Today, businesses heavily rely on a positive customer experience to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction. Through that they can enjoy business longevity and success. They can only attain that, of course, by providing exceptional customer service. Call centers or contact centers are being relied on by businesses to provide just that – exceptional customer service which results to a positive customer service and satisfaction.
But of course, customers of the past did not have this luxury because the call center technology utilized today did not exist yet. How did this all start? How did call centers become an important aspect of successful businesses in the first place? Below, we discuss a brief history of call centers.
Early forms of the “call center”
Before the mid 20th century or earlier, nobody has yet to experience what the customers of today do like being put on hold by an operator or pressing the 2 key on their phones to access the department that can resolve their issues.
It can be argued that this all changed and the concept of a call center arose come the mid-1950s or even earlier, albeit being slightly different. “Phone rooms” — quite different but not too far off call centers — existed during the 1950s where inbound calls were picked up on and answered by telephone operators. Back then, businesses with phone rooms, of course, did not use the latest computers and other devices. Instead, they had those retro-considered, corded telephones which the older readers might remember.
The coming of telemarketing
Eventually, the phone room that was prevalent during the 1950s was replaced by another form called telemarketing. Telemarketing, as the name suggests, was a marketing branch businesses utilized during the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to the invention of computers.
Simultaneously, businesses already had their own telephone numbers customers can dial when in need of customer service. Moreover, internal customer service centers were already prevalent as early as the 1970s.
The modern call center
The call center that we all know today was born between the 90s and start of the 21st century. Technology kept on evolving, which gave us the cell phone among other noteworthy inventions. Outsourcing became a hit — customer service was outsourced, therefore resulting into the call center that we all know in the modern times.
What about the history of call center technology?
Of course, the history of call center technology that made what both businesses and customers enjoy in this day and age should also be talked about.
A group of people based in Birmingham, England made their way to the Air Traffic Control systems existing at that time to give birth the first Automatic Call Distributor – abbreviated to ACD. But clearly during that time, it did not take off because few households owned a phone. So, to put it more bluntly, no one really took notice of this innovation.
At a later date, the Birmingham Press and Mail started the first call center in the world to cater to the needs and inquiries of customers. However, by this time, only 60% of people owned a phone, so businesses did not fully place their trust on call centers yet.
The ACD alone cannot handle this, so a technology called Private Automated Business Exchanged – abbreviated as PABX – was developed. PABX were advanced and more complicated ACDs.
The largest retail ban in the United Kingdom, called Lloyd’s Bank, started a call center that lets their customer discuss their balances and other issues. Moreover, they also found it a good way to talk with potential customers. Thus, cold calling was born.
After some time, still during the 70s, Interactive Voice Response or IVR made its way to the call center world.
One thing led to another, and before we all know it, typical call center ways arose: hold time, outbound and inbound calls, among other things were very much popular (sometimes in all the negative ways as experienced by customers). Internet at the 90s also became prevalent which the call centers incorporated as the new means of communication. Also in the 90s, virtual queuing solutions were implemented, but many larger companies did not have the warmest welcome for it because, after all, putting customers on hold, for them, is a cheaper way.
Even today, the call or contact center keeps on evolving daily. This is all to cater to the needs of customers. Consumers’ demands and access to social media plays a big role in the evolution of the call center. Call centers should have the proper tools to access customers at any given channel.
With that said, call centers have collaboration tools among their peers and remote desktop technology which expands access.
Finally, even with the evolution of messaging and live chat, call centers will still be needed in the following years to come. In fact, call centers adopted those to further boost their services to provide exceptional customer service.
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