The future of call centers

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REYNALDO C. LUGTU

REYNALDO C. LUGTU

The Philippines continues to be the world’s top call center and most preferred offshore destination despite competition from other countries. According to the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), the Philippine information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) sector—more than half of which comprising the contact center industry—is projected to be the country’s largest source of income by 2017, providing more than 1.3 million jobs and over $25 billion in revenue.

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Our country’s core competency is our people’s hospitality, a quality that is recognized worldwide. This is the reason that our country is doing better than all others in the customer service industry. It is our disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way. It is deeply rooted in our culture of helping others, which sets us apart from many countries.

Foreign companies choose Filipino call center agents due to their polite and calm disposition. When an irate customer yells, the Filipino agent coolly sales “I’m sorry sir/mam,” and instead merely trying to fix the problem, goes out of the way, oftentimes, to do so. However, a looming technological shift, which is threatening all call center business globally, is likely to put our country’s lead in the call center space to test.

A recent worldwide survey conducted by Xerox that was ominously titled “The Death of the Call Center” revealed that 42 percent of the respondents said call center would cease to exist by 2025. While a call center, the survey found, was the preferred channel for 25 percent of people worldwide, and 31 percent in the US, it’s likely to be replaced by automated systems.

The study further stated that by 2025 the Millennial, now accustomed and comfortable with virtual assistants powered by artificial intelligence (AI), would be the users of call centers in a decade’s time.

Another highly cited study by Oxford University and Deloitte predicts that 35 percent of current jobs in the UK alone are at risk due to automation, with customer services with a 91 percent likelihood of automation and call centers workers with a likelihood of 75 percent, putting these occupations in the top 50 jobs most likely to be lost.

We’re already starting to see robotic customer service agents in some online transactions, from banking to retailing. For instance, the Royal Bank of Scotland will deploy a virtual assistant called Luvo to answer and help with day-to-day customer problems, from lost or stolen bank cards to forgotten pin numbers. Just like human call center agents aided by analytics, Luvo can instantly access a large customer service database to pull up an answer, and learn from previous queries and transactions. More and more banks are starting to trial AI chatbots—computer programs designed to simulate conversation with human users—to respond to customer queries.

Despite these baleful forecasts, there are opportunities that our country needs to capitalize on to quell the “death of the call center”. For one, as Xerox predicts, the death of the routine call center agent occupation will give rise to the “super agent” who provides high-tough, high-value assistance to customers’ more complex problems and building lasting relationships.

Another opportunity is the growth in software programming and analytics work outsourcing, which our country is likewise becoming a global player in the lucrative knowledge process outsourcing.

In the end, we need to prepare our students to build interest in high value skills of programming, analytics, and other technical skills. Our educational institutions, parents, government agencies and industry associations need to start now.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at reylugtu@reylugtu.com.

The author is a senior executive in the information and communications technology sector. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He also teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University.

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3 Comments

  1. The big challenge from automation worldwide, is to spread the benefits of this across whole populations. Otherwise, company profits (and therefore dividends) will increase, but unemployment will rise as semi skilled workers are replaced by machines. The fruits of these changes should mean rising national prosperity, AND the need for shorter working weeks for all.

  2. Call centers being a service industry is really not a secured job. Whatbwe need are good quality jobs like manufacturing, software and computer or technical jobs, etc. Call center jobs can shift to Vietnam or Cambodia tomorrow where the get paid lower.

    • The Great Defiant on

      korek…
      stop converting our people like zombies..
      in fact, most call centers personnel uses drugs to keep them awake till morning. Then suppress the drugs by drinking red horse so they can sleep.

      The routine continues.