Life BEFORE Call Centers

An historical black & white photo of a large switchboard run by teenage boys standing and talking on phone sets while a sitting manager supervises.

Connectivity! (Without having to be there).

It all started with the telephone. The earliest telephones were point to point – coupled to their paired partner. You could only talk to the same person over and over again. Hopefully you liked them. Even if you did, it still created some obvious limitations, and problems to solve. It was the start of this innovative new technology!

Then came the switchboards in 1894. Their capabilities started changing the possibilities of communication. Using patch cords to connect the input and outputs of the call, individual telephone devices could be wired together from the switchboard center. And most of the time – or perhaps some of the time – it worked.

The operators also had to physically work at making the proper connections. It was considered then to be a technical job, over a century ago. Such lo-fi activity would not even show up on the advanced technical radar of today.

Surprisingly, the early operators of the switchboard systems were teenage boys.

At the time, many were highly skilled in Morse code and other technical areas, and one could say that if they were teens today, they would perhaps be inclined to be the type of tech minds that could hack into your iMac. Unfortunately, it is said that these teen boys had that arrogance, and lacked the social skills that were soon considered necessary in order to have a conversational, polite rapport with the person on the other end of the line. They also were often jokesters, up to speed with slang, and salty language. They were not quite ready for prime-time phone communication with the public.

Women Come to the Rescue of the Switchboard

There was a good, simple fix for that, however. The ‘boys’ were replaced by more sophisticated women!

An historical blacn & white photo of early customer service with call center agents standing up talking on phone sets in front of a huge switchboard.
Old Customer Service Switchboard

The first was Emma Nutt – who apparently was hired directly by Alexander Graham Bell. Having a patient, woman’s voice – and one who could interact seamlessly with the callers without tossing in occasional curse words – she was the precursor to an all-women operator switchboard operator trend.

Stella Nutt must have gotten an exceptional recommendation from her sister Emma, because she became the second woman entering this new profession. Perhaps all their female cousins and family friends followed next, because the teenage boys soon went back to creating mischief outside of the switchboard premises, and operators were now women who were post-teen age, and from rungs higher up the cultural ladder.

The functionality of the phone system required that operators must also perform the physical task of plugging wires into the routing inputs and outputs of their switchboard. It was verbal AND physical. Some stretching (to reach all the points of connection) was also required!

As things quickly developed, in addition to bringing their inherent people-skills into the mix, the women switchboard operators received structured training that set certain standards in practice and consistency. The “customer is ALWAYS right’ mantra was in full effect in these early stages of telephone service. Customer service is thus a very appropriate phrase to describe the diligent and helpful approach that become the norm in a switchboard center.

The Customer Connects Directly with the Brand

It was this “customer service” element that became the essence of the direct interaction between a company and their current or potential customers. The voice on the other end was acting as an extension of the brand. A good experience for the customer was worth its weight in gold for the business, because these phone conversations did more than just answer questions about the particular product or service – they were representative of the company itself.

Today we can see a parallel between this and the enhanced customer interaction that so many brands successfully do everyday with their social media audience. Word gets around about which brands listen best to their loyal contingents, and these early connections by phone with operators representing a business were the start of that customer relationship.

For the first time, merchants could interact directly with their customers. People could inquire about product descriptions and details, and become aware of availability and shipping possibilities. A company representative could have a conversation about their products directly with a potential purchaser, without actually being in the same store together.

As With Many Things – the Wealthy Get it FIRST!

A BIG difference, however, between phone customer service in the early 1900’s and social media brand connections today, was that – unlike today where almost everyone is on social media – back then, only wealthy individuals and establishments could afford telephones!

It was typical of advance technology affordability throughout the ages, no different from having money to buy a Model T or a powered washing machine back then – or the newest Maserati or robotic servant in more modern times.

The folks who were fortunate enough to afford this exciting new technology – along with the well-trained women brand representative operators – created a primitive service loop that continues, in an enhanced way, with our advanced technology today.

The Spinning Dial – Rotary Phones

Then the switchboard started taking a back seat.

A black rotary phone.
Rotary Phone Innovation

Communications in the 1920’s was now driven by an innovative advancement that made the telephone capable of becoming the actual switch control to route phone calls. This home-based ‘switch’ superseded the patch cord system. The rotary phone now made it possible for the user to dial the phone number that corresponds to the desired recipient of their call. That made calling more direct and efficient.

Customer service flourished from this technical advancement. The volume of calls increased as did the amount of people who had a telephone in their house or office. The phone unit became the ‘operator’.  Phones started to become fixtures in more and more homes. They were more affordable. The increased amount of people with this new ability to connect, created an expanded base of customers for so many companies. This development directly led to a new ‘invention’ – the Call Center!

Call Centers / Contact Centers & the Customer Connection

It was inevitable. One day in the 1960’s a call center started!

More quickly followed that lead.

It was a relatively simple concept to implement. Businesses filled up a room with customer service representatives who’s job it was to have daily interaction with customers to resolve issues, discuss products, and create good will for their brand. These call centers began to be viewed as a necessity for a company who does business with a large customer base.

In these early contact centers – representatives answered the phone calls.

Call center scheduling of representatives on duty was probably quite simple to accomplish. If there were not enough customer service operators present to answer all the ringing phones – then they needed to get some more in a hurry!

Were These Early Call Centers the Peak of Customer Service Quality?

You could make a pretty good argument – from a people standpoint – that these early call centers offered the best customer experience.

You called – and someone actually picked up and answered. Right away!

Unlike today, the technology was not available to delay that person-to-person interaction. There was no computer generated voice prompts to greet the caller.

And no:

Press One if you want to make a purchase,

Press Two if you want to check your status,

Press Three if you are getting really frustrated already!

Unfortunately, we all know that:

Press Four if you would like to speak to a real person representative!

  • doesn’t always exist today as an available caller option!

The Potential for Great Customer Service is There Today!

The modern call center has the opportunity to provide excellent and expedited customer service, and a quick path to a friendly representative who is well trained to help you.

A woman call center agent wearing a black headset in front of a computer monitor.
Today’s call center agent.

The most important component for a company to achieve this is their call center scheduling.

Complex algorithms in cloud-based scheduling software can create the best scheduling possible. Companies with networks can also integrate the software into their computer systems.

With our new, innovative Schedule for Me product offering, small to medium call centers (under 100) can now make the wise choice to outsource their call center scheduling to us.

Our experienced team at ISC can do it ALL for you!

Schedule for Me is cost effective, and will free up time for other things your team needs to do. We often have special offers and incentives to get you started – and show you first-hand the value of our services. You can conveniently book some time to talk directly to one of our (non-sales) technical representatives, who will walk you through our Schedule for Me product, answer all your questions, and together you can decide if it is the perfect choice for your call center scheduling.

We promise that they will be as nice and polite as Emma Nutt and her sister Stella!

The Call Center Connection

A call center is the point of connection to your customers. Happy, well-trained professional call center agents are at the heart of the point of contact. Their schedule is important to your company – and to them! Our advanced scheduling system has come a long way from having a manager in the 1930’s make their personnel decisions from hearing more phone call rings in the room than the amount of agents on duty that particular day.

And, if you so desire – we can also schedule call center representatives who are MEN.

(That might just be going a bit too far – but nevertheless, it is currently considered the politically correct thing to do in 2018!)