Remembering the Call Center of the Past- 1985

September 1, 2017

Article written by Expivia CEO Thomas Laird

I have read and written many articles on the future of customer service and the future of the contact center. I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and try to get a discussion on the “old” days. The days when outbound calling was huge, before the advanced telephony, skills-based routing, and the CTI (or any computers for that matter!!)that we have today.

I started working in a 500 seat center in Erie PA when I was in my teens. From stuffing envelopes, filling vending machines, typing scripts to taking and making sales and service calls, I did it all in those days growing up especially during summer vacations in high school and college.

1985 Outbound

We did a lot of outbound calling in those days (1985-1990) mostly for financial institutions. We did a TON of outbound credit card sales. By the time I was 12 I knew what an APR and Grace periods were. There was no database programming or predictive dialing. All calling was done on old handset phones like the picture above using pressure-sensitive labels that had the potential customers name and address on it.

We had to make sure our associates were calling the proper time zones during the day so we used highlighter colors to make sure everyone knew what labels we should be calling when. I still remember it, red was for the East Coast time zone, blue for the Central time zone, yellow was Mountain and orange represented the Pacific time zone. I would take the highlighter and drag down the center of each of the labels the color of the specific time zone before they went to the floor to make sure we were in compliance with the relatively loose TCPA regs at that time. Hard to remember the days before any DNC lists!

Once the labels got to the floor the associate would hand dial each label. If they got a “no” they would cross off the label, no answer they would leave it alone to be called back later, and if they got a sale the sticker would be given to a supervisor. All the sales were processed freehand on a paper application that was faxed (cool technology) or mailed to the client daily. I still remember associates passing around labels for others to call if they heard a funny answering machine or called a strange place.

Even in our call center today I still ask our supervisors “how many sales or applications have we written” even though the days of actually writing on paper have long gone.


Many centers had many techniques for how scripting was done. I remember we did our scripts in flipbooks that we had in each booth. Actually, it was a pretty ingenious system. This way the associates could read an opening and then flip quickly to the rebuttal sheet when they needed it. All the disclosures were on these flipbooks as well. It was a much better system than having different scripts pinned all over the workstation. Even in those days, we were always trying to innovate!

Inbound aka Take a Ride on the Daisy Chain!

Our inbound customer service was basic as well back in 1985. Without getting very technical here we had a bunch of phone lines that came in and rang in order booth by the booth (daisy chain). There was no average wait time or expert agent routing. We did not even know how many calls we were abandoning or how many were in the queue. That is one of the questions that I will ask when I’m in heaven!

We had no stats except for calls offered and yes/no’s. There was no CRM software as well. We had customer files written down on index cards with important information that we would update as our basic CRM. Thinking about it now how frustrating it had to of been for customers to get questions answered and problems solved without even a database with their information.


Because of all the amount of paper applications, fulfillment was a busy department, one that really does not exist at all in the same form today. I remember folding and stuffing envelopes until my fingers had so many paper cuts I couldn’t hold a folk for dinner.

Call Center Room

Back in the later 8o’s we still allowed smoking in the call center! That seems like such a crazy thing now. After we got tired of the burn holes in the workstations we told the associates they had to go to a smoking room down the hall from the center. I imagine that room would still smell like smoke today.

I also remember we had a giant map of the USA that I helped paint on the wall using an overhead projector. We painted each state the color of the labels so no one would get confused!


One of the biggest changes was the cost of telephony. Back in the day we would pay 15-16 cents a minute and thought we had an AWESOME deal. Every month boxes of phone bills would be delivered to our offices. The cost per month would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars!!! With VOIP, cloud technology, and telephony costs under one cent, it’s crazy to think of how far the industry has come in a relatively short period of time. I still can’t believe we paid that!!!

The funny things that you remember. The good Ole days!

Amazing how quickly things change.

A cloud contact center was a pipe dream back then.  Speech analytics…Chatbots…those were the things of science fiction.  Now they are an everyday practice!

Would love to hear some of the stories of your call center of yesteryear (and yes yesteryear is one word, just looked it up!). How did you handle inbound? What early technologies did you use? How did you call outbound?

Looking at the flip-side of this, take a look at the future of the Contact Center here on our Blog article entitled “The 10 Ways You Should Be Disrupting Your Call Center”

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