A History Of Customer Service

Customer service has been around in some shape or form for thousands of years, but here’s a breakdown of the modern history of the field.
Published on: Jan 10, 2024
Last updated: Jan 25, 2024

Join our community

The latest and greatest from the world of CX and support. No nonsense. No spam. Just great content.

Customer service, often considered the lifeblood of any thriving business, boasts a rich and varied history that spans millennia. Its roots can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where the concept of trade and commerce first began. Back then, customer service was all about direct, face-to-face interactions in bustling marketplaces, where merchants understood the value of establishing good relations with their customers.

Fast forward to today, we find ourselves in a digital age where customer service has been transformed beyond recognition. With the advent of the internet and digital technologies, businesses are no longer bound by geographical constraints. They can now serve customers from around the globe, at any time, and through various channels — a far cry from the days of personal interactions in physical marketplaces.

This article aims to take you on a journey through the fascinating evolution of customer service. From its origins during the Industrial Revolution to the transformative digital era, we will explore the milestones, innovations, and trends that have shaped customer service as we know it today. Join us as we delve into this intriguing history and look ahead at what the future might hold for customer service.

The genesis of customer service

The genesis of customer service hails from the ancient civilizations of Rome and Greece. These early societies held the seeds of modern commerce, where merchants recognized the importance of fostering good relations with their customers. They understood that their livelihood was not merely about selling goods or services but also about creating meaningful connections with those who purchased from them.

This understanding stemmed from the realization that repeat business was critical for survival. Rather than focusing solely on attracting new customers, these merchants prioritized keeping their existing ones happy. This idea was revolutionary at its time; it laid the foundation for what we now recognize as customer service.

The concept of customer service in these early times was simple yet profound: treat your customers well, and they will return. It was a symbiotic relationship between the merchant and the customer, characterized by mutual respect and understanding.

The industrial revolution

The Industrial Revolution, a transformative period from approximately 1760 to 1840, was marked by a shift from handmade goods in small workshops to machine-made products in large-scale factories. This era saw a boom in economic growth and a surge in consumerism as the general population's income increased. This sudden influx of products and transactions necessitated the emergence of customer service.

An image that captures this era is an 18th-century factory buzzing with activity during the Industrial Revolution. The setting is a stark contrast to the modern-day call centers or digital platforms that we associate with customer service today.

Customer service in the Industrial Revolution was vastly different from what we know today. Without the convenience of telephones or the internet, it was primarily a face-to-face interaction. If a customer was dissatisfied with a product, their only recourse was to make a physical trip back to the store and directly voice their concerns to the seller. This form of customer service was direct and personal.

These interactions were not just about problem-solving but also served as opportunities for sellers to establish rapport with their customers, understand their needs, and gain insights into their preferences. It was a time when customer service was less about scripted responses and more about genuine human connections.

The telephone era

The single most important transformation in customer service came in 1876 with Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone. The birth of the telephone era sparked a transformative phase in customer service, transitioning from in-person exchanges to voice-based communication.

The 1960s saw businesses turn to 'answering services,' precursors to the modern call centers, which came into official existence only in 1983. These services employed live operators who efficiently handled messages and relayed information, even alerting clients about essential calls.

As the late 1970s rolled around, call center technology diversified to include services like telephone sales, airline bookings, and banking operations, thus expanding the domain of customer service.

A significant milestone achieved in the early 80s was the advent of toll-free phone numbers, initiated by AT&T in the US. This move, symbolized by the 0800 prefix, allowed customers to reach businesses at no or minimal cost, which was particularly beneficial when long-distance calls were expensive.

The trend of outsourcing call centers to countries with different time zones, like India and the Philippines, became popular in the late 80s and the 90s. This approach ensured 24/7 support and cost-effectiveness for businesses, leading to prompt responses to customer queries.

Social media and customer service

The advent of social media platforms in the early 21st century marked another major milestone in the history of customer service. With the rise of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, customer service became part of many very public conversations. Customers now had a platform to voice their concerns or complaints, making it crucial for businesses to manage their online reputation.

Customer service via social media was also a game-changer as it allowed for immediate and public responses to customer inquiries, further enhancing the speed and efficiency of businesses in resolving issues. This shift towards social media marked a significant change in consumer behavior, with customers expecting instant gratification and quick solutions.

The digital transformation: cobrowsing and session replays

In recent years, the digital transformation of customer service has reached new heights with the introduction of technologies such as cobrowsing and session replays. Co browsing allows customer service agents to view and interact with a customer's web browser in real-time, enabling them to provide direct assistance by gaining control of a user’s browser screen and guiding them through solutions.

On the other hand, session replays allow customer service teams to replay a user's session to understand exactly what the user saw and did on their website or web app. This technology can help identify usability issues and provide insights into customer behavior.

These technologies have revolutionized the field of customer service, allowing businesses to provide more efficient and personalized support while reducing time-to-resolution and improving other crucial CX metrics like CSAT and NPS. They have also brought about a shift from reactive to proactive customer service, where businesses can anticipate and address customer issues before they escalate.

The future of customer service

As the future unfolds, customer service paradigms will continue to evolve, shaped by emerging technologies like generative AI and shifting consumer expectations. However, the crux of successful customer service remains constant: providing personalized and empathetic interactions. No matter the medium or format, understanding the individual customer's needs and preferences and tailoring responses and solutions accordingly drive customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Even with advanced digital tools and AI-driven interfaces, the human element – listening, understanding, and rendering personalized service – remains paramount. The future of customer service, therefore, hinges not just on technological prowess but equally on preserving the authentic, personalized touch that makes customers feel valued and understood.

Wrapping it up

The evolution of customer service has come a long way from its roots in the Industrial Revolution. From in-person interactions to telephone services and now social media and digital tools, one thing remains constant – the importance of human connections.

In this fast-paced digital world, businesses must strive to maintain that personal touch with their customers while embracing technological advancements. By striking a balance between efficiency and personalization, customer service will continue to evolve and adapt, making each interaction a positive and memorable experience for both the customers and the businesses. So, let's embrace these changes and continue to build strong relationships with our customers through excellent customer service.


Shifa Rahaman

Content Marketing Manager


Guide customers to faster resolutions
Cobrowse with screen control
Highlight on screen
Integrate with Zendesk and more
Take interactive demo
Table of contents:

Related articles

Supercharge customer support

Discover customer and product issues with instant replays, in-app cobrowsing, and console logs.

Get Started
Start on our forever free plan and upgrade to pro anytime.
Or try the product tour
Arrow right