First Phone Call
Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call on March 10, 1876. The first words spoken were to his assistant: “Watson — come here — I want to see you”
Computer-Based Call Answering
In the mid-1950’s computer-based systems replaced the manual process of routing phone calls. This system was called the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) and was the innovation that finally enabled the very first call centers.
Primitive Call Centers
Late 1950s Shortly after the Automatic Call Distributor arrived, private companies began implementing the technology privately to replace manual switchboards. This system came to be known as a Private Automatic Branch Exchange (PABX). Today the term has been shorted to PBX because the “automatic” is just assumed.
AT&T established toll-free numbers to make access to call centers much more accessible to end users. Not only did they eliminate the cost of paying long distance charges for customers but they made the numbers easier to remember.
The Term “Call Center” is Coined
The term “Call Center” was first coined by the communications trade publication Data Communications.
Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Call centers continued to flourish and became so prevalent that backlash from consumers prompted Congress to pass the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). This new legislation put limits on the number of calls that could be made by agents. The TCPA also mandated that call centers honor the National Do Not Call Registry. Restrictions were also set on the use of technology like auto dialers and the use of pre-recorded messages for sales calls.
This shift reduced the volume of calls that could be made and forced call centers to focus more on quality management than ever before.
The Rise of Computer Telephony Integration
As the name suggests, computer telephony integration allows computers to integrate with phones. Rather than relying on a Rolodex to track customer information, software could be used far more efficiently. These early solutions were the forerunners to modern CRM solutions.
Since its inception, computer integration has continued to give rise to innovations including screen popping (automatically displaying a caller’s information), automatic and predictive dialing, advanced call transfers, call routing, and most recently speech analytics and advanced call reporting.
Outsourced call centers became more and more prominent as technology and costs continued to improve. The 1990’s and 2000’s saw an enormous shift of call center work overseas to developing countries who could compete for far more competitive wages.