From its inception, customer service technology has been focused making sure customers are heard and that businesses can respond, and until recently, that meant voice to voice contact. In the 1950s phones started ringing off the hook and it hasn’t stopped—connecting customers and companies around the clock to answer questions, sell products or services and solve problems.
The Call Center
The first call center was created in 1957 by Time, Inc. and was established to increase LIFE magazine subscriptions1. Over the next three decades, as companies added their own call centers, basic telephone technology evolved. The 1960s brought Private Manual Branch Exchanges (PMBXs), which were essentially in-house switchboards for large corporations. In the 1970s the computer age heralded the move from manual to automatic, and computer telephony integration systems included game changing technologies like Automatic Call Distribution (ACD). The PMBX became the PBX and eliminated the need for operators to manually transfer calls.
In the 1970s Automatic Call Distribution further automated the process, and in the 1980s, Interactive Voice Response began delivering more efficiencies and faster service. Soon, the internet and the evolution of smart phones and tablets gave people entirely new ways to communicate with businesses, and the focus of the call center underwent a revolution.
Changing Customer Needs
As communication habits changed, so did the call center. As early as 2013, the Contact Center Satisfaction Index reported that only 54% of customers preferred phone contact.2 The increasing use of email, chat and social media were already becoming commonplace.
Today, it’s estimated that only 37% of people use their smart phones for making phone calls, and amongst millennials and Gen Z those numbers are even lower3. 68% of Gen Z surveyed say they prefer email to communicate with their favorite brands.4
So, is the phone call dead? Is the call center going to become obsolete?