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A brief history of call centers
There is a common myth around the creation of call centers – that Rockwell built the first call center technology for Continental Airlines to allow for telephone booking. This happened in 1973, and certainly is one of the first examples of a commercial call center which takes calls from the public, but it is not the first ever call center.
The technology which allows many agents to answer calls made to the same line is an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD), uses an algorithm to send each call to the best possible agent, replacing the role of a human operator, who would have to personally answer and redirect every call. This technology was first developed in the 1950s, two decades before Rockwell created their call center.
ACDs were used with Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) to take and direct calls to agents, and the first ACDs were likely to have been used at major telephone exchanges, relieving the workload of the operators. In 1965, the Birmingham Press and Mail opened the first UK call center using an ACD, and in 1972, Barclaycard set up a call center capable of handling up to 72 enquiries. British Gas also set up a customer contact center in the same year which handled 20,000 calls a week. It was the first multi-lingual call center, taking customer enquiries in English and Welsh, a fact that astounded many customers who were calling from Wales, speaking Welsh, but conversing with someone many miles away in England.
The actual term “call center” was first used in 1983 by Data Communications, a trade publication for the communications industry. Since then many companies have built their business model around telephone communications, notably insurance companies and banks. So, we know that call centers, as we know them, were springing up from the 1960s onwards and the rest, as they say, is history.