The history of call center culture is fascinating. When did call centers start? What was the first business to use a call center? Read on to learn the answers to these questions and let them take you by surprise.

The History of Call Center Usage

Telephones were invented in 1876, and the switchboard followed shortly thereafter. While call centers didn’t exist until several decades later, businesses had been exploiting this novel technology since around the turn of the 20th century.

When did call centers themselves start? The first commercial inbound call centers were established in the 1960s. The telephone had already found its place in the marketing world, but this was when businesses started using internal teams for farming customers and communicating with their patrons.

This method of handling incoming calls made it easier to provide excellent customer service to more customers, especially before the advent of digital telephone technology. These teams didn’t work in facilities called “call centers” at the time, though. This term didn’t crop up until 1983; the practice technically predates the trade in a modern regard.

What Was the First Business to Use a Call Center?woman in call center office

Fun fact: the first “call centers” are often attributed to housewives in the UK, selling pastries to neighbors in the 1960s.

While these change-makers were the first to attempt a telephone-based outbound marketing model, the first commercial venture to utilize a rudimentary formal call center was the Birmingham Press and Mail, circa 1960, also based in the United Kingdom.

Shortly after, Rockwell International rolled out its own proprietary call center system, the Galaxy Automatic Call Distributor. Of call center fame, these two progenitors are credited with standardizing and formalizing the practice. The rest is history.

The History of Call Center Technology

Originally, call center operators would tackle each customer individually. Over time, the need to manage many calls at once—often by relatively few employees—set the stage for innovation over 80 years.

Private, automated business exchange (PABX) systems were among the first landmark achievements in this profession. Through these systems, customer service representatives could manage high volumes of callers using relatively few lines.

In the 1960s, we finally began to see call centers established similarly to those existing today. The industry continued to evolve well into the 1970s and 1980s. Around this time, outbound telemarketing became a common business practice, and toll-free 800 numbers provided a simple and easy-to-remember number for customers to use.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s and the early 2000s that larger corporate ventures began to outsource their call center needs to other countries. Technical support from India, customer support from the Philippines, and other offshore centers provided jobs to locals abroad and enabled the largest businesses to effectively address every call in kind.

With that said, there are still a great many domestic call center services. Texas is the state with the most resident call center employees; according to Statista, over 288,000 Texans were employed in call centers in 2018.

Call Center Activity in the Law

The 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), signed into law by U.S. President George H. W. Bush, was the first major milestone protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing efforts.

This act limits unsolicited calls from businesses and imposes some restrictions on using automated tools. This includes not only telephone activity, but also SMS text campaigns, pre-recorded voice messages, and even the use of fax machines for marketing outreach.

Nearly a decade later, the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 was enacted by his son, U.S. President George W. Bush. This addition makes commercial callers beholden to a national registry of household phone numbers. Registering yourself should (in theory) block your phone line from unwanted spam calls and other forms of telemarketing.

Call Centers and the Future Ahead

The history of call center use in a commercial setting is long, thought-provoking, and fraught with lore.

Thanks to the internet, email marketing, and ubiquitous text messaging, businesses have many avenues into devices. But despite the variety, both inbound and outbound call centers remain a vital cog of many business models, particularly in businesses lacking brick-and-mortar locales.

There are many possible applications of the modern call center—cold calling, research teams, and customer support are only the beginning. Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can support your business with a dedicated call center team.