Join ACF Technologies, global leaders in Customer Experience Management, as they celebrate their 20th Anniversary.
In the early 2000s, in the world of queue and lobby management with unorganized and tedious lines, a little-known sector was slowly growing. However, people were not aware of the power this technology would bring to the world a few years later. Jan Opalka and José Mora, two tech-savvy coworkers in their 30s, saw this unawareness as an opportunity for them to embark on a journey to revolutionize the industry.
With a deep understanding of the market's needs and requirements, Jan and José set out on a year-long research mission. They scoured the market, studied competitors, and explored new technologies so they could develop the best solution for the market. It was during this search that they stumbled upon Q-nomy, a company whose product seemed to align perfectly with their vision.
Determined to make their mark, Jan and José founded ACF Technologies in 2003 and partnered with Q-nomy for the first year. Our founders were well-versed in the industry and had technical expertise, and Q-nomy had a mature product ready for the market, making them a perfect match.
The Early Days
Thanks to their prior experience and knowledge, the government sector became their primary focus, and they quickly prospered in this field. But they knew they had to keep moving forward, so they wasted no time chasing opportunities that matched their expertise. Their hard work paid off when they won high-profile contracts, including a project for the federal government's immigration offices.
This success coincided with the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the entire world became aware of the organization. This allowed Jan and José to leverage their successful project for the immigration offices; where they deployed their centralized web-based, non-proprietary product nationwide, gaining recognition and credibility in the process, eventually becoming an essential part of any innovative implementation.
Buoyed by their triumph in the U.S., our founders set their sights on expanding beyond borders. They saw the demand for their product in South and Central America, particularly in Mexico. With their reputation preceding them, they quickly won prestigious projects with renowned clients, like Aero Mexico.
With the success of Aero Mexico in Latin America, Jan and José were finally able to establish an office for ACF Technologies there. This office, in turn, served as an excellent referral to win over other clients in the region. They quickly set their sights on the telecom and banking industries, where they saw a lot of potential for growth.
Thanks to their astute market analysis and focus on their strengths, ACF Latin America became a force to be reckoned with in these sectors. Meanwhile, ACF USA continued to thrive in the government sector, where its expertise was unmatched.
But it wasn't just about getting customers out of queues; it was about the power of data. Back then, data was considered the new oil, and being able to track information in real-time from a central office was a game-changer, transforming how enterprises and organizations were managed.
During a time of economic downturn, this company found itself in a unique position. Government organizations were desperate to find ways to justify hiring more staff for their branches. The data produced by the company's system, which tracked employee performance and wait times, became a valuable tool in making the case for increased staffing. Whether it was a DMV or a tax collector office, these government agencies wanted to get people through the doors and reduce wait times.
However, the concept of queue management and lobby management was not yet fully developed in the Americas. While in Europe, it was already a mature industry, in the USA and Latin America, it was just beginning. Conversations with potential clients sometimes became awkward, as people were unfamiliar with the concept of a queue. But as time went on, the value of time became increasingly recognized, and the need for efficient service at places like the DMV became apparent.
This led to the implementation of a system that published wait times for various service providers, such as DMVs, colleges, and tax collectors. Customers could now make informed decisions about whether to visit a branch based on the wait times published by this company's system. The branch remained the primary source of business and income for many organizations, and ensuring efficient service became a priority.
The New Booming Industry
As the market started to shift towards online services, questions arose about the future of queue management and lobby management. Would businesses lose customers as more services moved to the online realm? The impact was minimal, thanks to the real-time data this company provided. By counting bodies and transactions, they were able to show their clients the actual impact of branches. While some branches did close, there was still a need for in-person transactions that couldn't be done online.
As time went on, the focus shifted to further improving the customer experience. Appointment scheduling became the next big thing. It allowed customers to have a convenient time slot for their branch visits, giving them a more personalized experience. The information collected on appointments and walk-in traffic helped organizations think about what the next steps in their evolution could be.
The industry started to talk about measuring and tracking the entire customer experience, particularly within the retail sector. It began with the digital experience of online shopping, and gradually, businesses realized the importance of capturing that experience in the branch as well.
As the retail sector began to prioritize the customer experience, it created a buzz that couldn't be ignored. This added another element to the company's services. They realized that while they offered queue management, lobby management, digital signage, and surveys, it was challenging to convey their message to customers. They were seen as a feeder into larger systems like CRM and HR platforms, but the concept of customer experience was widely understood and embraced.
The focus on improving the customer journey and performance was significant, with projections of massive investments in the coming years. It became clear that the company was naturally positioned within this customer experience wave. They were an integral part of enhancing customer interactions and satisfaction.
Unforeseen circumstances hit the world: COVID-19. The pandemic accelerated the need for even more emphasis on customer experience and digital transformation. Businesses had to adapt quickly, finding ways to serve customers in the new virtual world. For the company, this was another opportunity to showcase their capabilities and further define their role.
They offered a seamless experience through various channels. Customers could check in via their mobile phones, use their computers, or still opt for walk-in transactions. Most importantly, customers had easy access to appointment bookingThe company had prepared for this market shift, providing solutions that allowed businesses to continue serving customers amidst the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
As the world adapted to the virtual landscape, the importance of customer experience became even more apparent. The company's services became a lifeline for businesses, helping them navigate the new normal and continue providing exceptional service.
Over the years, their list of clients continued to grow, with more organizations seeking out their services. Through their unwavering dedication and hard work, Jan and José had managed to build a flourishing business that spanned the Americas, as well as EMEA, with headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina.
Here is a little bit of Q&A fun with co-founders Jan and José.
Amy: These next questions will tap into some of the emotional moments you've had during the company's 20-year history. Could you both share some core memories that stand out to you?
José: Sure, one memory that comes to mind is when we secured our first major customer. At the time, we were trying to raise money for marketing and faced numerous rejections from banks. It was a discouraging experience. However, when we landed our very first customer and received a check for $1,000,000, it was a defining moment for us. It validated that we had something valuable to offer, and it gave us the confidence to continue on our journey.
Jan: I agree with José. That moment when we secured our first major customer was truly significant. It showed us that we were on the right track and that our vision for the business was resonating with the market. Additionally, building a dedicated core team who have been with us for many years has been essential to our success. Their commitment and belief in our vision have been extremely motivating.
José: Absolutely. Having long-term employees who understand and share our vision is a testament to the positive direction our business is moving in. It also allows us to explore new sectors and expand our market opportunities. One thing that I personally find most rewarding is when we see how our products and services truly transform our customers' businesses. It's not just about selling a product, but rather guiding and supporting our customers throughout their journey.
Jan: I couldn't agree more. The satisfaction that comes from seeing our customers experience the positive impact of our system is immeasurable. It's not just about completing a project; it's about helping businesses thrive and succeed.
Amy: It's evident that these memorable moments have made a significant impact on the success of the company. Now, if you had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again, is there anything you would change?
José: There have been three defining moments in the history of what Jan and I have accomplished. It was one of those pivotal moments when we decided to trust our instincts, our gut feelings, and our expertise. Yes, there were times when we were under extreme pressure and we chose not to follow our instincts, which was a mistake. For instance, we were developing products that incorporated artificial intelligence, even before it became mainstream 17 years ago. However, we didn't pursue many of those ideas because we were more focused on the business aspect, trying to sustain the company. In hindsight, I believe we could have achieved even more if we had heeded our instincts more. But we have no regrets.
Jan: Absolutely, running a business requires you to consider all aspects - financial, people, and time constraints. So, there are various factors at play. But like José said, following your instincts can be crucial.
Amy: The vision was incredible. Amazing.
Meagan: Do you have any funny stories or memorable interactions with any of your customers that you're able to share?
Jan: Well, we've had some amusing encounters. There's one incident with one of our colleagues that remains one of our classic moments.
José: Indeed. We once had a meeting with a customer, which I still chuckle about every time I recall. Jan, were you there at the time?
Jan: No, I just heard about it afterward, and it was hilarious. One of our software engineers and José were visiting one of our client's headquarters.
José: Yes, for security reasons, we were received in the main lobby and then directed to the meeting room. However, he somehow got confused and ended up in a different meeting. At the time, I accompanied him but soon realized the mix-up.
Jan: (Laughing) I distinctly remember you telling us how he started taking notes and participating in the meeting, completely unaware of the mistake.
José: Yes, when I found the correct meeting room and returned with our escorts, we saw him still busy with the notes, asking questions to the regional director. We all had a good laugh.
Jan: It was quite humorous, especially considering it was during our early days, when we were still figuring out how to work with the federal government.
José: Another humorous incident is from our very early days. Jan and I used to do project management, programming, sales – basically anything needed. But I was terrible at packing. Every time we had to ship something to a customer, I would drag my feet, knowing that Jan would reprimand me for it.
Jan: Yes, I had to redo your packing every single time!
Meagan: So, Ashley (ACF's event organizer in the US) should know not to ask for your help with trade shows, José?
Their relentless drive and commitment to excellence propelled them to great success. They were able to provide innovative solutions that were centrifugal in enhancing the customer experience. By giving customers control of their own time through solutions that gave access to things such as online appointment booking and virtual check-in options from their mobile devices, customers were able to access services from the comforts of their own homes, transforming the way organizations operated. All of this started from humble beginnings, with Jan and José daring to believe that they could do better and then making it a reality. It reminds us that sometimes, the most groundbreaking ideas come from recognizing inefficiencies and daring to challenge the status quo.
A testament to 20 years of global success, their journey is an inspiring example of how one can genuinely make a difference in an industry still in its infancy, turning it into a thriving sector that saves countless hours and impacts countless lives… well, they are undoubtedly countable with Q-Flow solutions, but you know what we mean! We look forward to seeing where Jan and José bring ACF in the next twenty years.
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