by Susannah Patton

Company to Watch : Witness Systems

Oct 15, 20024 mins

We’ve all heard the recording: “This call may be monitored for quality-assurance purposes.” But just who is listening to those calls? In the past, call center supervisors plugged tape recorders into phones or strolled the aisles to overhear agents talking to customers.

Now, companies with call centers can take a more automated approach to quality assurance, using software to randomly record and evaluate agent-customer interactions by phone, e-mail or on the Web. Witness Systems of Roswell, Ga., which introduced the concept of synchronized voice and data recording in the early 1990s, claims that it has about 80 percent of the quality monitoring and assurance market and is equipped to help any company with customer service concerns.

The company’s eQuality suite can help users evaluate their customer contacts, analyze agent performance and train customer service representatives. The software suite allows companies to record phone calls but also capture screen interactions including e-mail, instant messaging and Web chat. Analysis tools evaluate performance and allow the company’s products to integrate with third-party information such as human resources software. Another application offers training to call center reps whenever it identifies a gap in technology or skills.

“If a marketing campaign doesn’t have a close rate of 11 percent, I want to notify the senior VP of marketing and send 15 examples of calls,” says Witness Systems President and CEO Dave Gould. “We provide tools to help you evaluate how interactions take place?like a coach would use game films.”

Car manufacturer Saturn of Detroit used to hand out tape recorders to the supervisors at its customer assistance center, which it runs in partnership with technology services company EDS. Those supervisors would then take notes on the customer service conversations that they heard. Since installing Witness Systems software in 1997, Saturn says supervisors’ workloads have been cut by 50 percent. “Before we started working with Witness Systems, we weren’t monitoring calls in a truly random manner,” says Steve Fort, account manager for EDS at the Saturn customer assistance center. “Our theory is if a machine or software can make it happen, let’s make it happen.”

Lisa Hager-Duncan, an analyst with Gartner, says that Witness Systems’ strength lies in its full understanding of the needs of agents and management in the call center. “Witness does the quality piece extremely well,” says Hager-Duncan. “They give real-life examples of what customers are saying, and [Witness’s] marketing message is starting to get out there.”

But Hager-Duncan also notes that the space is very competitive at the moment, with some vendors offering?in addition to quality assurance?logging services for 911 centers, air traffic control centers and other locations that are required by law to record conversations. “If a company wants both logging and quality assurance, then Witness Systems may have a harder time,” she adds.

In order to gain a competitive edge, Witness Systems had formed a partnership with one of its customers, Minacs Worldwide of Toronto, to offer professional services in the call center arena. Minacs, which runs call centers for major corporations in the manufacturing and financial services sectors, among others, chose the eQuality software after a cost-benefit analysis rated Witness Systems above some competitors, says Eric Greenwood, Minacs’ senior vice president and CIO of the professional services organization. Greenwood also says that Witness Systems had good compression ratios, meaning it uses less disk space than some competitors.

In the future, however, Witness Systems and others providing quality-assurance monitoring will have to adapt their products to support voice over IP (VoIP), Greenwood says. VoIP call centers use information packets routed over the Internet rather than the phone network to carry communications?generally from less-expensive-to-operate overseas call centers to North America.

Kevin Hegebarth, director of strategic planning at Witness Systems, acknowledges the company has spent the past year working on ways to connect to Internet protocol call centers. “A year ago, VoIP was a huge obstacle to overcome,” he says. “Now we’re ready to integrate.”