Just when most of the industry has come around to getting comfortable with using the term contact center there comes a new, more appropriate term. In an industry that seemingly creates a new acronym every five minutes, it is hard to let go of the past.
Before we fully dive into where we are today, and why this is an appropriate transition, it is appropriate to remember where we came from. There is a lot of talent and tenure on our team at InflowCX who have witnessed firsthand the transformation of the industry.
Before the Call Center
People liked visiting in person, especially when they were part of the community. This worked well for community banks, doctor’s offices, and local businesses. The businesses you frequented were truly part of the community. Which meant little to no competition, and it also meant little need for communication or efficiency of communication.
Chances were you knew the people and employees of those businesses. Most large corporations that consumers frequented had local branches in the area. They could call or just walk into the business if they had a concern.
With the highway system and access to vehicles becoming mainstream the options for where Americans could spend their dollars grew and grew quickly. The definition of community and what is convenient quickly changed. Now the local bank, grocery store, and other local businesses had competition.
So now that people were given the power of choice, customer service became a retention tool for businesses. There were more options than on main street for banking, groceries, restaurants, and just about anything you needed. While you may have chosen a bank twenty miles away because of financial considerations, dropping in to pay your loan was no longer a convenient option.
This was the age of the door-to-door salesperson, from tonics that cured everything, to magazine and newspaper subscriptions, knocking was the go-to method of outbound sales. This was the time before telemarketing when phones were used to communicate with one another.
The Perfect “TIME” For the Call Center
Innovative businesses adapt and are always looking for ways to enhance the customer experience while driving efficiency. It was no longer efficient to have one or two people in a particular location to answer the same questions customers had in all locations. For sales, it was far more efficient to call customers than haul around your product, in a suit on a hot summer day.
Time Inc. was the first company to take the innovative leap and establish what resembles a modern call center. This was created to increase magazine sales, solicit advertising, and handle customer questions or changes all in one place.
We talk about the innovations in the call center space, however, in 1957 the call center was an innovation in itself. Much like the assembly line transformed manufacturing, the call center transformed how companies serve their customers.
Life Before the Contact Center
From that first call center there were a lot of innovations that are still used today. Almost from the inception of that first call center companies were hungry for ways to automate their operations. Here are a few of the innovations and acronyms that were born in the call center era:
- Private Manual Branch Exchanges (PMBX) were created, which required a receptionist to manually connect a call to the appropriate person. This evolved into modern-day PBXs or Private Branch Exchanges
- Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF) aka touch tones were introduced at the worlds fair by Bell Telephone in 1962.
- Automated Call Distribution (ACD) became possible because of DTMF, callers could now press a button on their phone to reach the appropriate party or department.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) was invented in the ’70s however in the ’80s is when it became affordable and practical for call centers to deploy.
The Internet Changed Call Centers To Contact Centers
“You’ve Got Mail” was a saying that anyone who lived in the ’90s can remember in that AOL voice. Before the mid-’90s, your options for contacting a company were by mail, phone, or maybe in person. The internet, just like the highway system and railroad before, presented more options.
When there are more options, innovation is born. This is when call centers became modern-day contact centers because now a phone call was not the only way to communicate with companies. Email and instant messaging became viable options to serve customers efficiently and with a written record of the conversation.
With the internet came e-commerce and websites became the go-to hub for sales. Naturally, companies had to handle more technical questions, order issues, logistics, returns, and much more. The traffic, both inbound and outbound increased dramatically because of the internet becoming accessible.
Not only did traffic continue, but the demand for new ways to contact companies also increased as well. What went from a phone call or letter now became emails, instant messaging, chat boards, and more.
Meeting the customer where they are became a challenge in a variety of ways. Since the internet was relatively new, adapting to the technology that came was hard for agents, leadership, and customers. Just because there was a new way to communicate didn’t make it an effective way to communicate.
Streamlining the Contact Center Operations
While the pace of innovation was skyrocketing during this time, being able to harness the new ways of communication, while training your agents, while also creating processes was challenging, to say the least. It was the equivalent of building a plane while learning to fly all in the air.
From frustration, great processes and customer experiences are born. This is where subject matter experts, intelligent call routing, and even CRMs started to really take hold. Much of the technology we take for granted was created during this time such as:
- Online Knowledge Base was the precursor to knowledge management, while the data was static then it decreased the stress on tenured agents and leadership needs to answer questions and save a lot of paper.
- Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) was limited during this time due to bandwidth being a challenge, however, the foundation was set during this time.
- Call Center Analytics became accessible in real-time while also bolstering reporting tenfold so that decisions could be driven by data.
Welcome to The Customer Engagement (CEC)
It appears every 25-30 years there is a seismic shift caused by an event outside the industry that is the catalyst for innovation. For the call center/contact center industry that event was Covid-19. Companies had to make decisions in weeks or days that normally took months or years due to customer demand.
Think of what is mainstream now that was not in February 2020:
- Zoom/Video calls are now the norm versus piling into a packed conference room. Video calls have been available for more than a decade however rarely would anyone have their video on, now it is part of who we are.
- Hybrid work and options to work from anywhere are not that uncommon, however, just a few short years ago that was considered a luxury for most companies.
- Everything is online and can be delivered almost anywhere anytime. Maybe for some of us that are not a good thing, however, the age of convenience is here.
What began as a call center is now a customer engagement center or CEC, because our industry needed another acronym. We find ourselves in the age of customer experience, or have we always been in the age of customer experience and maybe we just never recognized it? After all, that is why TIME decided to create the call center in the first place, making it easier for customers to do business.
There is so much that goes into a great customer experience. Technology, innovation, processes, and people all contribute to making it so. AI and machine learning are automating the mundane so that agents can concentrate on what is important, the customer.
The CEC reflects the past 70+ years of listening to what the customer wants and responding. Today customers demand having a CEC so that they can interact with your company on their terms, and that creates loyalty.
InflowCX Can Help Transition Your Contact Center to Customer Engagement Center
Our team is proud and passionate about the experience we bring to our customers. From call center to CEC and beyond we approach the relationship the same way, it all starts with you, the customer.
If you are wondering where to start, it is with a phone call. We can talk about where your company has been, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future. People, process & technology is the trinity that guides our customer experience. Let’s talk about how we can put that trinity to work for you and your customer engagement center.