The Economist magazine recently published an article titled ‘The End of The Line’ focused on the potential for the millions of contact center jobs created around the world to vanish as automated robots replace human agents.
Teleperformance itself is included in the article with our center in Manila featured as one of the contact centers that still has a need to hire people. The problem with the headline is that it is somewhat misleading.
Within the article, Sarah Burnett of research company Everest Group clearly states her view that contact centers will still need people even as automated services increase:
“Call-centre workers will still be needed, not for repetitive tasks, but to coax customers into buying other products and services. That is a harder job, demanding better language skills. So automation might mean fewer jobs, or at least less growth, in India and the Philippines, but more jobs in America and Europe.”
We all know that some transactional calls have been automated. If they have not then they soon will be. The most basic tasks can often be handled better when automated so it’s easier for the contact center to handle and a better experience for the customer.
But to draw the conclusion that technology such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) means the end of human agents in the contact center is an incorrect assumption. The use of technology will not eliminate the need for people to work in customer service teams; it will merely change the type of functions they perform. In fact, RPA can provide a contact center agent with insight and information to help make customer interactions more seamless and streamlined.
There are many factors to take in to account that The Economist has not explored fully, not least that customers have greater expectations of the service they expect today when compared even to five years ago. Providing the service they now expect is far more complex than ever. In addition, the complete customer journey has changed because customers have a different kind of relationship with brands when compared to the pre-social network days.
Creating customer loyalty today requires engagement, communication, and the ability to build a real relationship between the brand and customer. These personal and emotive relationships are not just management theory from business schools. Think of every time you asked an airline about the flight movies by sending a tweet, or wrote a restaurant review on TripAdvisor before you even finished the meal, or commented on the Facebook page of your favorite hotel chain. The complexity of emotive connections with brands today is far more complex than just considering the contact center as the only point of customer interaction.
Tools such as RPA have a place in the customer service environment. If you are calling your phone company just to check how much your next bill is going to be then you don’t need a conversation with an agent, it’s fine for the system to use automation in basic transactional functions.
But as serving customers gets more complex and embraces all customer-facing business functions, companies will redefine the very role of the contact center. When sales and marketing become integral functions of the contact center team, because these are the people talking to the customer everyday, then the pie gets bigger. As that customer service pie gets bigger, the way it is formulated will also change. The need to source the best available talent from a global talent pool, including the Philippines, India and several nearshore locations does not go away because of this. Companies’ service strategy will continue to leverage the flat world we live in.
This means that automation will be included in what contact centers do, but I do not follow the analysis of The Economist that this means the end of the contact center. I think that contact centers will become far more important to most companies in the coming years, taking on additional roles and being the true focal point of the customer experience. It is where the customer interacts with the brand and that means it is driver of loyalty and you don’t create empathy and loyalty with a robot.