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Economy, Conferencing, Web Self-Service Claim Continental's Tampa Contact Center
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May 13, 2009

Economy, Conferencing, Web Self-Service Claim Continental's Tampa Contact Center

By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor

A combination of the economic downturn and communications and interaction technology: videoconferencing as travel alternatives and web self-service have claimed Continental Airlines’ Tampa, Fla. contact center, resulting in the loss of approximately 500 positions.

Continental will offer voluntary downsizing programs to employees, including an early-out severance program and company offered leaves of absence. The center shuts its doors July 19. Agents who otherwise would not be furloughed will have the option of transferring to Continental’s other centers in Houston, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah. The airline will also offer outplacement services at all three centers and relocation assistance to affected employees.
“We must make these changes to adapt to changing customer preferences toward the Web," said Reservations and eCommerce VP Martin Hand. “Adding to the structural decline in call volumes caused by the Web has been the effect of the global recession, which has resulted in fewer calls into our reservations centers.”
Continental’s decision to shutter the contact center is understandable as it follows a first quarter 2009 net loss of $136 million for the airline. Total revenue for the quarter decreased 17 percent compared with the same period in 2008.
The airline pointed to significant declines in high yield traffic as many business travelers curtailed travel or purchased lower yield economy tickets due to the weakened economy. Conferencing equipment manufacturers report increased interest in their solutions as alternatives to business travel. HDTV-quality and high-end telepresence systems reduce costs but more importantly improve productivity by eliminating downtime caused by being in transit: from getting to/from airports, security, luggage, and on board.
In spite of a difficult economy Continental has been taking steps to generate revenues, and calls for the remaining contact centers. The airline has received tentative approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to join the existing antitrust immunized alliance between United Airlines and eight other Star Alliance member carriers. This alliance will, it says, benefit consumers, ensure global competition with other antitrust immunized alliances and encourage the retention and growth of open skies between the U.S. and other nations. Continental remains a full member of SkyTeam through Oct. 24, 2009, and is focused on providing a customer-friendly transition to Star.
Continental has become the first U.S. carrier to inaugurate daily nonstop scheduled service between New York and Shanghai on March 25. With the new service to Shanghai, Continental is the only airline in the world providing daily nonstop service between New York and three Chinese cities; Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Continental also received approval from the DOT to operate daily year-round nonstop service between its Houston hub at Bush Intercontinental Airport and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and through flight service between New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro beginning summer 2009, pending final government approvals.
During the quarter, Continental began installing DIRECTV, which will provide up to 80 channels of live, satellite-based television programming, movies and TV shows on its aircraft. More than 200 of Continental's next generation Boeing (News - Alert) 737s and 757-300 aircraft will be equipped with the system by the end of 2010.
“My co-workers did a great job of working together to meet continued challenges during a tough quarter,” said Larry Kellner, Continental's chairman and chief executive officer. “They displayed resilience and remained focused on running a solid operation.”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tim Gray

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