On the lighter side of things, we ask Hunter Croft, President and CEO of Advanced Call Center Technologies, what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
That would be closing my first big deal. When I was 24 years old, I worked for a large, East-coast-based financial services company. I had not been with the company long and it had just rolled out a new product that had not been sold yet. I took the bold move of reaching out to one of New York’s largest utility companies.
To my amazement, the head of customer care agreed to meet with me. I drove from Scranton to New York to meet him, and when I showed up, he wanted to go out for lunch. I had literally US$8.00 in my bank account, but obviously, I couldn’t say no. So, we went, and I ordered a cup of soup and water, trying to appear nonchalant. We had a great meeting and I ended up closing a multi-million-dollar deal. In the end, he paid for lunch, thankfully – and I had just landed the first large account for the new product.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I began my career in customer experience management, where at that time, the focus had always been on the agent interaction, but it became clear that the technology underpinning service delivery was clearly a business differentiator.
Since those days of data entry platforms, interactive voice response (IVR) functionality, automated call distribution (ACD), workforce optimization and management (WFO, WFM), we’ve progressed to building AI-enabled self-service capabilities augmented by agents delivering great service. To take it back to the question of how I became involved in technology, it’s because, for me, technology has always been the best enabler for outstanding customer experience.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I am a true believer in ‘servant leadership’. I believe that everyone wants to do a good job, everyone wants to be successful and it’s my job as a leader to help them get there. Give people the tools they need and the trust they deserve to do their jobs. Empower them whenever and wherever possible and support them when needed.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
The use of AI to enable efficient and exceptional customer experiences. The velocity of advancement in Artificial Intelligence continues to present new opportunities to improve user experience, whether it be a direct interface with a customer or the agent supporting the customer.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
My wife and I have been together for over 26 years, and we have four fantastic daughters whom we love spending time with. We enjoy traveling, music, sports – typical family activities, but really anything we can do together.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
I can honestly say that I do not have any regrets. Every choice I’ve made and experience I’ve had has led me to where I am today. Every difficulty I’ve experienced has been just as important as my achievements on the path to where I am. I don’t spend a lot of time looking backwards, my time is usually filled with what’s next.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
At the risk of being repetitive, it’s all about the total experience. But to deliver outstanding total experience, the industry must continue investing in technologies to support it – and we are seeing those investments make an impact with our own employees, with our technology partners, with our clients; all around us.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?
One of our biggest challenges – and I think this applies to many enterprises since COVID-19 – is how to best support our geographically dispersed remote workforce, ensure the employee experience is consistent and stable, drive performance and manage KPIs.
Surprisingly, the challenge isn’t so much in rolling out new tech but rather ensuring that the resulting user experience is what we want it to be. With technology and employee experience central to our strategy to differentiate on total experience, we’ve invested heavily in mapping and optimizing the employee experience to create a virtual experience to mirror that of the on-prem employee as much as possible.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
Our organization experienced insanely rapid growth over the past few years. We’ve always performed well in driving organic growth over the past 25 years, but Covid accelerated the demand for customer experience solutions, and we saw revenue increase in the triple-digit range.
To scale for customer demand, our organization has undergone a major transformation, the most significant being that we became an ESOP – 100% employee-owned – in December 2021. This was a strategic decision not only to align our employees’ motivation to our client’s success but to empower and reward them as the foundation of our value proposition. During that time and immediately following our ESOP transition, I stepped into the role of president and CEO, and we have expanded our leadership team across all functions.
While I still play a very hands-on role in everything from operations to client relations, I have had the privilege of adding many talented and highly experienced executives to help us continue to meet the market demands and evolve to the next stage of growth and innovation for our organization.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?
Success comes from tenacity and teamwork. The best leaders are always challenging themselves and the teams around them to reach higher and never give up. It’s also necessary to surround yourself with people with a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, involve them in decision-making and empower them to lead as well. There’s strength in diversity.
Success can’t be found in a vacuum; it takes a lot of people with different skills working hard towards the same goal. If you recognize and value others, they will have your back, they will perform better and they will carry you forward. We know there is a solution to every challenge – that’s the key to success and the secret ingredient of innovation.Click below to share this article