Call centers originated in the 1960s when Birmingham Press and Mail installed Private Automated Business Exchanges to rows of agents who managed those contacts. By 1973 call centers became mainstream, and Rockwell International patented its Galaxy automatic Call Distributor (GACD) for television booking systems and popularized telephone headsets.
Later in the 1970s, call center technology expanded to include banking systems, airline reservations, and telephone sales. In 1983, the Oxford English Dictionary published and recognized the term “Call Center.” This came with the development of Toll-Free telephone numbers to increase the efficiency of agents and call volume. Call centers grew with the deregulation of long-distance calling and growth in information-dependent industries.
Because call centers were growing, unionization occurred in North America to gain members. This included the creation of Communication Workers of America and the United Steel Workers. Australia followed, with the National Union of Workers and Europe after that with the Uni Global Union of Switzerland and Germany’s “Vereinte Dienstleistungerwerkschaft,” which was created to represent call center workers.
In the 1990s, call centers still grew with the creation of two subsets of communication: contact centers, coordinated systems of people and technology which create value by providing access to information and resources through communication; and outsourced bureau centers, which are similar but on a “pay per use” model.
Nowadays, the modern call center includes blending inbound and outbound calls and use multichannel online and offline tools to improve customer interactions. This also comes with some drawbacks, however. The employees who work at call centers have low wages, restrictive work environments, and loads of emotional labor and stress. According to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions:
“The average age of those working in call is relatively low – 30-40 years old – but can vary greatly. Call center operators are predominately female and have, on average, worked in the company for four years. They have lower educational levels than average, although it has been suggested that call center work is becoming more qualified and specialized.
Apart from the necessary product-based knowledge (highly skilled professionals such as nurses or stockbrokers can also work in situations similar to call centers), there are few required qualifications for those seeking to become operators. Personal traits, such as good customer skills, are appreciated, but previous work experience is seldom a prerequisite. Training normally lasts two to six weeks, after which operators are encouraged to become self-sufficient”
And the number of skilled professional call centers are limited. Some call centers can just say they are medical call centers if they have a couple of trained people while the rest have “few qualifications” and little to no previous work experience in a call center or in the medical field. Their study showed that 9 out of 10 of operators experience physical ailment in the past month.
That goes for call centers in countries where the first language is English. The same or similar goes for other call centers with additional hurdles. Yes, outsourcing comes with the benefits of flexibility, consistent work for the operators, consistency during busy seasons, expansion to international markets, and updated technology that comes with call center focused businesses such as the ones overseas, but also there is a language barrier with the accents spoken overseas, the slang and different English from what, for example, Midwestern Americans speak. Additionally, the overseas call center operators know little to nothing about the products and services the customers are calling about.
It is a difficult balance to keep. But it is important to know what you want and what will work best for your company and your customers and patients.
We hope this was helpful and informative. Here are some articles we used to get this information and other articles on the topic we found interesting. Enjoy!
- “Working conditions and health in Swedish call centres”. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 2005-06-05.
- “Hourly Rate Survey Report for Industry: Call Center”. PayScale. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- “Advice regarding call centre working practices” (PDF). Health and Safety Executive. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-20. Retrieved 2008-06-05.