It is interesting to read about the history of our trade. However, a lot of articles and books start off with the invention of the telephone. I believe that customer service started much earlier. Let’s have a look into history today.
The very first known vending machine is a holy water dispenser that was coin operated, invented by Hero of Alexandria around the year 65 A.D. This is for sure a customer service machine, that supplied customers with a requested service in exchange of a coin. But since coins already existed, trade would exist too. So we need to see into the history of trade as well.
“Follow the money” is a catchphrase to identify corruption, but also a good indicator to find out where customer service started. I guess if money was involved it would be logical that somebody had something that other people requested to trade for money, and with trade you have competition and with competition you have some degree of customer service or at least some marketing to get the business. The first know mass produced coin is from Aegina, a small but important island outside the coast of Greece. The first know stamped coin is dated back to about 700 years B.C.
Trade was a huge business at this time, as it is also today. The first stamped coin, is not the first coin. The stamp occurred as it had a need to secure legitimacy. So coins existed already and are found in both India and China at the time, but without stamps. In China they used metal coins with holes in order to tread them on a string.
The emerging need of coins
So why did we get coins, and what purpose did it hold? Trade without money has a longer history and other commodities were used to trade goods. Traces of trade with obsidian has been followed back to about 17000 B.C in Guinea. But before coins and other methods of payment there was barter. The need of trading one item with another of similar value or based on needs. Barter had some major problem that needed to be solved. First of all, value, it is easy to be fooled and trade down in quality. And what if you had some commodities that was in surplus, and could not trade what you need, because the supplier of your wants did not want what you had to offer? The next problem is food. The trade with grain and other food commodities with a time limit due to possibilities to spoil created a problem. You could not use that to trade with products with a different season, or save it for a better deal later on. So the invention of an in-between product, a payment method that would grant you the value of your goods was introduced.
Customer service started when the first human traded something with another outside their tribe in order to make themselves a better life. The first customer would probably not be able to complain or the first trader would probably be beaten up? Somethings never change.
Modern history customer service
In the first paragraph I mentioned the telephone. It is a very important invention in the history of customer service. But both money, trade, and guilds have been around for much longer than the telephone. Guilds traces back to the medieval ages, and is a quality seal for master craftsmen of that time. However, it would not be easy for a customer to complain or to return goods. Normally you would need to repair things yourself, bring it to a repair man or wait for a repair man. These repair men would offer a service in trade for money. But so far the seller was in full control and customers had little chance to complain. Fraud was another way to make money.
The emerge of consumer protection
“Lex Julia de Annona” is a phrase to search for if you would like to find the spur of consumer protection. This is a law from Rome around 50 B.C to protect grain trade. Every law has a reason and apparently destroying competition was a common problem, as this law force the protection of incoming ships from being destroyed or stopped. Heavy fines would be the penalty. This is not a consumer protection law but it prevents monopoly and by extension secure better prices for the consumers.
Consumers have been in existence since the beginning of trade, but we need to go back to the late 18th and the beginning of 19th centuries to find the start of consumer protection movement and new laws emerging in both the US and Europe.
The telephone is for sure an important invention in the history of call centers, but customer service started off as a face to face event long before modern tools of communication emerged. The telephone made it easier for the consumers to get in touch with the providers and vice versa. The telephone was invented in 1876, and the first call center emerged in the 1960’s. Consumers need for communication and modern production capacity created providers with large amount of customers. And to handle all the calls in a good way, call centers emerged as a customer service tool that grew to become a much loved and hated service with the introduction of voice recognition tools and self-service systems providing almost no human interaction. “Press five for filing a complaint on our IVR-system and to talk to a real human being”
From customer service to customer experience
Customer service is no longer enough, today it is about the experience. Social media is powerful, employees’ private statements in blogs and other social media mediums are directly influencing business. A company car with a logo speeding might get you a complaint. It is how a consumer experience your brand that matter today. People want to connect with humans, they want to feel valued. The service and experience are tailored to each individual needs. Products can be mass manufactured with individual colors and shapes. Robotics and modern technology manage to mass produce individuality – a paradise for modern humans whom values individuality, and with an ironic twist we rebel by going back to barter and social sharing consumerism. Creating a whole new customer social experience all together.
Where will it go from here?