Retrospective: A look back at 30 years of Contact Center evolution
By Colin Taylor
With 2018 coming to a close, I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic about how far we’ve come in the last 30 years. 1988 sounds like eons ago, but somehow does feel that far in the past.
In 1988 I was much younger, thinner, with less grey and more hair than today. The contact center industry was much younger as well. In fact, it wasn’t even called the “contact center” industry. Back then it was still the telemarketing industry, and there was a clear distinction between inbound and outbound telemarketing. In the mid-1990s the transition was made to call centers.
“Contact centers,” as we know them today, didn’t arrive until the early 2000s.
Of course, the name isn’t the only way the industry has changed. Over the decades, technology has progressed by leaps and bounds. In 1988, while I was working at CPM Hull Colvey (now there’s a name from the past!), we had just replaced our “call director” phone system with a Nortel SL1. The entire industry was embarking on a technological revolution, with paper lists and hand-written forms being replaced by computers. By 1988 we had only been using Intel 286 PCs for about a year.
This was also about the time we made the transition from handsets (the ones with the shoulder cradles) to headsets. The reason for this move was another evolutionary leap: computerization necessitated typing skills, which in turn necessitated free hands! It was about this time that keyboarding and typing proficiency began showing up on new hire applications.
It was also in 1988 that we implemented our first IVR system and used it to deliver a “joke of the day” phone number that supported the launch of Moosehead Beer in Ontario. In previous years we had employed endless loop cassette tapes to deliver programs such as the Santa Claus Hotline for Canada Post.
30 years ago, there were no SFA (sales force automation) or CRM (customer relationship management) platforms. There were no predictive dialers in place, so outbound calls had to be dialed manually. Voicemail was non-existent, and answering machines were still a novelty, so although the calling process was handled manually the completion rates, where someone answered, were significantly higher than they are today. The Internet was in its infancy and not yet open for business. There was no cloud, and no interactive web chat. Cell phones were a luxury item, having been introduced only three years earlier in Canada, and those that owned them used them as phones. There was no text or SMS capability, and apps weren’t even a concept.
In retrospect, having taken this short trip down memory lane, I retract my earlier comment: it was eons ago, and it really does feel like it too. But no industry remains static. As we look to the future, we can see a world of chatbots and AI (artificial intelligence), intelligent virtual agents and virtual assistants automating simple and repetitive tasks. With these simple and transactional tasks handled through automation, all that remain are the complex problems and customer service issues. With this, we can see our focus shift toward Customer Experience, and watch the contact center worker become the knowledge worker.
And with all of that, I can see the continued need for quality publications, articles and blogs, online and off, to help industry leaders share, grow, and continue to push both technological and human factors forward far into the future. As an industry, we specialize in predictive data. But with the ever-increasing pace of refinement, streamlining, and constantly changing consumer needs there really is no telling where we’ll end up in the next 30 years.
But I can’t wait to find out!