Kathy Divis

The Call Center: Sounding a Death Knell or Seeking a New Identity? Part 1: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

by Kathy Divis | Aug 10, 2015

call center imageFor some time now, there have been rumors of the demise of the healthcare call center.

  In fact, 15 years ago, CRM Magazine published an article titled “Death of the Call Center,” in which it proclaimed, “The call center as we know it is dead.” Since that time, other articles with similarly-morbid titles have been written about the “death” of the call/contact center.   A 2013 white paper from IntelliResponse has the title “Death of the Contact Center – Are the Rumours True?”  However, what most of these articles were speaking to was not the idea of “stick a fork in it – it’s done,” but rather the evolution of the call center from its original form to a new structure that leverages new communications formats and platforms. But where is this evolution leading to?   As with everything else in the marketing world – and all the other “worlds” as well – the advent of digital and mobile technology has created a sea change in the way we do things. Perhaps the call center is not really dead – rather, it is in a state of transition, similar to how the US Postal Service has had to deal with the rise of email and eCommerce affecting the volume of “snail mail” and package shipping.   The IntelliResponse white paper mentioned above goes on to state, “Let’s not move forward with any funeral plans just yet, however—because the ‘death’ of the traditional call center merely gives rise to the contact center of the future.”   Before we talk about the call center of the future, let’s take a brief look at the evolution of the call center. The call center as we know it had its beginnings in the mid-1960s with the introduction of Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) – often called “PBX” in systems that required a live operator. PABX allowed a business or organization to have multiple incoming phone lines with a single phone number.   In the early 1970s, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) was developed, which allowed calls to be filtered and assigned to the most appropriate agent available at the time of the call. The introduction of the ACD provided a much more flexible automated system that could handle larger numbers of calls without a human operator.   Also during the ‘70s, Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) was introduced, allowing companies to make long-distance calls at cheaper rates. Not long after, toll-free 800 numbers came into existence, which allowed customers to contact companies at no charge to the customer. During this time, call centers became an important, distinct function for many businesses and the term “call center” came into use.   Technological advances, such as computer telephony interfaces (CTI), developed during the 1980s and 1990s led to businesses and organizations using call centers to address customer service requests and billing inquiries. At that time, call centers existed to help businesses improve efficiency and better manage customer care costs. The next development in call centers was IVR, or interactive voice response systems. Although IVR led to 24-hour availability for some aspects of customer service because of its self-service features, it also led to much frustration on the part of customers (think “voicemail hell”).   More recently, the development of VoIP technology and CRM platforms has led to dramatic changes in call centers. Perhaps most important is the ability to now communicate with customers via any mode of communication across the same infrastructure, including Web services, email, chat and social media.   So it seems to be safe to say that call centers aren’t dying out, they’re just metamorphosing into a new and improved version that works with today’s technology and digital marketing strategies to bring a better experience to users.   Coming next: Part 2 – The Call Center of the Future      
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