The end of call centre agents?

Posted by Flux on 

31 July 2023

What’s trending?

Generative AI is sparking anxiety among call centre workers around the world. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) refers to the practice of contracting standard functions, like customer helplines and content moderation, to a party outside the company. The Phillipines employs roughly 1.6 million BPO workers and is one of the world’s largest centres for BPO. Political and business leaders there are in the process of formulating a plan to deal with AI replacing human jobs. Philippine senator Imee Marcos filed a resolution calling for an inquiry into the potential displacement of workers from the BPO and manufacturing industries. “AI is developing faster than most people can comprehend, and is threatening to take away jobs and turn employment growth upside down,” said the senator. In March this year, Google demonstrated new generative AI capabilities for call centres. There are a multitude of customer service platforms to choose from. Ada is a multi-language AI-powered contact centre platform that provides businesses with automated customer service functionality across all of a brand’s channels. The momentum is building and plans need to be made to deal with the job losses that will in all likelihood ensue.

Why is it important?

“One of the major benefits of incorporating AI into contact centres is the improved efficiency through automation of repetitive tasks. This, in turn, helps increase productivity and lets organisations focus on enhancing the customer experience. Automations speed up response times and increase first-contact resolution, which means that human resources can spend their time focusing on more complex issues,” says Ramprakash Ramamoorthy, director of AI research at IT management company, ManageEngine.  For example, AI can discern vocabulary, sentiment, pauses, tone and the age of the caller which helps route the caller to the best-suited agent. And responses are becoming increasingly human-like. These models are able to handle multiple languages and large volumes of queries. These advances ultimately lead to cost-savings. A Gartner survey in August 2022 predicted conversational AI to bring down contact centre agent labour costs by $8bn by 2026. Industry experts suggest that AI will not necessarily replace jobs, but rather enhance them.  “The integration of AI-based services in the customer engagement function will create a shift in the roles and responsibilities of contact centre agents, rather than decreasing their headcount,” said Exotel’s Chief Product Officer, Puru Govind.

What can businesses do about it?

The incorporation of generative AI in the customer service realm is becoming crucial in order for businesses not to be outcompeted. The benefits, as mentioned above, are clear. However, businesses should not ignore the human cost and should make efforts to enable their workforce to perform higher-value work that’s still beyond the scope of AI. Upskilling programmes for BPO workers to gain the necessary expertise is recommended. Chaitanya Chokkareddy, CIO, Ozonetel recommends that contact centres adopt a hybrid strategy where AI-based bots would handle 30% of interactions while human agents would still be needed to handle the remaining 70%. “Rather than being a cog within a robotic, factory-like setup, agents who leverage AI will become highly skilled, specialised contributors. For businesses, this will translate into higher CSAT [customer satisfaction], improved upselling, deeper customer engagement, increased loyalty, and eventually higher customer lifetime value,” he stated. While AI and automation technologies have advanced significantly in recent years, it is unlikely that call centre agents will be completely replaced by AI in the foreseeable future. AI can augment and enhance call centre operations, but human agents play a crucial role in providing personalised and empathetic customer service.

By Faeeza Khan

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