This Call Is Being Monitored Software that listens in on customer calls helps Continental Airlines gather insight about its fliers.
By Bridget Finn

(Business 2.0) – If you've ever placed a call to any big company's customer service department, you've heard the caveat: "This call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes." But is anyone really listening? Someone is--or at least the computers are--at Continental Airlines.

Building customer loyalty has become crucial in the beleaguered airline industry. Which is why Continental enlisted the help of Witness Systems, whose call-center software does more than eavesdrop: It records conversations and captures every keystroke, so managers know whether the right actions were taken. And because the exchanges reveal what customers really want, Continental is also mining the data to help craft marketing plans and shape overall strategy. Fortunately for Witness, which saw its revenue jump 60 percent to $108 million in 2003, that trend is catching on: 53 percent of its clients are now using such data beyond the call center.

Before the software was installed in 2001, Continental's agents were unable to resolve about 6 percent of the 60 million calls they fielded annually. Instead, these problems were routed to an internal help desk. The Witness data revealed that some agents "weren't attempting to look up the answers on their own," says Andre Harris, director of reservations training and quality. New standards were put in place, and within a year, nearly 20 percent fewer calls were being sent to the help desk, saving the company $1 million. In addition, customer satisfaction rose by 10 percent and e-ticket sales increased by 8 percent.

Harris soon realized that the data could be a treasure trove for marketing and service operations too. "We thought we were just replacing tape recorders," she says, "but it dawned on us that we could use this system to drive business decisions." Now, if enough calls come in on one topic, Continental can respond. For instance, when it learned that as many as 14 percent of customers were reconfirming flights, it ran a notice in its in-flight magazine to assure fliers that such calls were unnecessary.

To make the eavesdropping more effective, Continental has added CallMiner, a labor-saving Witness program that automatically transcribes conversations into text. "It gives me more time to analyze the data," Harris says, "rather than just collect it." Who knows, maybe it'll save you some time too, when you next try to book a flight on Continental. -- BRIDGET FINN