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CRM helped BA survive strike action

The airline claims that software from RightNow helped it weather a storm of angry customer inquiries during last summer's strike action

British Airways has claimed that CRM software helped the company through a period of industrial action last year in which 900 flights were cancelled and about 100,000 customers had their travel plans disrupted.

CRM software from US company RightNow Technologies was instrumental in helping BA cope with an unprecedented number of queries from customers during the action with took place on 11 and 12 August last year, the airline said on Wednesday.

Customer interactions — hits on its Web site, email questions, or telephone enquiries — rose from a daily average of around 80,000 to more than 735,000 per day for the period of the strike action, according to BA.

"We had no way of planning for this; we didn't know if everything would run smoothly or how heavy the traffic would be. It was only a few days after the height of the action that we actually realised how seamlessly RightNow had handled the huge spike in demand," said Chris Carmichael, technology exploitation manager at BA.

The airline was able to relieve some of the pressure on its call centre by including a message on the automated answering service directing callers to its Web site for the latest flight information.

"When an event occurs to disrupt 'business as usual' the last thing you need to worry about is whether mission-critical applications will fall over under duress," said Wayne Foncette, RightNow's UK and Ireland vice-president.

The strike action, which stemmed from a dispute between the Transport and General Workers' Union and the airline's catering supplier Gate Gourmet, involved around 1,000 of the airline's ground support staff at Heathrow. The incident is thought to have cost the airline up to £45m.

Montana-based RightNow Technologies has been around since 1997 and its other customers include BT, William Hill, Roche, Easy.com, Experian and Nationwide.

RightNow's core competency within CRM is almost an exact mirror of the other well known hosted provider Salesforce.com. RightNow specialises in customer service and marketing applications but recently launched a sales support product. Salesforce.com has up till now been focused on sales-side applications but recently announced a customer-support product.