Customer relationships in the e‐economy: mutual friends or just a veneering?

Angela Ayios (Brunel Business School, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex,UK)
Lisa Harris (Brunel Business School, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex,UK)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Publication date: 1 December 2005



The aim of this paper is to investigate whether technological developments can be used in call centre environments to build trust and hence lasting customer relationships beyond the usual focus on efficiency gains through automation.


Draws upon depth interviews with management and staff in three very different types of call centre to critically examine the ways in which caring attitudes and competent behaviour of call centre staff can contribute to building durable bases for customer trust.


While one of the case studies exemplifies a purely economic rationale for call centre operations, the other two demonstrate that a truly optimal application of technology creates a shared system of which customers and employees form an integrated part. Employees' knowledge of the system and the product it underpins are applied in a positive way to create relationships and trust with the customers with whom they transact.

Practical implications

Argues that competitive advantage can be gained if the customer perception is of an organisation that is concerned with building relationships based on competence or empathy to meet individual needs – features which stand out clearly in an industry sector often associated with standardised services, “sweatshop” working conditions and control‐based management practices focused on a purely economic rationale.


Demonstrates that multi‐channel environments for customer interaction offer potential for competitive advantage beyond short‐term efficiency gains when the convenience of channel choice is creatively combined with competent and empathetic customer service.



Ayios, A. and Harris, L. (2005), "Customer relationships in the e‐economy: mutual friends or just a veneering?", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 454-469.

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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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