I, For One, Welcome Our Robot Overlords

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to more automation in the call center world, and technology is allowing chatbots and other artificial intelligence tools to develop empathy, which is leading some to predict the displacement of hundreds of thousands of call center representatives in the coming years, according to a published report.

While the report focuses on outsourced call centers in the Philippines — which employ 1.3 million people and generate $26 billion in revenue — it is not a stretch to imagine this dynamic taking hold at contact centers and collection agencies across the United States as well.

Consumers were using chat and artificial intelligent bots about 10% of the time before COVID, according to one company that employs 20,000 call center workers across the Philippines, and that figure could reach as high as 35% by yearend.

One report, from the Asian Development Bank, predicts that one-quarter of all contact center jobs in the Philippines are at risk of being replaced by technology in the next 10 years.

In response to the dire predictions about the future of human call center representatives, some technology providers are saying that the “industry-killer type of engagement” is still way off in the future. The massive investments that will need to be made to pay for the technology that can truly replace human call center representatives will keep many companies from taking the plunge, according to one expert.

“The chatbot is at the bottom of the rung,” said Jonathan De Luzuriaga, president of the Philippine Software Industry Association in the report. “The high-level, industry-killer type of engagement—it’s not going to happen yet.”

About 40% of “simple transactions” can currently be automated, according to the report, and improvements in technology will increase that figure by 5% or more every year.

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