Doug Schultz | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Doug Schultz

Background:  

Houston-based ContactRelief is a cloud-based service that helps contact centers divert outgoing phone calls away from disaster-stricken areas, allowing consumers to focus on their families’ safety and recovery. Chairman Doug Schultz co-founded it in January after seeing a need for the service at his previous company, debt collection services provider United Recovery Systems, which he built from a three-person office to 2,000 employees in six locations before selling it in 2008 to the Audax Group for an undisclosed sum. Schultz used part of the sale proceeds to fund a family foundation to provide relief to disaster victims through charities such as the First Response Team of America. ContactRelief plans to donate 10 percent of its profits to such charities.

The Mistake:

I didn’t pursue a project that would help both consumers and credit issuers.

We got into the credit card business in its infancy, back when there was only Diners Club and Carte Blanche. In the early 1980s, we won business from a number of the big players, accounts that had gone only 60 days delinquent, and we developed a real softball approach toward collecting those. One of the things we did early on – actually during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 – was develop software and policies not to call people who were undergoing disasters.

I always believed that calling a consumer during a disaster was not appropriate or productive for the consumer and for our company's reputation. So we were the first kids on the block not to do anything like that.

By the time Hurricane Katrina came around, we had a good policy and software. I offered to give my policies and programs to my clients for free so we could standardize around one platform. But after sending out the offer to around 15 people and making five or six phone calls, it didn’t go anywhere. They said their risk management departments weren’t interested and could do it themselves, so I abandoned the project pretty quickly. My clients, who were all the major credit card grantors, do have good hearts and they wanted to do the right thing. If I had kept pursuing it, it probably would have gotten the standardization process going.

I’ve learned that changing the world requires a full-time effort.

The Lesson:

I’ve learned that changing the world requires a full-time effort. If I had given the project a lot more time and effort, millions of people wouldn’t have received calls about delinquent credit cards when they were worried about a disaster event. I'm attempting to remedy that situation now with ContactRelief.

Things have changed a lot in the last 12 years. There’s a lot more information online and communication between parties has become a lot easier to control.

We’ve hired meteorologists and decision analysts and we have a pretty comprehensive product to contact the agencies. We notify the client whatever disaster is happening and the collection agency would know in five minutes to eliminate certain zip codes or area codes from their lists. We’re trying to do the right thing for consumers. It’s also good for the credit card companies. No one is going to talk when something is going on and people are going to complain and possibly file regulatory complaints if they get a call during a disaster. Any Fortune 500 company has call centers or contact centers, so the product doesn’t have to be just for collections. There are other applications, but collections is the one we’re focused on.

Follow ContactRelief on Twitter at @ContactRelief.

Photo courtesy of Doug Schultz

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