The three revolutions of the Contact Center: apple pies, convertibles, and social media

Marina Domínguez    3 May, 2023

Every business relationship begins with a “match”. Since the foundation of any business, no matter how small it may be, one of its main objectives is to make itself known to the world and create a two-way communication link with it that hyper-connects and builds loyalty.

We constantly receive calls from companies that want to offer us services. Or even we are the ones who contact them ourselves, requesting information or carrying out increasingly complex procedures, from any place and at any time of the day.

No one would believe that what may seem modern and even futuristic in some cases, with the use of Artificial Intelligence and bots serving customers anywhere on the planet, dates back to nothing less than a Berlin bakery at the end of the 19th century.

Apple pies

In 1881, Alfred Kranler, the young German son of the official pastry chef of the Prussian Empire and heir to his bakery in the capital, was desperate. After the death of his father, coupled with the inclement weather that plagued the harsh Berlin winters, visits to his bakery had dropped considerably and so had his sales.

Phot: Patrick Fore / Unsplash

Before going bankrupt, in a desperate attempt to maintain the legacy his father had left him, Kranler came up with a brilliant idea based on the famous “If Mohammed does not go to the mountain…”: he would publicize his cakes throughout the city by taking them to the neighborhoods so that the locals could get to know and taste them, thus reaching a wider audience.

The problem was that his ambitious project was expensive, and he didn’t have the money to hire anyone to go around selling his cakes while he was still in the workshop serving his usual clientele and making his cakes. So, he opted to buy a phone book and called the 186 telephone subscribers that the city had registered at that time to offer them his famous apfelstrudel, freshly made and warm, with the promise that he would take it home when he closed the store in the evenings.

Success was not long in coming

Kranler’s cakes went viral and in a short time he tripled his sales. People lined up at the door of the bakery in the cold winter and his business endured over time. So much so that, even today, his famous hot apple pie can still be enjoyed in the café of the same name that remains open in the German capital.

Alfred Kranler and his cakes can therefore be credited with the first telephone marketing campaign in history.

And this was just the beginning. A few decades later, another moment of business crisis of a well-known brand sharpened the ingenuity of another visionary, Lee Iacocca, and led us to what we could call the First Communication Revolution: the emergence of the Call Center.


In 1918, John Ford, the president of the most important automobile company in the United States, agreed to run for senator for the state of Michigan and bequeathed the presidency of the company to his only son, Esdel Bryan Ford.

Photo: Jorgen Hendriksen / Unsplash

The latter, with great ambition and the need to prove to his father that he had left the company in good hands, launched the largest, most luxurious and expensive model to date and named it after him. But the experiment did not go as expected and the Esdel Ford turned out to be an unreliable vehicle that consumed a lot of fuel and had notable flaws in the design and safety, which ended up being a real failure and led the company almost to bankruptcy.

Esdel died very young, and his father took back the reins of the company for a few years until he was able to leave it to his son, John Ford II. John inherited from his grandfather a complicated panorama at a time when the American financial crisis, together with his father’s bad decisions, meant that the future of the corporation was in imminent danger.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

In a display of courage, John Ford II decided to surround himself with a young team to turn the company around, giving it a fresher and more popular image by targeting the boomers of the 1960s. An audience with a small budget but eager for freedom of movement.

And the result was to invest the entire budget in the creation of the Ford Mustang, an affordable and cheeky sports car designed for that generation of young people. But it had to be made known so that it could “fall in love” with its future drivers.

The task was entrusted to Lee Iacocca, whose challenge was to sell as many units as possible in the shortest possible time in order to return to profit and continue production.

To this end, he launched an initiative in which he hired a team of telephone operators who would use the telephone to arrange visits to the dealership with as many potential customers as possible.

The success was, once again, overwhelming: the campaign lasted two and a half years and they contacted 20 million potential buyers. Each of the company’s 20,000 salespeople received more than two visits a day, day after day. Visits that would later make the Mustang in its first year its best-selling sports car of all those made up to then by the brand.

This success led Iacocca to the presidency of the company in 1970, and also to go down in history as the “Father of the Call Center”.

Subsequently, this tactic was imitated by all the world’s major corporations, which, together with the boom and deployment of telephony, made telemarketing one of the main pillars of sales revenue.

Social Networks

If we focus on Spain, the beginning of Call Centers was limited by the lack of telephones in homes until the seventies and eighties. That is why, until the 90s, coinciding with the boom of mobile telephony and the emergence of numerous operators, the companies that had a team of teleoperators for customer service were very limited.

Photo: Adem Ay / Unsplash

Pioneering examples were, for example, the banking sector with La Caixa in the late 80s. The telephone operators subsequently evolved their relationship with customers via telephone. They did not stop there but turned the Telephone Centers into Contact Centers where thousands of operators, in addition to answering calls, approached customers through other emerging channels such as mail, chat or SMS. This opened up a range of possibilities that would facilitate the task of reaching more people in less time. We would then be in the Second Communication Revolution, the rise of Contact Centers.

All this meant that the technology that provided the link we mentioned at the beginning had to evolve rapidly, as well as providing it with security and immediacy.

With the pandemic, the relocation of companies and digital transformation, once again changed the way we relate to much more open and disruptive digital channels. Those companies that had not already done so had to adapt quickly to non-conventional sales and service methods in order to continue serving their confined customers and not lose them.

From multichannel to omnichannel

Once again, this forced technology to evolve. Multiple channels began to appear in contact centers, such as video calls, WhatsApp, and social networks, which until then had hardly been considered for business relationships.

The Third Revolution would also be found in the possibility of combining all these communication channels in such a way that the relationship with a customer could start with a message, continue with a call and end with an email without losing the traceability of all this information. This is what we would call omnichannel.

All this brings us to the present day, when the communication paradigm is leading us to the door of what could be the Fourth Revolution: the metaverse and the use of Artificial Intelligence and predictive models to automate, expand and evolve communications as we understand them today thanks to the unstoppable advance of technology and networks.

Will we therefore change our headsets for virtual reality glasses to talk to agents and “match”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *