By Smitha Baliga
Phone answering services, telemessaging, contact centers, and teleservice agencies have certainly changed throughout the years—for the better. From their humble roots in the 1920s and 1930s to today’s ultra-functional, do-it-all, multipurpose powerhouses, call centers barely resemble their predecessors.
Thanks to tremendous technological advancements, present-day contact centers handle heavy call volumes, automated appointments, and crucial customer service communication. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Plenty of key milestones helped turn yesteryear’s communication headquarters into what we recognize as today’s call centers. During that time we’ve come a long way. Let’s take a trip back in time to see how we got from there to here.
- Early twentieth century: Switchboards functioned as de facto call centers. Human error, unreliable technology, and other hurdles challenged these first call centers.
- Mid 1950s: In the mid-twentieth century, a system called the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) collected, routed, and assigned incoming calls to available agents. It wasn’t the most effective method, but the present-day call center had its first prototype.
- Late 1950s/early 1960s: The blueprint for the modern call center was created with Private Automated Business Exchanges (known as PABX). Of course, PABX enterprises relied heavily on ACD technology.
- Late 1960s: To make call routing easier, AT&T established 1-800 numbers in 1967. This allowed heavier call volumes and created unexpected advertising opportunities and marketing avenues.
- Early 1970s: British Gas used an ACD system to field up to 20,000 calls per week in a facility based in Wales. That was the most calls any center had processed in a seven days’ span.
- Late 1970s: Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology allowed incoming calls to be handled by fully automated systems.
- Early 2000s: With so much attention paid to automated technology, offshore centers (primarily based in India) sparked a rise in offshoring (using agents overseas).
- Mid 2000s: Premise-based call center technology ceded call center management to cloud-based systems.
These are some of the most noteworthy call center developments in the past century. Aside from these landmark events, engineers, software developers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries were responsible for creating today’s call centers that deliver fast service.
While the past provides interesting insights into the call center’s history, it will be even more exciting to see what the future holds.
Smitha Baliga is the CEO of TeleDirect, which provides affordable business process outsourcing (BPO) services to clients from a diverse range of industries and business applications. For more information about TeleDirect, please visit www.teledirect.com.