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In many ways, customer service is a practice defined by technology.

While the notion of customer service has likely been around as long as there have been merchants and traders, what we understand as customer service today can be traced back to the telephone. From there, it was a gradual progression to the modern call centre – and a sudden, drastic shift to the online world.

New technologies have brought new methods for conducting customer service, making the process easier and more productive. At the same time, however, the detachment created by the internet – and ability to outsource customer service – have created problems as well as solutions. What’s stayed consistent across the years is the value of the human factor, and the benefits of great people skills.

How customer service technology developed

Customer service has come a long way. From the first discount codes and money-back guarantees in the 1800s, the increasing scale of businesses began to demand a purpose-built infrastructure for helping customers. Industrialisation and globalisation meant that business was no longer something conducted locally, but remotely. In the simplest terms, the person who sold you an item stopped being the person who made it. 

The 1960s was a decade that would define customer service through two key inventions: the Private Automatic Business Exchange (PABX) and email. The PABX would facilitate what we now know as call centres, where multiple calls are routed to individual operators within a single location. The primitive email system developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) meanwhile would not only presage the dominance of email, but the chat bots of the future. 

Today’s customer service landscape is hugely varied. As well as telephone and email support, customers can now contact customer service representatives using service desks, social media and chatbots, where the customer leaves a message for the representative to respond to. This not only prevents the customer from having to sit on hold, but enables representatives to multi-task, using the downtime in conversations to answer other queries. 

What’s remarkable is that each step in the customer service journey hadn’t superseded the others. While new technologies enable us to connect more quickly and directly with customers, almost every means of communication is still in use. Call centres remain a central pillar of customer service even as digital methods grow in scope – and the human factor in customer service is as important as ever. 

How technology has improved customer service

These developments in customer service technology have massively changed the way businesses interact with their customers. Perhaps the most obvious change is the sheer availability of customer service. While call centres still have something of a reputation for wait times, the burden on them has been significantly alleviated by digital solutions. 

With more ways to access customer service, outcomes are generally better, and people can choose the method they prefer. Some people prefer to speak to a real person, and the clarity and directness this provides; while others would prefer not to have to speak to anyone directly, either because they don’t have the time, or because they simply don’t like talking over the phone. 

Digital technology has also decreased the burden on customer service personnel. The use of live chat and help or service desks has allowed customer service interactions to be queued, with representatives responding to them when they are available. This not only allows for more urgent enquiries to be prioritised, but for multiple enquiries to be fielded at once. While the representative waits for one customer to respond, they can field the questions of another. 

Other technologies remove the human element entirely. Chat bots, automated voice lines, FAQ pages and support sites can all answer common questions, and provide steps for customers to go through before they need to talk to a customer service representative. This both reduces the number of calls or messages that representatives have to field, and the steps they have to take during an interaction, as the customer will hopefully have completed some of them already. 

Addressing gaps in customer service technology

Of course, modern technology is not without its limitations. Forms of digital communication such as emails and help desks are preferable for some people, but they are by their nature impersonal. However hard someone tries to get across that they are a real person behind their computer screen, there is a level of detachment. This feeling of not speaking to a real person can be exacerbated by a lack of responsiveness, or poor language skills. 

What’s more, the upsides of digital customer service tools have led some companies to use them disproportionately. In many cases, chatbots and live chat are the primary means of contacting a business for customer support. Sometimes it’s necessary to jump through multiple hoops to even speak to a real person, with Q&A pages that lead you in circles through answers that don’t relate precisely to your question. 

This is a particular problem in the closed ecosystem of an app, which may not include the alternative contact details you’d normally find on a website. This kind of obfuscation of traditional customer support methods can seem like a deliberate attempt to make customer support so difficult that the customer simply gives up, and lives with the problem. While this may save money, it’s clearly counterproductive, and serves to damage your reputation.

The increasing reliance on new methods of customer service is also causing old skills to lapse. Customer service representatives more used to drafting emails are sometimes struggling to field phone calls, and interact with customers to solve complex issues. The culture of only using telephone customer service as a last resort for escalated complaints puts more of a burden on fewer customer service staff, who are often under-equipped to deal with the resulting fallout.

Avoiding these issues means taking a few concerted steps. First, it means finding a balance between personal and impersonal methods, saving money where possible without impacting the quality of service. Second, it means making the right methods for each person and problem immediately available. And third, it means seeing customer service as an investment – in building trust with your customers, a reputation for your business, and a means of improving your products and services. 


Digital technology has revolutionised the world, and this includes customer service. Yet as new methods of interacting with customers have been adopted and improved, old methods such as telephone and face-to-face customer service remain relevant. What’s important for businesses is to adopt technologies with a view to how they can improve the customer service experience, rather than the savings they offer.

An ideal modern customer service solution combines the accessibility and convenience of digital solutions with more personal forms of communication. Used correctly, digital tools can help to serve the most common and least pressing enquiries – allowing trained customer service personnel to dedicate their time to solving more serious problems, and improving customer relationships.

Are you looking to develop your customer service
training programme?

At Kent Trainers we offer a range of customer service training courses, including our the popular 'Professional Customer Service Skills' and 'Dealing with Customer Complaints and Confrontation'. We pride ourselves on adapting our courses to the needs of businesses, and will work with you to provide training that improves your customer service outcomes. For more information about how we can help you develop your customer service training, contact us today.

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Mark Fryer

28th April 2022

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