contact me’ and hit a button. That brand then has the request inbound, and [it] can launch the appropriate outbound interaction from an agent. Now, you have somebody that knows your name. They know why you were contacting the brand.”
Acting like a startup within VHT, Mindful revamps the callback with additions of a digital callback component, chatbots/messaging, analytics, and notifications. Agents using Mindful to call customers are better prepared to serve them. After all, now they know the nature of the call, and they’re reaching out to the customer when they’re ready.
“The consumer feels valued because the call is coming into them at a time when it’s convenient for them,” Matt says. “It makes for a happier customer.”
Within days of Mindful being deployed, VHT clients see customer satisfaction scores drastically improve. Matt adds, “Ironically, it’s also less expensive for the brand, because an outbound interaction on a unit cost basis is much less expensive than managing inbound call volume. So, it has a wonderful hard dollar return on investment for the brand.”
In With the New
According to Matt, the contact center market is a very mature market. It relies on legacy, premises-based (on location) technology infrastructure. The software used by contact centers is managed by the brands themselves.
“What’s happening is there’s a major drive for every brand to digitize their businesses, and move to the cloud,” Matt explains. “They’re making a platform transition from systems and infrastructure that they own and manage to managed services providers that deliver those kinds of capabilities as a hosted service.”
The move from software to services is a huge change for customer services. Matt notes that about a third of the contact centers have moved to cloud-based services, and he estimates that that will increase to 70 percent in the next few years.
Matt says, “That will be a huge lift for these businesses. And that transition is incredibly disruptive to the customer experience.” He states that this transition opens up a world of challenges for companies not equipped to make the jump.
Like a fitted glove, VHT’s Mindful has put a front-facing technology over the different points of contact between a brand and its customers. From purchasing queries to requesting help, their solutions manage all phases of the customer’s journey.
In the next few years, Matt wants VHT to deliver even better results for brands. Their state-of-the-art, serverless cloud platform will make use of the best innovations. In building out new capabilities, the company will be hiring in artificial intelligence, analytics, and other key technologies related to customer experience optimization and domain expertise. VHT will also be hiring in functional areas such as sales, marketing, client services and operations.