The call center had its beginnings around the time the telephone became a household standard in the mid-1960s. Since that time, call centers have evolved into the technologically advanced support systems that exist today and make so much of customer service manageable for companies of all sizes.
The First Call Centers
The history of the call center begins in the mid-1960s. The dawn of what would become the call center occurred when various companies began to utilize Private Automated Branch Exchanges, or PABX. These early forms of call centers provided technology that allowed callers to dial a single number, often toll-free, and speak to one of a number of representatives. The technology itself allows calls to be routed through a single channel into multiple “branches” or lines, each handled by an individual representative. The same basic foundation laid by this technology is still in use today in call centers all over the world.
The 1970s saw a growth of the call center idea with the evolution of computer technology leading to the Automatic Call Distributors, or ACDs. This technology allowed calls to go not only to different desks but even to different locations. Customers could suddenly call a single number and be connected with customer service people all over the country and the world.
Reaching Out to Customers
While the first call centers were designed to allow customers to call in, it was not long before businesses began using this technology to call out, as well. Once businesses began to implement call centers for reaching out to customers for sales, the first “telemarketing” was born.
Early customers of telemarketers in the 1980s were fascinated by the availability of technology that allowed companies to call from all over the world. However, the age of the “telemarketer” did not last long. People began to complain about the invasion into their homes of aggressive salespeople, and Congress finally passed legislation that established the national “Do Not Call List” that allowed consumers to block these calls.
Today, most telephone marketing is limited to existing customers who give companies permission to call with reminders and special offers. In a way, the call center has come full circle, existing much more for the benefit of customers calling in than for companies calling out.
Today’s Technology Put to Use
However, that does not mean that today’s technology has been ignored by call centers. Most call center calls are now routed through computer programs rather than dedicated phone systems. This allows workers to access any number of resources to help customers answer questions; enter customer information directly into a database so that everyone has access; and organize phone calls by priority or any other metric the company chooses.
The history of the call center is interesting and informative. It shows how customer service has evolved over time to focus more than ever on the consumer rather than the company.