Jonathan Moav, director of marketing at Nice Systems, tells a "true" story about a call centre operator at Virgin Atlantic who was unable to find vacant seats for a middle-aged couple desperate to get across to the US in time for their son's wedding.
As luck would have it Richard Branson happened to be walking by and he overheard the conversation. In dynamic Branson-esque style, the famous entrepreneur offered the undoubtedly grateful parents a pair of cut-price tickets on Concorde. "Imagine the kind of customer loyalty that kind of service engenders," says Moav.
This tale, according to Moav, demonstrates a gaping business paradox. "Customers ringing a call centre are often after an answer to a query or problem. The operator who talks to the customer is the one least able to facilitate change. He or she hears everything and knows everything but can only act within limited parameters. They are the weak link in the value chain.
"Conversely, the CEO or senior managers are people who can make things happen straightaway yet they are the furthest removed from the customer, unless, like Branson, they happen to be in the right place at the right time."
So how can the CEO get close to the customer? Moav's company, Nice Systems, has approached the problem by using telephone recording technology originally developed to record conversations between financial traders. This is a legal necessity to ensure that any discrepancies can be checked on.
Now this technology is available for use in call centres and has been labelled customer experience management. By recording conversations between operators and customers, CEOs can listen to random calls. This, says Moav, equips them with a previously untapped seam of knowledge on what service the customer is receiving, how the customer reacts to certain information and what the customer wants. CEOs can even access voice recordings via a mobile device, enabling them to listen in to customer interactions.
Nice have also built in the capability for operators, if they think the conversation they have just finished will be of interest to the CEO to e-mail a notification of that particular recording.
"The spread of e-commerce and home shopping means that many call centres will become the human face of a company. This puts a lot power into the hands of the operators."
Moav says it is time that the UK took this role seriously rather than seeing it as a job for students and part-timers. "In the US, many companies won't take people on as call-centre operators unless they are graduates. It is even possible to study for a university degree in call centre management."