This month, we sat down with Ben Humphreys, the President and CEO of Comtel Communications and Simplicity VoIP to reflect on the telecommunications business over the past 26 years.
Ben founded Comtel Communications, a master telecommunications and technology consulting agency in 1991. He then started Simplicity VoIP in 2012 because of a distinct gap within the business communications market for clients who wanted a customized, on-site VoIP experience. Ben wanted to offer customer service that engaged his clients in real-time, versus the industry norm - lengthy response times after submitting a trouble ticket.
Q: What was the main reason you wanted to start Comtel?
A: I went to a high school in the Northern Neck of Virginia that was geographically dispersed over 12 counties, and our phone bill was astronomical. With deregulation of long distance, I saw an opportunity in those counties to save people money. That’s why I started Comtel and the area where I launched the business.
Q: Why did you decide to found Simplicity?
A: I was an early adopter of VoIP as a customer and transitioned Comtel to selling it as an agency. We saw a lot of dropped balls and opportunities for improvement in the process.
After years of being an agency, we believed that we could be a service provider that focused on quality service with the customer being first. Numerous carriers process and complete requests within 24-48 hours. We strive to address requests in a real-time scenario. The goal being to respond to the customer promptly and to give a different level of customer service than typical in the industry without becoming a huge service provider. We can do it in Richmond Virginia because of the advances in technology which enable us to offer competitive products and services.
So, to answer your question more directly. I wanted to create a VoIP company where solution selling and customer service were the number one priorities, yet delivered at an affordable price.
Q: In your opinion, what do you think is the most important aspect of customer service?
A: There are two - listening to what your customers are saying and being prompt when responding. You have to really hear the customer - I sometimes have to catch myself when I try to finish a customer’s statement.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in the beginning versus now 26 years later?
A: The learning curve. Whenever you start something new, it is tough. Starting Comtel was absolutely no different.
Now with Simplicity VoIP, we still have a learning curve, but it’s slightly different. As an agent, you sell services and generally hand off to the carrier. As a provider, you are responsible for the entire customer experience. The challenges starting Simplicity VoIP were immense when it came to learning about new technologies and all of the equipment that it takes to deliver quality VoIP service. And then there’s the customer’s environment...I have learned that if we don’t think our service will perform in a customer’s environment, it is far better to step back than proceed forward with a bad experience.
Q: What kinds of things do you do on a daily basis?
A: I work with the sales team helping to ensure that they are selling solutions to our customers. The industry has changed dramatically, and we are now doing far more than replacing a phone system. We are providing a communications platform that will allow businesses to grow, employees to collaborate and organizations to become more efficient. To that end, I am also researching new technologies that we can bring to our customers in the future.
Q: What is the most stressful part about what you do?
A: Staying ahead of the technology curve...trying to develop the right products and services to deliver to our clients.
Q: How has the industry changed since 1991?
A: It is pretty simple. It is all about larger transport pipes or Internet speeds.
On the technology side, the larger pipes are allowing for more applications and solutions that you’re putting over pipes, VOIP, hosted fax, collaboration, UC, we are becoming a solutions company, as well as a connectivity company. Finally, it’s about providing solutions to the end user.
Q: How have you grown the company since the start (acquisition, mergers, etc.)
A: When I started the firm, I was in sales, we developed an agent network, and we did several acquisitions between late 90s and mid 2000s. Since that point in time, we have tried to grow organically with a combination of direct sales, agent sales, and strategic partnerships.
Q: This year, your wife has joined your team – why now and what is she doing? A lot of people don’t get to work very closely with their wife, what is it like for you?
A: Amy did join the team this year and is working on marketing and agent development. After 3 years of service as Vice President of The Alliance Partners (formerly the Agent Alliance,) she gained enormous amount of experience of how this industry works that brings insight and value to both companies.
In our situation, we truly do complement one another. It’s not always easy, but what you have to remember is that everyone is pulling towards the same goal and there are different ways of getting there. There is power in teamwork.
My advice to others contemplating a husband-wife work experience is to set up boundaries and to leave work at work. The key is to harness both of your strengths.
Q: What is something you look forward to every year within the company?
A: The annual holiday party, it is my opportunity to thank our team for their efforts and hard work. I am very proud of our Comtel and Simplicity VoIP teams. They do an outstanding job.
Q: Any final thoughts to share going into 2018?
A: We do have some exciting news about a new VoIP platform. After completing a year-long process of market research, exploring client needs and vetting potential providers, we are making a substantial investment to bring netsapiens a completely geo-redundant Class 5 VoIP platform to our clients. We liked this solution because of its enhanced features and functionality. Our excellent client services will continue, and we look forward to offering netsapiens to complement our existing communications portfolio.
We are blessed to have been in business for 26 years and to look forward to continuing to bring emerging technologies and excellent customer service of our clients.
Comtel Communications, a telecom/technology consulting agency based in Richmond, Virginia since 1991, provides best-in-class solutions and unbiased counsel to a diverse group of small, medium, and enterprise-level businesses, totaling more than $18.2M in annual billings. Leveraging unique access to 350+ national and international providers, Comtel benefits its clients through competitive quotes from multiple sources, to ensure their business goals are met with current and dynamic telecom and technology services. Acting as a partner, long after contracts are signed and services are deployed, Comtel offers superb back-office support to manage upgrades, track orders, and provide training to clients.