A Brief History of Call Center Agents
Since telephones were invented, individuals have been selling, explaining and promoting products, services and ideas over the phone. However, the modern call center agent works an entirely different job than the first call center agents. Here’s a brief look at the evolution of the responsibilities of call center agents and the software they use.
Call Centers Originate in the 1960s
Although the first instance of using the telephone as a marketing tool dates back to the early 1900s when companies used phone directories to compile and sell client lists, the first call center agents were housewives in the 1950s. These women worked from home, dialing friends and neighbors to sell baked goods to bring extra money into the household. This system evolved by the 1960s with the advent of more sophisticated dialing technology and training.
WATS Line Eliminates Telemarketing Boundaries
In the 1970s, the development of Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) allowed companies to economically dial across the country with charges based on geography. Not long after, the introduction of the toll-free 800 number allowed consumers to respond to advertisements for free, thus creating the position of inbound call center agents.
1991 Law Restricts Call Center Operations
Call centers continued to flourish until consumer backlash prompted Congress to pass the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991. This law restricted the activity of call center agents, including setting a limit on when calls could be made. It additionally required solicitors to honor the National Do Not Call Registry.
The law also set limits on technology and the use of auto dialers. Companies were no longer allowed to use pre-recorded messages for sales calls. That put more pressure on agents to deliver messages and apply a human touch to the sales process.
As technology continued to advance, the use of predictive dialers took over the call center industry. In October 2013, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) tweaked the law, requiring written consent before a call center agent could contact a potential customer with a pre-recorded call. The new law includes the use of predictive dialers.
Companies and individuals found guilty of violating the law can face hefty fines. As a result, call center agents and managers became more concerned with the quality of their lists. Much of the job of a call center agent, or manager, turned into maneuvering compliance while advancing sales. Instead of merely calling prospects, call centers had to transition and make their business one of quality management, too.
In 2021, spam calls were a dime a dozen and consumers were exhausted trying to field phone calls that were important to answer and those that were unwanted. As an attempted solution, service providers were required to adopt and deploy STIR/SHAKEN — Secure Telephone Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs. This framework introduced by the FCC outlined standards to prevent fraudulent and unwanted calls while assigning certificates of authenticity to legitimate calls.
Rules and regulations clarifying how call centers, specifically in the debt collection industry, have also been put in place to ensure that consumers are treated fairly. In 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced the final rules interpreting the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA). As a result, agencies needed to change their communication practices to maintain compliance and avoid penalties.
Call Center Agents Have Various Job Descriptions
Just as the technology driving call centers has changed dramatically, so has the role of call center agents. Depending on whether they are in sales or customer service, the duties of each agent can vary greatly.
However, there is a common thread among all call center agents – serving the customer while adhering to quality service standards. Almost all call center agents have their calls monitored for quality assurance, ensuring they stay compliant and the requirements of the niche’s needs. A good call center agent is dependable, able to deal with emotional customers and has the skills to drive a call to the desired conclusion.
Call center agents who deal with sales typically require more training but deliver more value to the organization once their training is complete. Outbound agents deal with more obstacles and variables than inbound agents, creating a dynamic environment. Call center management jobs entail organizing and leading the entire team’s production.
Take a look at how to best manage daily tasks and monitor operations with The Complete Guide to Managing Call Center Agents.
The Future of Call Centers is Now
Industry experts predicted that the future of call centers would be more web-based and would have an emphasis on web chat and social media outlets. They were spot on. Through TCN’s annual consumer survey, we know that consumers prefer having options when it comes to communication channels. Customer service through chat is already popular today, as customers seem to feel more at ease communicating online with an agent through the platform of their choice. Chat also provides a unique opportunity for talented call center agents to upsell customers on the latest accessory or service through automated prompts or pre-written messages an agent can send.
Flexibility is a key component to call center technology today. Providing consumer options and opportunities is as essential to your call center’s success as your agents. This flexibility comes from advanced call center software solutions such as Omnichannel that exponentially increase your call center agent’s capacity to connect with your consumers through the use of whatever channel best suits your consumer.
While technology will continue to affect the operational dynamics of call centers and the day-to-day tasks of workers, an agent’s skill level will always dramatically impact an organization’s success. Balancing strategic and compliant technology use with effective people management is the key to attaining optimal productivity in a call center.
Request a demo to learn more about how TCN can keep your call center up to date with trends and ahead of the competition.