"Call centers treat agents like slave labor," writes Forrester analyst Kerry Bodine. She suggests that instead of spending money on the latest technology - cloud, mobile, social analytics and all that stuff we like so much - companies should invest more into their call center employees. Why invest in those employees, instead of advertising campaigns, better websites or social CRM? Because those call center workers reach more customers each month than any marketing campaign.

Even with conservative estimates, it's easy to make the case that large call centers have customer influence on par with, if not greater than, that of mass advertising campaigns. (Assuming a call center with 3,000 agents and an average of only 50 calls per agent per day, a company has the opportunity to make 1.05 million personal connections each week -- and 54.6 million each year.)

What should be done?

"Instead of sinking millions of dollars into call center technology projects, companies like American Express, Esurance, Lands' End, and Zappos.com, which are known for delivering great call center experiences, have focused on creating a customer-centric call center culture," Bodine writes.

We've touched on this before, when covering Gartner's analysis of CRM's failure to improve customer satisfaction.

More customers may turn to social media for support, but according to other Forrester research, few are doing so. Last year Zendesk Vice President of Product Management Maksim Ovsyannikov told us that the company is adding multichannel support options, citing Gartner research that over 60% of customer interactions still take place on the phone.

There are technological investments that could enhance a call center. Some are smart, like Salesforce.com's integration of Apple FaceTime. Some are kooky, like using predictive analytics to match a customer's personality with a representative.  And having slow computers or a bad phone system won't help anything either. But it's all secondary to having a good work environment for the customers on the front lines.

Photo by Vitor Lima