The Technology-Driven Evolution of Call Centers

In today’s customer support ecosystem, the usage of call centers comes as no surprise to callers. Whether a customer needs to inquire about a lost package, make a change to their bank account, or troubleshoot issues with a computer part, chances are that the support number they call is going to direct them to a call center. 

But how call centers exist today takes place within a much larger ecosystem of customer support–one that involves far more channels and processes than simply making or answering calls.

Over the course of my career, I have had the great pleasure of working for some of the pioneers in the call center industry. Looking back at how call centers have evolved over the past several decades, it’s quite an evolution story.

Calls Centers, Contact Centers, and BPOs… Oh my!

While call centers are commonplace today, this wasn’t always the case. One of the earliest instances of companies changing the customer service game was Sears, which established the first Work At Home (WAH) program enabling agents to call people from phone books and sign them up for the Sears credit card. Then came the advent of key telephone systems (one line, one phone) morphing into large PBX systems (many lines to many phones) to support increased call volume. And finally, technology tied it all together with automatic phone dialing (outbound) and automatic call distribution or ACD (inbound) and: poof! Call centers were born.

Technological advancements to call centers didn’t only come in the form of PBXs and ACDs. With the advent of the internet, several new channels were introduced into the customer support ecosystem: email, social channels, live chat, and chatbots. Just like that, “call center” was no longer a broad enough term for all the operational services provided, and poof! Call centers became contact centers, offering omnichannel support for all.

As large, process-driven companies such as IBM and Accenture jumped on board, they began outsourcing back-office operations from their contact centers. And once again, poof: Business Process Outsourcers (BPOs) are born. Now any operation offering front office (customer-facing) and back-office (administrative, accounting, and paper-shuffling) is a BPO.

Labor Arbitrage and Further Evolutions

Of course, the evolution doesn’t end there. Brands sought to reduce the cost of labor while maintaining a staff of agents that could support English-speaking customers, and as a result, labor arbitrage was welcomed to the party. This is where we began to see businesses offshore customer support operations to nations such as India and Philippines–a practice which is commonplace today. 

I had the pleasure firsthand of watching the Philippines explode from a few hundred seats (AOL, Sykes, and eTelecare) to hundreds of thousands, with just about every major logo in the world jumping onboard. It took some years as companies got used to outsourcing nearshore and offshore, but today in 2022, call centers are all over the world servicing not only customers in their native countries, but English-speaking countries as well. 

Typically, offshore call centers are able to support monolingual communications–English-to-English, Spanish-to-Spanish, French-to-French… you get the idea. There also exist multilingual environments–think Spanish-to-English or vice versa. That said, it’s usually, if not always, more expensive to have multilingual reps in your labor pool.

But what if it wasn’t? 

The Future of Contact Centers: Multilingual Support For All

By definition, a polyglot is “a person who knows and is able to use several languages.” We aren’t just talking bi- or tri-lingual here; we’re talking about many languages. How about 100+? 

Seems like a fantasy, doesn’t it?

But it isn’t. In fact, it’s the next evolution in the world of BPOs: taking English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Japanese native speakers (among others) and allowing them to communicate in over 100 languages, all in real time.  

Email? No problem. Service tickets? No problem. Chat? No problem. Back-office articles & papers? All not a problem. All of these internal and external resources can be translated with the push of a button through AI-enabled technology.

I am extremely excited to be at the forefront of this next evolution with a company that is defining what it means to service your customers in their voices on the global stage. Language I/O is bringing the world closer together with its cutting-edge technology. Our connectors integrate seamlessly with your CRM (meaning translations take place within the agent workspace) and our proprietary machine translation platform can be configured in a matter of hours, empowering your monolingual agents to become polyglots.

And poof! There you have it: the next evolution in the world of BPOs.

If you want more information on how Language I/O is transforming BPOs and contact centers, contact us here or request a demo. You can even take our machine translation portal for a test run through our free trial.

Bill McLaughlin

Enterprise Account Executive

Having recently joined Language I/O, Bill brings more than 25 years of experience in the telco and BPO industries, including starting his own BPO. His extensive experience includes auditing and consulting customer experience initiatives in the healthcare and financial services sectors, as well as advising on multilingual operations.