Pre-Telephone Service - History
Customer service pretty much existed even before the world entrepreneurs realized the importance in it. Before the invention of the telephone, customers had no other means of reaching the store owners other than by physical means. If it happened that your product had a defect, you had the option of spending several hours on the road or fix the problem by yourself. In fact, you were much better if you fixed the problem by yourself because returning the product wasn’t a guarantee that you would get a replacement or rather get compensated.
If you make a call to the common service specialists of today and get impatient, you better appreciate the present without even thinking of what the past was like. Physical travel was the order of the day whenever one felt that it was worth the time. It was at this moment that the industrial revolution was at its early stages. In the process of the effects of the industrial revolution taking roots, a consumer culture was being nurtured. As manufacturing techniques and machinery became popular over the history, the need for means of communication steadily grew in the by then world.
This was the first and most important milestone in the evolution of customer care. Even today, its importance cannot be ignored in the business world. It may appear to be old-fashioned but it made a significant difference in customer care development. Whenever one wanted to return a good for repair or due to other reasons, you had to decide between staying with it or physical taking it back to the store owner. However, in 1876, Alexander Graham-Bell’s invented the telephone and made a whole difference in the industrial revolution. Buyers of goods were then able to contact the store owners and order goods without traveling. It also helped whenever traders wanted to talk and settle out an issue.
It was now easy to make special requests, place orders, seek information on the available products and arrange for the delivery of goods. Eliminating the need for personal contact forever remains one of the greatest steps made in the history of customer care revolution. The major drawback of the telephone invention was its affordability. Few could afford having the direct wires as they were expensive. Nevertheless, the business area greatly expanded. Consumers and businesses had gotten closer and messengers were no longer required.
1894: Telephone Switchboard
When the telephone was invented, its use was only popular among the wealthy clients that had a connection to the technological infrastructure. This, therefore, meant that many traders were left out. However, in 1894, switchboards were invented by Tivadar Puskas allowing everybody to connect his telephone to the larger network. The pace of trade improved among wealthy business owners and traders. Clients were now able to communicate with store owners freely. As if that wasn’t enough, the telephone one-on-one calls couldn’t meet the rising demand for customer services. Call centers, therefore, came to the rescue of many companies, especially those whose customer base grew day by day.
1960: Private Automated Business Exchange – “Call Centers”
Commonly known as “call centers” today, PABX became prominent in 1960. The reason behind the fast sprouting of call numbers was because companies got overwhelmed with the high number of customers calling seeking for help. In order to improve service delivery, the need for having several representatives arose. This move saw several companies overwhelmed because of the efficiency associated with the invention. Earlier in the history call centers were large rooms with several customer care agents whose sole role was to answer calls and resolve issues. It was a real shift for the customers as their issues were solved on the spot. Sufficing of mail-order responses became unpopular as the one-telephone call centers expanded.
During this moment, the Second Industrial Revolution was moving at a higher pace. Several companies were emerging and the business world changed the perception of customer service experience. Customer service was now an essential that every business had to invest if they wanted to be successful. A good example is the Ford Motor Company by Henry Ford that revolutionized the history and the consumer world. He was dedicated to building car models that would not only suit the consumers but also be affordable to every single American. Later, Henry realized that they had to start a repair service for the cars they sold. If they made cars why not repair them?
In the United States, call centers were the order of the day when one called to make airline reservations. A few years later several forward-thinking companies remodeled the PABX in order to take their customer service standards a notch higher. Even though call centers were a memorable milestone that led to the development of the modern customer care departments across the world, sooner or later, the unexpected happened. Companies realized that customers started getting bored with the lengthy back-and-forth phone call while trying to have their issues resolved.
1967: The Toll-Free Numbers
The way customers interacted with companies changed when AT&T introduced the toll-free numbers. The hassle of trying to argue with operators while attempting to have your issues resolved became a history. Customers were now able to enjoy the convenience of calling companies anytime and directly talking to representatives. It was a fast and efficient way of having issues pertaining products and services provided resolved.
1970: Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
In 1970, IVR was the technological breakthrough that was taking over the market. Digitized speeches were stored on computer hard disks and whenever a call was made, registered messages were played as the customer was taken through an elaborate phone tree process. This somehow expensive technology spearheaded several improvements in customer care history. It involved keying in commands that determined how lengthy or short the call lasted. For example, commands such as (Press 1 for English, press 0 to speak with a customer service representative) were used. It was a great way of attending to several customers at the same time and streamlining the calling process.
1989: Call Center Outsourcing
During the 1989 era, most businesses were using several strategies to remain competitive and have more customers. Reducing the operational costs was a top priority and call center outsourcing offered a great way of achieving this. Several companies were offering call center services at favorable prices, a factor that lured many businesses to outsource their customer care departments.
Despite the fact that outsourcing call centers became a standard practice in many companies across the world, most abandoned the strategy later on. This was after several customers expressed their disappointment in the strategy and most firms lost a significant percentage of customers. Companies had to look for a better way of attaining higher levels of customer service standards.
1965: CTSS Mail Program
Despite the fact that electronic mail is so common today, it is much older than most internet-based software that we use today. Mail was invented in 1965 from where it evolved from simple beginnings. It involved over the history as placing a message onto a directory of another user. Whenever the recipient logged in they could access the message. Comparing the back then invention to today’s technology, it is more or less of a file directory.
From around 1961 to 1965, a customer care revolution was going on at MTI computational center. The Compatible Time-Sharing System CTSS was being developed by two brilliant Americans (Tom Van Vleck; a software engineer and Noel Morris; a scientist). This new phenomenon encouraged traders to exchange information and send messages to CTSS users. However, companies later abandoned using this system as it turned out to be expensive, and whenever a user lost some information, the retrieval process took time and was pretty involving.
1991: The Internet
From the early 1990s, middlemen and IVR were paving way for the internet that was now taking over all the other means of communication. The global economy had now become a possibility. The internet of things completely changed the way the entire world communicated. Several and cost effective ubiquitous communication tools, free web applications and instant written message exchange platform leveraged over the short period of history the business world and service standards. Small-scale companies that initially felt the pressure of high-cost communication means were now at par with the rest. Business partners, clients, traders and store owners could now utilize online chats, instant messaging and emails for communication. Now that all businesses were on the battleground, small or large, competition was the major driver of customer care revolution. At this moment, the customer voice wasn’t of much impact as it is today.
The internet is simply a non-intrusive way that has leveraged the play field and all companies can now enjoy the best communication technology. From the early 1990s to the present, email became the preferred means of communication. Customers could visit websites and instantly file their written complaints online.
The world changed from “business decides” to “customer decides” way of doing business. Several companies were established and this changed the way marketing was done. Customers, not like it was in quite recent history, had obtained several options to choose. Apart from having a variety to choose from, they were also learning a new way to make purchases. They would utilize the internet and decide which way to go. If you needed a car, you were no longer restricted to the model-T of Henry Ford Company. Several car manufacturing companies were in place. Due to the stiff competition, companies were left with no option other raising their customer service standards. If you wanted to buy bread, you had several options to choose from or even buy bread-related products.
This shift was a great boom in the business world. Traders felt more connected on a personal level with their customers. A few years later, the increased use of the internet gave customer care evolution history a new shape. Customer interaction was no longer the same. You could instantly reach whoever you wanted to. It was a complete breakthrough from the past expensive marketing means. The way companies and small business served their customers completely got reframed. What took weeks now only took a few minutes.
Bars were raised when other technologies such as video charts and surveys became integrated into the World Wide Web. Customers were now able to file complaints, make orders, purchases, arrange for orders and delivery, make inquiries, and much more. Amazon was among the first companies to utilize the internet for their own gain. In the realm of offering exquisite customer services, they have set forth a perfect example to other multinational companies. Customers have huge number of choices. Other role model companies that had a perfect example to the corporate world include Apple and Microsoft. They were not only using web-based platforms to offer exclusive customer care services to the whole world but also developing customized products and developing unique brands that today shape our modern life.
2000: Customer Experience Software (CRM)
In a move to thrive and remain competitive, companies started investing in customer care software in order to raise their customer relation standards. They invested in coding the most suitable software that could reduce costs and make a forward step. It was during this competitive era of history that Customer Relationship Management (CRM) became prominent. It was as a result of merging several customer software, cloud-based services, and online help desk skills. Today, companies are able to collect information from customers, carry out surveys and even reward loyal customers.
CRM and other data software have resulted in frictionless customer experience where the customer has gained more control. This has streamlined processes and created a seamless customer service experience. Companies are now able to carry out consumer data collection and use the same to improve their products and achieve greater customer loyalty. It is through the integration of CRM and the internet that most companies were able to involve customers in product development.
2008: Social Media
2007-2008 was a memorable moment that will forever remain in the history books. It was during this moment that social site such as Facebook was ruling the roost. As Facebook was sitting on the top seat, other web-based services such as blogging platforms began building their niche. Well, when social sites become so prominent, it was a golden opportunity to send short messages, images, videos, and connect to the world. On the other hand, the business world had perhaps found a cost-saving, simple and effective way to connect with customers. It was indeed the most remarkable fortune ever. Social media sites had rubbed companies, small business and entrepreneurs the right way.
The corporate world today has nothing to lose as far as the realm of connecting with customers globally is concerned. In fact, a number of studies have shown that a higher number of customers prefer using social sites when seeking support on products and the number is on the rise. On the other hand, recent surveys show that 93% of today’s marketers prefer using social media as a channel for reaching customers.
There is no single business today that lacks a Facebook page unless it is not among the forward thinking companies. Customers prefer visiting social sites to have their matters resolved rather than making calls which can get lengthy and boring. Forward thinking companies have gone a step further and established web pages with solutions to frequently asked questions (FAQ). In fact, social media sites not only help companies in reaching out to many customers but also provide a platform through which customers help other customers in resolving issues. Need to know how a company operates, deliver goods, does their pricing? Simply visit their pages on Facebook, Twitter and more to find answers.
That is just the tip of the entire ice berg that we are about to reveal on the customer service history. The impact of social media on customer care evolution is more than we see. A perfect example is the way social sites have affected the way consumers make their choices and branding.
Consumer Choices – How social Media has changed the History
Though the social media has taken the customer service standards a notch higher by giving the customers an upper hand, the truth of the matter is that it has held several businesses hostage. Today’s business success hinges on how good or bad its reputation is in the social media. Companies have no option other than to meet the demands of consumers or exceed their expectations. For forward-moving companies like Amazon, they have taken up the call and used the social media among other channels for their own good.
The bitter truth is that social media has become the most dangerous customer service channel for those companies that don’t make their moves right. Because of the online support forums, customer comments have a high potential of either building brand loyalty or ruining the reputation of the respective company. This highly influences the entire process of narrowing down their options, weighing their decisions and finally making purchases by consumers. Considering the fact that producer companies have flooded the market, customers are likely to defect towards marketing platforms that meets their needs. In today’s business market, customers no longer talk to the company about their products or quality of service but rather talk about the company. They take more time to discuss to their peers about the services they were offered, whether good or bad. Complaints or appraisals are broadcasted on the social media.
In a nut shell, the social media has opened up the business world and kept companies on toes as far as customer service standards are concerned. However, it also works for the good on companies as they are able to get the data and focus on improving their products by incorporating customer suggestions.
Customer service standard influences business branding, which determines almost everything else. Due to the popularity of online marketing and the overuse of the social media, consumers are in most cases left with a few choices when making a purchasing decision. Wondering why that happens? It is because the brand that every company sits on either places it at the top most consumer choices or somewhere in the middle of the list. A good business brand is so significant that it can force rivals to quit the competition or cause harm. Forward-thinking customers started investing in branding as soon as they were founded. This is because such companies understand that customers relate with brands as if they are friends. A business brand paves the way for customer engagement, which in turn leads to long-term success.
2014: Mobile Apps – The Future of Customer Care Experience
Where social media sites couldn’t reach, the mobile apps paved way for the future customer care success. Mobile apps have completely revolutionized the way companies interact with their customers. Today, you can access any information anytime anywhere provided your smartphone has access to the internet. The dawn of mobile apps that uses a myriad of several handheld devices represents perhaps the most dramatic form of customer experience.
By going mobile, the world has completely changed the way we used to order for goods to the way we make payments. It is interesting of what you can achieve today via a mobile device. At the comfort of your home, you can research about a product, read reviews, make inquiries, purchase a product, pay for it, organize for delivery of the same at your doorstep and even go a step further to seek technical support or return it. Isn’t it amazing how revolutionary the customer service has been for the past years? Where we are today and what tomorrow holds is yet another mystery!
If you take a keen look at the evolution of customer care experience over the history , one thing is clear – Businesses have to move into the modern future of customer care experience unless they are ready to be left behind. Businesses can no longer deny the fact that customers are the ones that are going to dictate the way things need to be done in the future. With several customer service channels becoming a way of lifestyle, there is nothing that will be left behind the curtains. Everything that gets posted on the social media gets known to the whole world. With mobile apps in place, customers can now access information 24/7 and this encourages them to keep coming back. When they are pleased they talk it to the whole world.