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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 29, 2016 2 years ago

Listen to your customers

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Computing power is helping CallMiner develop programs that can analyze conversations in real time. The technology is revolutionizing call centers.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Executive Summary
Company. CallMiner Industry. Technology Key. Reinvest in new technology

If you've ever found it challenging to pick a mobile phone plan, try your hand at being in customer service and helping a customer navigate through dozens of choices.

Now, Fort Myers-based speech analytics firm CallMiner has developed a product called Eureka Live that can help call center workers analyze customer speech in real time, track their own performance and guide them to perform more efficiently. “Eureka Live coaches that agent in real time based on what they're saying,” says Terry Leahy, CallMiner's CEO.

This sort of gee-whiz technology is possible because of the speed of computers today. “Computational firepower has gotten so good,” Leahy says.

CallMiner is a pioneer in the field. Founded 14 years ago in Fort Myers by Air Force veteran Jeff Gallino, who currently serves as chief technology officer, the company today analyzes 500,000 hours of recorded customer conversations each day for companies looking for clues to improve customer service.

CallMiner's technology is also attracting investors who are enthused by the company's prospects. Just last summer, NewSpring Capital invested $12 million in the company alongside current investors for a total of $16 million.

For a technology company like CallMiner, the capital is critical for the developments of new products like Eureka Live. “We can add development teams, which is the lifeblood of the business,” Leahy says.

Leahy says the most recent round of capital investment means the company has reached a new level of maturity because growth-oriented investment firms such as NewSpring invest in more mature businesses than the more speculative angel or venture funds. “Growth investors don't invest in companies until they're profitable,” says Leahy.

“Our view, through our research, is that we've really invested in a space here with tailwinds,” says Brian Kim, principal with NewSpring in Radnor, Pa.

“We've been following the company for the better part of five years,” Kim says. “They've really performed admirably against plan each time we've gotten an update from them.”

Leahy declines to cite specific revenues, but says he expects CallMiner to post sales in the mid-$30 million range. He says the company revenues are growing at a 70% annual clip with about 200 customers across a broad spectrum of industries, from banking to mobile phone operators. “The IRS is still one of our biggest customers,” says Leahy.

As a result, CallMiner recently moved into expanded office space in Fort Myers, where employees have taken to decorating the space with human-sized cutouts of their favorite characters, including Darth Vader and Homer Simpson. Leahy anticipates growing the existing staff by 30% to 150 people this year, half of them in Fort Myers and others scattered in offices in the U.S. and overseas. “This is where we do everything,” says Leahy, who commutes between Fort Myers and his home in Boston.

Mining calls
Since its founding in 2002, CallMiner has helped turn call centers into goldmines for information about their customers.

Gallino's break was helping analyze recorded customer conversations for Continental Airlines, a task for which the airline paid him in frequent flier miles because it didn't have the cash to pay him after the airline slump that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Although Continental tasked Gallino to find references to partner airline Emirates, he took it a step further by identifying other trends in the conversations. One of those was that a surprisingly large number of customers were calling about bereavement fares, prompting the airline to consider a program to assist those customers.

Early in CallMiner's development, Gallino almost sold the software he had developed to a rival, but a deal to do that fell through. So with just $100,000 in savings, he began selling the product that would eventually become Eureka. Today, Eureka helps companies discover what agents and customers are discussing in millions of hours of recorded conversations using CallMiner's sophisticated software.

Another software product called myEureka helps managers of customer service centers track the performance of agents and coach them using mobile devices they can carry around the call center. Managers can use the tool to provide immediate feedback to agents who need to improve performance and even score them relative to one another, boosting competitive spirit with games and prizes. “We've gotten into gamification,” says Leahy, referring to the popular use of games to boost productivity.

Customers pay a monthly average of $50 per agent to use CallMiner's software. The company has moved its operations to the cloud, using remote servers that allow it to maintain and upgrade software anytime.

Customer journey
The most current version of Eureka helps companies analyze thousands of conversations in real time, providing instant feedback to customer service agents and managers. “It's a powerful management tool,” Leahy says.

Call centers are no longer viewed as expenses but as goldmines of information for companies whose agents are the front lines of customer contact. These companies, ranging from mobile phone operators to banks, now track what's called the “customer journey” to glean their satisfaction.

The advantage to real-time analysis is that it gives agents opportunities to tailor conversations so that companies can better retain customers and tailor products for them. “That's very powerful in terms of the impact that can have on consumer-facing organizations,” notes NewSpring's Kim.

Now, CallMiner can also analyze online chats, emails and tweets as social media becomes a more important communication channel. “We handle all channels,” says Leahy. “Each of those contacts has a metric.”

A big reason for the success of this software is the availability and falling costs of high-speed computers. For example, Leahy says the hardware needed to mine 10,000 hours of conversations a day cost $25,000 three years ago. Today, the hardware costs less than $1,000, he says.

Still, CallMiner reinvests 40% of its revenues in development of new technology. “We're still very much investing in the R&D,” Leahy say.

English isn't the only language CallMiner is analyzing. Latin American Spanish and French are already available, and the company is working on Iberian Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese, German, Dutch and Italian.

CallMiner recruits linguists and software developers and Leahy says the company has had success recruiting graduates of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers and others who want to move here. “We find young people who want the South Florida lifestyle,” he says.

The Intelligence Investor
Entrepreneurs with ideas that might help track terrorists or dangerous foreign spies may find an unusual source for venture capital: the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA created In-Q-Tel in 1999 because it recognized that funding promising technology startups would be beneficial for defending the country. Indeed, by the 1990s the U.S.
intelligence agencies realized that commercial technologies were outpacing government agencies for innovative solutions in areas such as communications and biotechnology.

Since 1999, In-Q-Tel has invested in venture-backed companies that develop innovations that might benefit the U.S. government's intelligence agencies. The organization says 70% of its 105 portfolio companies have never done business with the federal government.

In 2005, In-Q-Tel made an undisclosed investment in CallMiner, the Fort Myers speech-analytics company. In a press statement at the time, In-Q-Tel's president and CEO, Gilman Louie, praised CallMiner's expertise in speech analytics.

In-Q-Tel remains an investor today and has a license to use the technology, says Terry Leahy, CallMiner's CEO. “If you're handling voice traffic, you are probably helping Homeland Security do their jobs,” he speculates.

Leahy says that's all he knows: “How they use it is not our business,” he says.

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