The history of Customer Service

The history of Customer Service

The most important for companies has always been to have customers and increase sales. One of the ways was not only to take but also to give. Therefore, with time companies started to develop solutions to improve their relationship with customers. At the very beginning, we had to walk to the shop to file a complaint and be rather lucky, if someone even cared about the issue. But thank God the late 19th century is far in the past by now.

The invention of the telephone in 1876 started the revolution of customer service. It seemed to solve the problem of ‘distance’, however, it did not work as well as today. The calls were limited, it wasn’t possible to just call whoever and whenever you wanted. It took almost 20 years to find a solution when the world was introduced to telephone switchboard in 1894. It gave the opportunity to contact the store without going there in person.

The rise of Customer Service centers

The 60’s of the 20th century is the time of call centres. Big companies started to invest in departments dedicated to resolving customer issues through a phone. Since then we have never slowed down! At the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, the American Bell Telephone System introduced the world to a device which could dial numbers just with tones (Info-box 1)!

In the late 70’s, we are introduced to Interactive Voice Responses (IVR – Info-box 2). IVR entered the industry being expensive, very limited and buggy. It took us 10 years to improve the technology based on IVR when it was finally upgraded to handle complex and difficult phone trees (Info-box 3). The next stop on the customer service journey was outsourcing, in the early ‘90s companies began to focus more on cost-saving measures and many support centres were sent abroad (mostly to India).

In 1990 the phone trees grew in complexity, the system was getting harder and harder to handle. In the same year, the industry implemented the first help desk solutions. With the increasing popularity of the internet customer service had another chance to shine and from 1996 customers could reach the companies through e-mail and live chat. The support became more convenient and proper, customers could choose the channel which fit them the most and avoid the inconvenience of the phone (waiting on the line, interrupted call etc.). We started the year of 2000 with a lot of knowledge and a desire for development, the popularity of customer support software increased and became no longer an exception. The next step was to be where the customers are, so in 2008 companies implemented social media support as a part of their customer service. And here we are in the era of omnichannel – check our blog post “The history of Omnichannel“. Now the seamless customer experience must be a part of your company!


The technological development went really fast and really far, every new inventions and discovery of the 19th century are the proof of how amazing the human brain is. We should not forget that meanwhile, the whole world struggled with World Wars, economic depression, and The Cold War which slowed down the whole process. However, right after the world got back at its feet, the revolution began! In less than 60 years we went from simple phone calls to very complicated help desk solutions which provides a seamless omnichannel customer service experience.

Infobox 1

A new device that had a keyboard and each button had assigned a different tone, which could be used for dialling a number. Before the American Bell Telephone System introduced a phone with computer software people were using phones with rotary dialling.

Infobox 2

IVR is a telephony technology that allows humans to interact with computers, it can read a combination of touch tone and voice input. This way users can access a database via phone. The database is a collection of actions a user can take in order to interact with the system through a phone. For example: “if a user press 1 we forward the call to department 1 if a user press 2 we ask to press 1, 2 or 3; if pressed 2 and then 3 we forward the call to department 7”

Infobox 3

Phone trees are commonly used to help the customer to reach the right department. It is an automated telephone information system that speaks to the caller in real time and requests a response. For example, we call an office and we hear “for customer service press 1, to complete an order press 2 etc.”