In the world of fame, one of the last things you expect is a well-known actor manning a call centre phone. Yet, according to a recent BBC report, this is exactly what actor Shia LeBoeuf did over a weekend at the Liverpool Art Gallery. The purpose, he explained was to give people an opportunity to connect with him, ask him anything they want, or just talk.

This is not the first time the actor has sought to bridge the gap between fame and normality. At the Berlin Film Festival he wore a brown paper bag over his head with the words: I’m no longer famous. But can a call centre make a difference?

Le Beouf’s call centre is different in that people weren’t calling in because they had a specific query or issue that needed to be resolved, but rather just because they had something to say or a question to ask, about anything really.

Some may say that this is just yet another publicity stunt, yet when you visit the Touch My Soul website where transcripts of the calls are shown it reflects people just having simple conversations. Sure some are weird, some are silly, but others are encouraging. In the end it’s simply giving people an opportunity to be heard, no matter what they are thinking or feeling or where they are at in their lives.

Moving back to a more traditional call centre environment, I wonder how many souls have been touched by interactions on the phone. My love for call centres isn’t often understood. Many people, no matter what side of the phone they have been on, have had some pretty awful call centre experiences. So they think I’m crazy to consider it is an environment where something positive could take place. Yet I know from experience that there are many times where lives really are impacted in a positive way through call centre interactions both from a customer and agent perspective.

Today there are many ways in which businesses engage with their customers. Websites, social media and mobile apps all provide convenient and affordable ways to get feedback from customers. Yet statistics show that people are most frustrated when they have to wait and when they cannot get to interact with a human to help them with their query. Even with all the advantages of technology it seems that hearing a voice on the other side of the phone is still what customers really want.

Sometimes what people need more than a button to push to find a solution, is another human being who will listen and be able to understand the real issue. Empathy plays such a huge role in successful call handling because it makes customers feel as though someone genuinely cares about them and their problem.

It’s the human connection element that I love about call centre work. Its people interacting with people, having conversations, listening to problems and helping to find solutions. There’s a real challenge in that, because every call is unique and while some problems may be similar the way they are handled will seldom be the same.

In many of our training sessions we focus on the people connection, encouraging call centre agents to engage with the customers on the other end of the phone. This is not only for the benefit of the customers but also the call centre agents. It makes their job far more enjoyable too. Businesses should never underestimate the value of the human connection.

A short while ago I was trying to log some details a website, but it kept bringing up an error. I tried to call the helpline, but got put on hold for longer than I could wait, so I sent an email. To that I received an auto response and a week later another auto response saying it was a known error and they were looking into it. Then I received an email from the Chief Operations Officer asking me to rate the consultant. What consultant? I thought to myself. At no point in the process had I spoken to anyone! Perhaps if I had, a solution would have been found.

This is just one example of how automated systems are not always the ideal solution for customer service. Certainly they have their benefits, but I think that key to great customer service is that human connection. A voice on the other end of the line that takes the time to listen and find a solution.

Marketing trends predict that customers are looking for greater personalization. Systems can only do so much in terms of personalization, people can do more. Can a call touch a soul? I think it can, it’s why I love my job and the call centre industry. In the end it’s all about people.