Robots with a heart: How call centers can fight extinction

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MANILA – Companies seeking to cut costs may be tempted to downscale their call center operations in favor of artificial intelligence, but it’s the human touch that secures customer loyalty, making the business more profitable in the long run, an outsourcing industry leader said Wednesday.

Demand for outsourcing operations, including call centers, is growing even as customer satisfaction has been declining, said Craig Raines, COO of Sitel, one of the business process outsourcing (BPO) pioneers in the Philippines.

“The question shouldn’t be: is voice dead?… The question has to be, how do you build a solution that drives the customer experience, that gets their issues resolved, process their transactions and doesn’t leave you,” Raines told a business forum.

READ: BPO workers ‘upskill’ to beat looming robot threat http://news.abs-cbn.com/business/04/29/17/bpo-workers-upskill-to-beat-looming-robot-threat

Raines said call center workers should upgrade their skills to be able to work in tandem with artificial intelligence solutions, as more consumer seek alternative channels like chat and email.

Robots, for example, will handle the initial stage of a customer call and a human agent will come in, when necessary, he said.

While millennials may prefer to communicate through chat apps, at some point, they will need to talk with call center agents, Raines said. Humans, unlike machines, understand context and can go the extra mile, he said.

Raines cited the current crop of mobile digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, wherein users hit a wall when the programs don’t fully understand the question or request.

“Emotion will be the main added-value. Human touch will be the main differentiator for any company,” he said.

“Agents and sites are simply not going to disappear. Based on the trends, we just don’t believe that automation and robotics will eliminate human experience,” he said.

The BPO industry employs 1.15 million people in the Philippines, accounting for 3 percent of the total workforce last year, according to the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group.

On average, the BPO industry added 100,000 jobs every year from 2010 to 2016, data showed.

The industry was tipped to earn $22.9 billion in 2016. Call centers accounted for $8.39 billion or roughly half of the BPO industry’s $15.31 billion in revenues in 2013.

“To adapt to a new paradigm you have to rethink your customer experience journey,” Raines said.

“We have to move faster. This is why from a Philippine perspective, we have to figure this out,” he added.



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