A brief history of the UK call centre industry

Call Centre Evolution

Within the UK, many of us will have come into contact with some variety of a call centre at some point in time, whether it be through making a call out to a call centre in order to speak to their insurance provider or bank for example, or perhaps they would have received a cold call from a call centre trying to sell them something. What many people don’t realise is the history behind the call centres, and how their presence within the UK has fundamentally changed over time.

The Automatic Call Distributor

The inception of the call centre, many people believe, is coupled with the development of ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) technology thought to be created by an American organisation, Rockwell. Whilst there are many people that would dispute the that Rockwell were the first company to install an ACD, it certainly was one of the first.

The First Call Centres

By the early 1970s PBX systems were starting to be rolled out with the inclusion of ACD technology, which allowed the development of large scale cal centres. Some of the organisations that were early adopters of the technology include Barclaycard and British Gas.

The Outsourcing Movement

As the number and the size of call centres increased significantly over the years, many organisations decided to move all of their call centre operations overseas to countries such as India and the Philippines in order to take advantage of the significantly cheaper labour available in those countries. Whilst the organisations that undertook such a move enjoyed a significant reduction in their operating costs, there was a negative element to the move. Whether this was true or not, there was a perception from many people in the UK that call centre agents based overseas weren’t capable of dealing with customers calls effectively, which lead to many stereotypes being formed about overseas call centre operations. Whether this assertion was true or not, the stereotypes proved to be pivotal in the next transition of the call centre industry.

The Return to the UK

Due to the negative stereotypes that had formed towards overseas call centres, many organisations decided to return their call centre operations back to the UK. Not only did these organisations move their call centres back to the UK, but many used the fact that they operate their call centres within the UK as a selling point, in effect adding their weight to the negative stereotypes associated with overseas call centres.

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