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The Ultimate Test Drive

Why companies are turning to customers for help with design.

By contrast, Rave gives pertinent information at the top of the screen. And like many video games, it features a star rating system — only this one shows how hot a sales lead is. With it, says Lutgarten, “you can sort contacts from most to least important.”

Unlike rollouts of more-traditional software, Lutgarten says there has been no resistance to using Rave at JobMonkey. His only beef? “It doesn’t actually get the sale for me.”

Entellium’s rumored next product, a lifelike android called The Clincher, may solve that problem. — E.S.

In-flight Insight

If companies are increasingly turning to the Web to gather customer data, they are also turning to analytic software to make sense of that data. A legion of vendors, including Oracle, OutlookSoft, and SAS, offer the predictive programs. Rebecca Wettemann, a vice president at Nuclear Research, says the tools have not only become more robust, but also are easier to use — an enticing combination.

Management at American Airlines has found plenty to like about its predictive software, marketed by vendor SPSS. The airline uses the program to analyze the data from online customer surveys, which cover everything from food preferences to on-board entertainment. Last year alone, American received between 300,000 and 350,000 responses to the online polls. William Mitchell, director of customer research at the airline, says the tool allows American “to take large data sets and write relatively simple syntax or code to create all sorts of tables and output into any category someone wants.”

The surveys often reveal the unexpected. For example, managers discovered that customers would rather book a flight directly from the AA Website, thus avoiding paying a fee that other travel-based sites require. Mitchell says the surveys also show that while customers want the hot-fudge sundaes served in first and business class, they are also “surprisingly health conscious,” indicating a desire for lower-fat dessert options.

Some of the results don’t exactly classify as stunners, however, particularly for anyone who gets on a plane on a regular basis. For one, travelers say they prefer assigned seating. They also want à la carte food items rather than boxed food. And they would be willing to pay a fee if they could confirm an earlier flight rather than showing up at the airport at dawn hoping to get on a standby list.

Nevertheless, Mitchell says the software enables American to analyze the data quickly — key when you’re getting upwards of 15,000 responses per survey. And since the application can perform text mining, survey takers are encouraged to offer opinions that go well beyond “Choose one from the following list of 43 options.” “We’ve found people on the Web to be very honest and open,” notes Mitchell. “And they have given us very rich feedback.” — E.S.

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