When customers call you, they want a friendly voice at the end of the line — someone to listen patiently and respond quickly. However, call centers often earn the reputation of being cold, unfeeling, and frustrating for users, while companies struggle to balance their budgets against the benefits of responsive service solutions. It begs the question: What's the future of telecommunications in business?
However, to know where you're headed, you need to know where you've been. Let's start at the beginning.
By 1878, newly minted telephone technology already had a problem: rude teenage boys. The bane of parents and teachers worldwide, these irascible young men were responsible for manning switchboards and directing calls but distinctly lacked in the "service" part of customer service. As noted by Time, it was Alexander Graham Bell who proposed a solution — hire women. And it worked.
As telephone use became ubiquitous, companies recognized the need for large-scale solutions to handle consumer questions and complaints, and the call center was born. According to Call Center Helper, if you ask around, you'll probably hear that US firm Rockwell created the first call center in 1973 to help Continental Airlines with its booking system, but the truth is that other companies were using the technology a decade earlier.
Telecommunications in business originally relied on the same lines as all public telephone services, but this quickly proved impractical as both the total number of telephones grew and consumers started looking for more direct ways to connect with companies. Private branch exchange (PBX) created internal business telephone networks to circumvent public limitations, such as the need to pay local telephone charges when calling colleagues in the same building.
By the 1970s, operators were tired of having to connect every call manually, and companies were looking for ways to cut labor costs, leading to the bright idea of automated call switching. At first, private automated branch exchange (PABX) and private manual branch exchange (PMBX) co-existed, but as costs came down, the manual version faded into obscurity and businesses decided to save time by tossing that extra "A." The result was PBX technology, which built in new features such as hold music, call recordings, and easy call transfers over time.
VoIP and Beyond
Since the telecommunications industry can never leave well enough alone, it got on board with the development of this whole "internet" thing and started sending voice transmissions using packets of data. By 1991, the first voice over IP (VoIP) service was released as public domain, letting companies and consumers everywhere enjoy the experience of dropped calls, jittery connections, and random echos. As broadband and mobile technologies advanced, however, VoIP systems became viable ways to connect workers in-house and on the road while handling customer calls from around the world. The rise of VoIP also marked a shift away from human operators to virtual call answering and forwarding services. This led to the development of interactive voice response (IVR) technologies, which both automated the call process and frustrated users looking for a human connection.
The rise of commercialized cloud technology, mobile devices, and social media networks has prompted a shift back to the roots of call centers — but this time, they're omnichannel and cloud-based, designed to handle both inbound and outbound requirements with equal aplomb. For example, agents are easily able to track all inbound calls and link customer histories with existing numbers to provide top-tier service, while outbound services let them contact customers at the push of a button and simultaneously make posts across social media sites. Next, emerging call technology is expected to amalgamate incoming and outgoing data to provide valuable line-of-business analytics.
A Pivotal Moment for Telecommunications in Business
Customers are now using multiple channels — phone, email, and social media — to connect with companies, and they want immediate responses. As noted by Convince and Convert, 57 percent of customers expect the same level of service during nights or weekends as normal business hours, and 24 percent want a response within 30 minutes. While technology is a way to augment efficiency, it can never replace human contact.
It's no surprise to see a swing back to the good old days, with the rise of cloud-based call centers staffed with well-trained agents and omnichannel solutions capable of integrating multiple response types while also providing analytics and reporting data to enhance the overall experience. Switchboards are the stuff of history, but the legacy of polite and perceptive operators lives on. After all, technology can't replace the human touch, but it can absolutely support it.
Are you ready to take your call center communications to the next level and enhance the customer experience? Talk to a Vongae Business representative.