Editor’s note: A regular feature of Local Tech Wire is an in-depth q-and-a interview with a tech executive. What are the secrets of success? How are executives dealing with difficult times? Read on! Next time you call your credit card company and you’re told “this call be monitored for quality assurance,” there’s a good chance you’re hearing Witness Systems at work.

The Alpharetta-based company makes and sells software to help with customer retention and staff training. Witness’s eQuality software gives its customers the power to listen and watch staff interact with customers, and also provides them the ability to record, analyze and learn from the interactions employees have with customers, whether by e-mail, chat or Web site interaction.

Dave Gould, 42, chief executive officer, president and chairman, joined Witness Systems in 1999. He assumed the chairman’s role in November of that year and helped lead the company through a successful initial public offering of stock in February 2000. Gould came to Witness from InStream Corp. in Boston, where he was chairman and CEO.

The company so far has survived the technology shakeout. On April 30, Witness Systems beat analysts’ expectations when it reported first quarter earnings of three cents a share. Analysts were expecting two cents. The company said core earnings increased to $639,000, up from $277,000, or 1 cent a share, in the year-ago period. The company reporter first quarter net income of $827,000 on revenue of $18.2 million, up from $15.2 million in 2001.

Gould talks about the company’s success and his own priorities with Local Tech Wire:

How have you managed to beat expectations in such a down environment?

Witness Systems has built a leadership position in an extremely large, addressable market. We know that in a tightening economic environment, companies are going to invest in projects that deliver solid, tangible results. The real results our customers achieve have helped us succeed and even extend our lead during an economic downturn. Companies continue to cite customer retention and staff development/training as top priorities for this year and beyond, which bodes extremely well for our software.

Though IT spending has decreased, the solutions companies continue to invest in are those that are customer-facing and able to help organizations provide quality service that meets consumer expectations. This is exactly with our eQuality software does. With rapid implementation, tangible benefits and a quick return on investment, companies experience the benefits of our solutions very quickly.

What makes your technology unique?

Our eQuality software offers several very unique qualities. Witness Systems was the first to bring synchronized voice/data recording to the market. The ability to both hear and see how a customer interaction unfolds provides valuable insight to companies on what they’re doing well and what needs improvement — perhaps more training, a more compelling marketing offer, or revisions to the business processes the company has established.

Witness Systems was also first to market with a recording system that enables companies to capture, evaluate, analyze and learn from interactions their agents have with customers through e-mail, collaborative chat and Web self-service. For each of these solutions, recording can be triggered based on user-defined “business rules” — which allows companies to capture the specific types of interactions that drive their business (i.e. key customers, particular products/services).

Through eQuality, we provide a suite of tools that help our customers evaluate how those interactions took place. Users can create a library of best practices and identify performance gaps. Further, the company introduced the contact center market’s very first e-learning management software. Today, Witness Systems is the only company that offers a fully integrated, complete suite that includes multimedia recording, evaluation, analysis and e-learning — which we refer to as the closed-loop performance optimization model. Further, all of our software is developed in-house. The suite is based on a single browser-based architecture — another unique aspect in this business. And our solutions are implemented very quickly — typically in less than one week. Customers then experience a very rapid return on investment, usually in four to nine months.

What’s the one thing people don’t know about your company?

From a mass consumer perspective: When calling an airline for reservations, a bank for your account balance, or perhaps a retailer to place an order by telephone, consumers have become accustomed to hearing the voice prompt: “this call may be monitoring for quality assurance.”

What they may not know, however, is that chances are, our eQuality software is behind the scenes making that happen. Witness Systems was the first to market with a synchronized voice and data recording solution that captures both the voice conversation customer service representatives have with customers over the telephone, as well as the corresponding screen activities taking place on the agent’s desktop (i.e. data entry, screen navigation, information retrieval). The software, which synchronizes these two components for replay at a later time, enables contact center supervisors to observe and evaluate staff performance for a complete quality assessment.

What is your biggest challenge?

Witness Systems has experienced rapid growth from a global perspective over the past couple years. Our greatest opportunities lie in our ability to continue building upon our successes, expanding our offerings and growing our global leadership position. The ongoing challenge is leading the (or any) organization through continuous change.

Whom do you see as your main competitors?

Witness Systems is a quality monitoring technology provider. However, we are sometimes categorized with logging companies, which comprise our main competition. End users that use logging systems are typically those companies that are required by law to record every call/contact into their customer interaction center for liability purposes (such as air traffic control and emergency services). In those instances, logging systems make good sense. Witness Systems, however, is in quality monitoring — a market that represents a much higher growth rate potential. Our approach is different because our software captures customer business intelligence and provides analysis to help companies improve their performance and customer experiences.

We’re more software-centric, and what we do with the technology is radically different. It’s our belief that capturing everything is essentially capturing nothing, because you’ll have too much data to sort through. With quality monitoring, the model is to capture just enough of the relevant/right type of information to truly reflect what’s going on in the business. That way, you can perform analysis and come out of it with something that’s actionable — such as ways to enhance service, cut operational costs, increase revenue and heighten customer loyalty.

Give me a real world example of how a company would put your software to use and how that use would benefit the company.

Right here in our backyard is customer Atlanta Gas Light Company. AGLC’s 250 agent contact center uses our eQuality software to record customer interactions from both a voice and data perspective to ensure its customer service representatives (CSRs) fulfill the requirements of AGLC’s quality initiative. Today, the company’s CSRs take 5,500 to 8,000 calls during off-peak days and 7,500 to 11,000 calls per day during the peak season, October through January. Approximately 30 percent are three-way calls, including the CSRs, the end-user, and the utility marketer who initiates service and manages billing. AGLC monitors 10 percent of calls randomly with our software, and its CSRs receiving feedback six to eight times per month.

With more objective, frequent performance feedback, its agents have continued to develop, acquire new knowledge and grow in their roles — all important qualities for enhancing customer experiences. Since launching a quality initiative that includes Witness Systems’ software, AGLC has seen its quality cores increase by 22 percent in eight months. During the same period, customer satisfaction increased by 11 percent. Additionally, AGLC bolstered productivity and first-call resolution, as well as enhanced its training program.

You recently named Dan Lautenbach to your Board of Directors. What does he add to the mix?

We are very pleased to have Dan on our Board. His experience leading IBM’s global software business and worldwide sales organization adds an important dimension to our strong group of board members. Dan brings us a wealth of experience and expertise in extending global market presence, leveraging channels and driving multi-product sales. As we focus on extending our leadership position globally and maximizing the reach of our software solutions, he will be an extremely valuable resource to us in providing guidance.

Tell me how a company such as Best Buy uses your software?

Retailers comprise the largest customer-facing market, and as such, must seek to understand the value and complexity of customer relationships. Best Buy is a good example because its uses our solutions for multi-media customer interaction recording and performance analysis, which more and more businesses are moving toward in order to provide consistent, quality service across multiple customer touch points. Best Buy implemented our eQuality solutions to improve the quality of service its agents provide through the telephone, as well as via e-mail interactions.

Using “business rules” that it has established, Best Buy captures certain types of customer/agent interactions via eQuality Balance (our voice/data recording solution) and eQuality Response (our e-mail recording solution). It then evaluates performance with our eQuality Evaluation software. Supervisors can review individual interactions in real time or after the fact, and provide feedback and guidance on better service customers and cross-sell products, for example. Best Buy’s philosophy is to be proactive in helping its customers find the solutions they need and enhance the quality of their experiences. eQuality serves as an important part of that quality assurance commitment.

What are most of your customers using before they switch to your product?

Most companies do have a coaching and training program in place, but for the most part it’s not automated and not as consistent as they’d like it to be. Nearly all companies have initial agent classroom training that introduces their staff to protocol, processes and procedures set up to service their customers. Some companies also perform side-by-side coaching with call center supervisors evaluating and coaching agents as they serve customers. Afterward, they’ll provide feedback to the agent on what went well and what could use improvement. Most, however, use tape recorders (like those available at RadioShack). The gap left with this method is it only captures the agent/customer’s conversation, not the screen activity that’s taking place at the agent’s desktop.

Without both voice and data, companies will not know where training is needed, where screen sequencing and navigation are outdated, and where special product offerings and marketing campaigns fall short. With an automated, synchronized voice and data recording solution, monitoring can be set up based on “business rules” — the types of customer interactions that drive customers’ businesses — or through random recording, which enables companies to capture a representative sample of interactions per agent each month. With an automated system like ours, supervisors are freed up time-wise to focus on other aspects of the business. Another advantage to our automated quality monitoring system is when agent performance evaluations are complete, companies know their staff have all being scored based on the same criteria, which increases calibration.

Who is your hero and why?

I really don’t have a single hero. But I do greatly admire a number of people — including my wife and children — for such personal traits as integrity, passion, commitment and unique approaches to problem solving.

What two books have you read recently and why? Favorite author? Genre?

Two books I’ve recently read are The Body Artist and About a Boy. Both take an alternative view of everyday situations, though one is more humorous and the other is more intense. Each author has a talent for representing observations, interactions and events in a way that makes you think about what’s happening beyond the obvious. Both are fiction.

Most recent movie you saw?

The most recent movie I saw was Lord of the Rings.

What do you do to relax? Hobbies?

My free time and relaxation is all tied directly into spending time with my family. With family and work, there isn’t much spare time for hobbies these days.

What’s your top priority in life?

My top priority is to see my children live happy, fulfilling lives.

What’s your secret of success?

Part of my secret to success is surrounding myself with the talents, experiences and strength of others.

Witness Systems Web site: www.witsys.com