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A Brief History of Call Center Agents

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Author: TCN

Individuals have been selling, explaining, and promoting products, services, and ideas over the phone since telephones were invented. 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:

Call Centers Originate in 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 ladies worked from home, dialing friends and neighbors in an attempt to sell baked goods to bring extra money into the household. That 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 gave consumers the ability to respond to advertisements for free, thus creating the position of inbound call center agent.

1991 Law Restricts Call Center Operations

Call centers continued to flourish until a backlash from consumers 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 on the sales process.

As technology continued to advance and the use of predictive dialers took over the call center industry, in October of 2013 the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) tweaked the law requiring prior 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.

Call Center Agents Have Varied Job Description

Just as the technology driving call centers has changed dramatically, so, too, 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 within the law and the requirements of the niche they service. A good call center agent is dependable, able to deal with emotional customers, and has the skill to drive a call to the desired conclusion.

Call center agents who deal with sales typically require more training and 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 production of the entire team.

Call Centers of Future Will be Web-based

Industry experts see the future of call centers as more web-based, with an emphasis on web chat and social media outlets. Customer service web chat is already popular, as customers seem to feel more at ease typing in questions and answers as opposed to conversing with a stranger. Web chat still provides a unique opportunity for talented call center agents to upsell the customer on the latest accessory or service.

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 have a dramatic impact on an organization being excellent… or simply average. The key to attaining optimal productivity in a call center is balancing strategic and compliant technology use with effective people management.

Download the TCPA Compliance Checklist eBook to keep your agents and call center on track with the new TCPA regulations.

About the Author: TCN


TCN is a global provider of a comprehensive, cloud-based call center platform for enterprises, contact centers, business process outsourcing firms (BPOs) and collection agencies. Founded in 1999, TCN combines a deep understanding of the needs of call centers with a unique approach to pricing – no contracts, monthly minimums or maintenance fees – that supports rapid scaling and instant flexibility to changing business needs. TCN’s contact center platform, TCN Operator, features a holistic set of easy-to-use, automated agent tools and advanced apps for omnichannel communications, workforce engagement, compliance & data management, integration & automation, intelligence, reporting & analytics and collaboration & accessibility. TCN is trusted by Fortune 500 companies and enterprises of all sizes in multiple industries in many countries.