From call centre to customer support: a brief history
What was customer service like in the 80s compared to today? And how can you improve it in the coming decade?
29 April
7 min read
from call centre to customer support

In the 80s, it would have seemed like science fiction to touch a tiny glass screen and get help from across the planet. But only a generation later, here it is. 

Technical innovation has allowed us to get in touch with people in ways we could never have dreamed. This development also gives new opportunities for customer support. 

But how did our area of expertise evolve from call centres to customer experience? 

Customer support on demand

Customers today want to reach you instantly, be personally looked after, and have frictionless contact experiences. If you can’t provide this, they can and will dump you for your competitor.

When you have one shot to treat your customer right, try not to waste it.

For some businesses, the customer is still an afterthought and costly negligence. Customers may have been just another caller in the 80s, but they’re a driving factor of company growth today.

Telephones and toll-free numbers: the 1980s

It’s 1983, and the term ‘call centre’ has just been used for the first time.

Companies are starting to hire call centre agents to make outreach marketing calls to inform people about new offers and products.

We all remember a telephone call during dinner with a sales rep trying to sell us something.

Unsolicited sales calls soon feel like a nuisance, and countries start passing laws to protect consumers. These “Do Not Call” lists also affect agents as the need to personalise their interactions and interact more sensitively increases.

With the advent of the 800 toll-free number, customers begin calling in themselves. Something that requires companies to train agents to answer inbound calls and create new departments where agents can help clients with their questions and problems.

But what does that mean for customer support?

The Internet and dot-com bubble: The 1990s

By 1990, the Internet is starting to change the world.

Companies are going online amidst dot-com mania, and websites are becoming the focal point for customers.

More call centres spring up to manage the new contact channels and provide tech support.

As email and chat via then-popular software like ICQ, Yahoo, and AOL messenger enter the fray, the telephone slips into decline.

‘Call centres’ transition into ‘contact centres’ that can answer email queries. Agents no longer need only the ability to speak politely but must also ace written communication.

Then the bubble burst.

The dot-com crash and offshore call centres: The 2000s

The dawn of the millennium burst the dot-com bubble. To cut costs, many companies launch offshore call centres in countries like India and the Philippines, where labour is cheaper.

Customers aren’t fond of such a solution. It’s hard to understand foreign agents over the phone, and offshore call centres get bad press for taking jobs away from native workers.

All of this makes people feel more negatively about call centres. The main complaints are:

  • It’s painful to contact a call centre using a telephone
  • Poorly designed phone menus add to the misery.
  • Being put on hold and handled insufficiently by time-stressed agents is frustrating
  • Being unable to understand or be understood by an agent is the last straw

So, what then?

Social media changes the game: The 2010s

With the growing backlash of overseas call centres, companies are pulling their operations back home

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are starting to influence consumer behaviour. People can now share their opinions with large online communities. 

When dissatisfied, they leave negative brand reviews for everyone to see that will never disappear. With the rise of search engines like Google, everyone can find bad reviews for eternity. 

Having a negative digital review affects purchasing and isn’t great for business. 

A 2012 report by Nielsen finds online reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information, following recommendations from family and friends. 

Dedicated customer service departments now track and respond to online feedback instead of ignoring it, as they did in the past. This means that employees have to be digitally savvy on social media and able to handle live chat to address customer issues.

Companies now offer customer service professionals training and time to develop higher-order skills to provide a superior quality of service to the customer.

The power of consumer review has put customers in the driving seat. In the old days, companies could get away with lesser customer service. With the rise of online information sharing, that era has ended. Everything you do is in the spotlight. 

These developments changed the marketing strategy of companies. 

Suddenly customer service became a Unique Selling Point (USP) or even a slogan for companies. Customer service develops from being an after-sales department to part of the marketing story and a reason why people buy from a specific company.

AI, Chatbots, & Remote Customer Service: The 2020s

Technology seamlessly intersects with our lives at every touchpoint today. AI, chatbots, and remote customer service allow you to assist at any time, in any part of the world, in any language.

For your company to survive these days, you’ve got to connect with your customers and deliver a superb service experience.

Businesses like Amazon are successful because of premium customer service. Deliveries, replacements, and refunds are painless for consumers, making Amazon the brand of choice the world over.

But this also raises customer expectations. The service level of big companies influences the way other companies should handle it and what customers expect from it.

Amazon’s premium service sets the standard for smaller companies to live up to as global consumers get used to a certain level of service.

Where do we go from here?

In the age of instant gratification, we’re all spoiled for choice.

We don’t even need to leave home to buy stuff anymore. You can buy everything online, from books and groceries to clothes, cars, and even houses. 

As technology reduces the gaps, businesses have extra pressure to innovate what customer service can offer. 

For your customers, needing something now means they wanted it yesterday. They’re already spending most of their time online and communicating digitally, and they expect minimum pain when reaching out with an issue.

Your business will drop out of favour fast if you can’t meet their expectations.

Think about your approach. How can you innovate your customer support to add more value for your customers? 

We believe the remote customer service model has the power to keep pace with your customers evolving expectations.

Remote support is digital, available at all hours, powered by humans, and intersects with the latest technology to resolve customer issues across the world.

We’ve come a long way from those 1980s call centres, but we need to keep innovating to stay relevant. Customer service is an ever-evolving concept, and we need to think about where its future is heading.

Meanwhile, if you know of a better way to provide your customers with high-quality talent that’s multilingual and available 24×7, well… Tell us about it.

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