While browsing Pinterest the other day, I came across this photo of a phone operator from 1911. It made me stop and think about the technology we use to interact with customers today and how those lines of communication have evolved over the years. So I did a little research…


I guess you could consider the beginning of modern customer service to be Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876. However, the origins of customer service as we know it began in the early sixties, when companies began to institute call centers and hire employees solely to handle customer service issues.[i] This is also the decade where we saw the invention of the 1-800 number, which allowed customers to make calls to a company without having to pay a toll to connect with an operator.

1970s & 1980s

Fast forward to the late seventies and early eighties when Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology started to take shape. IVR is the technology that allows computers to interact with customers via voice and phone keypads – essentially the ability to get information from a recording with spoken prompts, or, if all else fails, “press 1 for customer service.” [ii] This was one of the biggest achievements in customer service history because it drastically cut down on customer wait times, but early forms of the system were notoriously glitchy.


As time passed, IVR technology continued to improve and we saw huge improvements to the customer service experience as a whole take shape in the 90s. The introduction of the Internet brought companies the ability to assist customers more quickly and efficiently with the use of email and instant messaging. Company websites were created to provide information to the masses, and they also began to add help desks and live support to address the customers’ growing frustrations with phone trees. [iii]


Customer service has come a long way. Now, both companies and consumers are able to utilize social media, mobile apps, and other technology to ease access to technological and customer support. Online platforms allow users to handle many tasks on their own without having to call, and important information can be accessed from their smart phones. Texting and instant messaging allows data to pass between the company and the customer quickly and efficiently – a far cry from switchboards and rotary phones. The capabilities for technology continue to rise, so there is no telling what the future of customer service holds.

[i] “The History of the Call Centre.” January 19, 2011. Retrieved from callcenterhelper.com.

[ii] Tolentino, Jamie. “Enhancing customer engagement with interactive voice response. April 20, 2015. Retrieved from thenextweb.com.

[iii] Herchberger, Marc. “The Complete History of Customer Service Operations.” March 31, 2014. Retrieved from eventusg.com.

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2 responses to “Customer Service Then & Now”

  1. Central’s customer service is second to none.

    1. Thanks, Jan! 🙂

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