Customer service has come a long way from the days when people had to physically travel to storefront locations to buy, return or ask questions. Today, customer service is teeming with technological advancements that allow companies to provide more seamless and simpler customer experiences. It's expected that companies can provide 24/7 support across multiple channels through various outlets, but this wasn't always the case.
Way Back When...
Since the beginnings of transactional services, customer service has pretty much always existed. Pre-telephone, customer service was limited to face-to-face interactions during store open hours. 1876 and then 1894 were great milestones for customer service with the invention of the telephone and then the switchboard respectively. In the 1960s, Private Automated Business Exchanges, or in more understandable terms, call centers, came into prominence. This was truly the beginnings of what are now customer service departments. These early call centers represented a shift in technology to aid efficiency. At this time, customer service agents were focused solely on answering and resolving existing customer issues during the hours of 9am to 5pm, five days a week. Another big change for the customer service industry came in 1967 when AT&T first introduced the 1-800 toll free number, allowing customers to contact specific companies without the hassle of collect calling or going through an operator. This new system provided a faster and more cost-effective way for consumers to reach customer service departments without having to go through a middleman.
In the early 1990s something many of us can't live without today came into existence, the internet. This gave companies a new channel through which to reach their customers and provided an easier way to offer 24/7 support. By 1996, internet usage had grown enough to allow businesses to utilize email and chat to personally connect with most customers, lopping out middlemen once again. In 2008, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter really took hold in the lives of consumers and highly customer-oriented businesses saw these platforms as yet another channel to market and connect with their customers. In the past year or so, more and more companies have finally jumped aboard to provide social media customer service.
With the advent of mobile apps, self-service options, AI, chatbots and the like, customer service is unlike what it was before. Today, technology and humans are able to work together to create seamless and simple customer service interactions, available at any time of the day, any day, in any timezone and on almost any channel. With each passing day, technology increasingly allows companies to offer more, but it only works if a company actually adopts and integrates these changes.
Few companies today are actually leveraging all the technologies available and successfully integrating them into their operations to enhance the customer experience. Amazon is a great example of a company who can. Not only is Amazon a vast and efficient marketplace with options ranging from standard delivery to same day delivery, Amazon is also innovating in other parts of the consumer equation. For starters, they've built a connected virtual personal assistant, the Echo, or better known as Alexa. They have introduced their own e-reader, a video platform and fresh grocery delivery service to name a few. They also quite simply have one of the best hassle-free customer service and return processes out there. Every touchpoint with Amazon is simple, easy and fast.
From switchboards to call centers to 24/7 omni-channel support, customer service has come a long way. No longer is support only available 9-5, 5 days a week. No longer is the company in control of where interactions take place. No longer do customers have to wait on hold for hours and then spend hours on the line with a customer service agent who can't always help solve their needs. Customer service has not always been seen as an important part of the livelihood of a business but today, successful businesses are the ones who bring customer service to the forefront and adopt the technologies available that make both their lives easier but more importantly, the lives of their customers easier.