If you’ve ever placed a call to any big company’s customer service department, you’ve heard the caveat: “Thiscall may be monitored for quality assurance purposes.” But is anyone really listening? Someone is—or at leastthe computers are—at Continental Airlines.Building customer loyalty has become crucial in the be- leaguered airline industry, which is why Continentalenlisted the help of Witness Systems, whose call-center software, CallMiner, does more than eavesdrop: Itrecords conversations and captures every keystroke, so managers know whether the right actions were taken.And because the ex- changes reveal what customers really want, Continental is also mining the data to helpcraft marketing plans and shape overall strategy. Fortunately for Witness, which saw its revenues jump 60percent to $108 million in 2003, that trend is catching on: 53 percent of its clients are now using such databeyond the call center.Continental Airlines is the world’s seventh-largest airline and has more than 2,300 daily departures. With 134domes- tic and 92 international destinations, Continental has the broadest global route network of any U.S.airline, including extensive service throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Continental has hubs servingNew York, Houston, Cleveland, and Guam and carries approximately 41 million passengers per year on thenewest jet fleet among major U.S. airlines. With 42,000 employees, Continental is ranked one of the 100 BestCompanies to Work For in America by For- tune Magazine. In 2003, Fortune ranked Continental highest amongmajor U.S. carriers in the quality of its service and products, and No. 2 on its list of Most Admired GlobalAirlines.Despite these accolades, before the CallMiner software was installed in 2001, Continental’s agents wereunable to re- solve about 6 percent of the 60 million calls they fielded annually. Instead, these problems wererouted to an internal help desk. The Witness data revealed that some agents “weren’t attempting to look upthe answers on their own,” says Andre Harris, director of reservations training and qual- ity. New standardswere put in place, and within a year, nearly 20 percent fewer calls were being sent to the help desk, saving thecompany $1 million. In addition, customer satisfaction rose by 10 percent, and e-ticket sales increased by 8percent.Harris soon realized that the data could be a treasure trove for marketing and service operations too. “Wethought we were just replacing tape recorders,” she says, “but it dawned on us that we could use this systemto drive business decisions.” Now if enough calls come in on one topic, Continental can respond. For instance,when the company learned that as many as 14 percent of customers were recon- firming flights, it ran a noticein its in-flight magazine to assure fliers that such calls were unnecessary.To make the call monitoring more effective, Continental added CallMiner, a labor-saving Witness program thatautomatically transcribes conversations into text. “It gives me more time to analyze the data,” Harris says,“rather than just collect it.”Tying speech systems to mainstream corporate IT systems, and the use of Internet-based voice systems suchas Voice over IP (VoIP)1, are making it easier to mine databases of voice records, much as companies havemined other customer records for years. Intelligent Voice Recognition (IVR) analysis tools usually can keeptrack of and report on a caller’s choices based on which menu paths the caller has taken. But CallMiner and afew other tools can go into the voice record and look for specific words or word combinations. Continentalrecorded a sample of its 5 million monthly calls and then used CallMiner to turn the dialogues into text to minefor certain things. It discovered that about 10 percent of the calls contain the actual word reconfirm.Calls to reconfirm a flight are, “quite frankly, low-value calls,” says Harris. She says she used the CallMineranalysis to justify the deployment of a new IVR system just for flight confirmations.Continental currently has eight people listening to samples of calls in order to manually prepare a “call-mixreport,” which is used for analytical purposes by marketers and business planners at the airline. “The pilot test[of CallMiner] helped me realize very quickly that I can do this with one person instead of eight,” she says. Anddo it better.Harris’s efforts paid off and won her the Innovator of the Year award from Witness Systems. This awardrecognizes contact center managers and their respective companies for outstanding customer serviceaccomplishments.Harris was chosen for her leadership in developing and implementing Continental’s “Call-Mix Survey” programfor collecting and analyzing important data that can only be captured in the contact center and for using it tohelp support the strategic direction of the organization. While monitoring calls through CallMiner, teamleaders complete online call-mix surveys to track the different types of calls coming into the reservationcenters and review calls that were received by the help desk.Within a few months, the survey results revealed a significant increase in customer reconfirmation calls—insome months the number almost doubled. Reconfirmation of flights is not a requirement for Continental’spassengers. Therefore, the quality assurance task force presented their findings and enlisted other areas ofthe company, including marketing, corporate communications, and reservation operations, to educatecustomers that reconfirmation is unnecessary. Within two months of identifying the problem and launchingthe program, the company reduced the number of calls almost 5 percent and has maintained a lower level ofreconfirmation calls.The survey data also revealed areas in which agents needed more training. For example, the surveyspinpointed the most frequently asked questions and helped Continental identify issues with the navigation ofits reservation system. Using the CallMiner enabled the airline to make technological improvements so agentscan better navigate the system. “By reducing the number of reconfirmation calls and the number of callsagents made to our support desk, we realized more than $1 million in annualized savings,” states Harris.“With 60 million calls coming into our reservations centers each year, it’s critical that we understand ourinteractions and how they’re being handled by our agents so we can look for the root cause of any challengesour agents have in servicing customers. We believe in promoting and fostering excellence to remain leadersin our industry.”Since implementing these innovative processes and technology, Continental has become a leader in customerservice and is recognized throughout the industry. Among its industry accolades, Continental has been namedone of the top ten call centers in the industry by Call Center Magazine, listed as a top 100 training program forthree consecutive years by Training Magazine, and ranked as one of the best companies to work for by FortuneMagazine for five years in a row.“Continental is a perfect example of how companies can use workforce optimization software to capturecustomer intelligence and apply the information to improve performance in the contact center andthroughout the overall business,” states Nancy Treaster, senior vice president, global marketing for WitnessSystems. “With eQuality, Continental has generated significant return on investment through cost savings,improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. Their organization and employees like Andre are true innovatorsin the customer service industry.”From the manually prepared call-mix report, Continental could see that it makes a sale on only half of all calls,but it couldn’t tell why sales were lost. Telephone agents try to elicit the reasons, and soon automated callmining will enable the airline to analyze callers’ responses, Harris says. It may also save passengers somemoney the next time they book a Continental flight.CASE STUDY QUESTIONS1. What are the business benefits of the CallMiner system? Provide some additional examples beyondthose discussed in the case.2. How can new technologies like CallMiner help companies improve their customer service and gain acompetitive edge in the marketplace? Explain.3. Andre Harris refers to calls to reconfirm a flight as “quite frankly, low-value calls.” Why are theyclassified as low value? Why do you think so many customers are placing such calls?