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AI's impact on inbound call centres

Posted by Janvi Anand
AI impact on inbound call centers

It is generally thought that call centres can be categorized into two types based on the services they provide to customers: inbound and outbound call centres. In a call centre, customer service representatives deal with inbound inquiries and fulfill information requests from customers, as well as outbound calls to potential customers.

These days, inbound call centres are becoming increasingly popular across all sizes of organizations. In most modern companies, inbound call centres are essential, as they help create the strong relationship between a company and its customers, which is the main asset of any successful organization.

Throughout such a competitive business environment, you will need well-trained inbound customer service representatives to handle customer support, information inquiries, and technical support desk calls.

Planning for business continuity in the event of a pandemic

Global corporations face a severe stress test when it comes to their business continuity plans as a result of the pandemic. In order to meet that challenge, call centre operators are playing an important role. In normal times, if an earthquake occurs in Bangalore, you can transfer capacity to your call centre in Manila. The question is, what do you do when your call centres in every country are all hit simultaneously?

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of employees work for large outsourcing call centres that serve corporations. Many of these employees are now working from home. It is often up to their employers to provide adequate computer equipment, but staff members in developing countries are often hindered by a lack of good internet access and a peaceful work environment.

As a result of the pandemic, there will be another round of discussions about reshoring call centre jobs to places that are less vulnerable in that way, but the cost will remain a significant obstacle. Often, one person's salary in a corporation's home country pays for three people in an offshore location. If you want to keep some change, you could hire a graduate in India, China, or the Philippines for the same cost as a school leaver in the US or the UK.

Automating processes faster

A pandemic is also reviving interest in automating inbound call centres so fewer humans are employed. It was reported in 2014 that Telstra, Australia's largest mobile phone company, would have no employees in its call centres within five years. The plan didn't work, of course. Concentrix, one of two big global contact centre providers, says employment in call centres has increased modestly in recent years, but the real change has been the shift from voice to digital, according to Peter Monk, General Manager for Australia at Concentrix.

It is often possible to automate customer interactions when they are simple. It is perfectly acceptable to use a chatbot to change passwords or provide basic information. Digitally native younger generations prefer to interact digitally, ideally through short videos. There will, however, often be more value exchanged and generated through a phone call if there is significant value to be generated.

In a recent interview, Teleperformance's CEO stated: "When chatbots started to appear about five years ago, I was depressed.". Teleperformance has never grown so rapidly since then. Customer experts handle the emotional part of the job while the chatbot deals with the rational part."

The natural language processing (NLP) method

Despite vendors' claims that they offer artificial intelligence services, Peter Monk is skeptical. Natural language processing technology is available from most vendors, but it is not yet truly artificial intelligence. Despite some exceptions, most software is still preprogrammed, using lookup tables and knowledge banks."

Early applications of NLP include detecting a customer's emotional state over the phone or by tapping away on their keyboard. Call centre staff are alerted by these systems when customers are running out of patience, and they suggest variations on scripts when necessary. In more sophisticated systems, a word or phrase can be understood in context, referring to words and phrases used earlier in a conversation.

The "AI coach" from Cogito helps customer service representatives be more emotional intelligent on the phone. Josh Feast is Cogito's founder and CEO. The difficulties of handling dozens of calls each day, working with customers' differing circumstances and communication styles, and dealing with countless policies and procedures are often underestimated by most of us. As a result, cognitive overload can occur. They can recognize behavior signals through contextual guidance provided by AI. Our focus has been on automation, so we have not realized AI's potential to help people achieve their full potential."

The use of IVR and analytics

As NLP systems become more sophisticated, Interactive Voice Response is making a comeback. The voice recognition software was not quite good enough when these systems were first introduced a few years ago, so they soon became obsolete.

AI systems have also been used extensively in analytics, as with most industries. Text messages can be converted into text and analyzed, allowing companies to track how often each customer interacts with them, as well as what they say, in greater and greater depth. Investing in this area is a major priority for large call centres.

Industry of considerable size

The call centre industry has many jobs, and how they are affected will be crucial. There are many millions of people employed by it around the world, in both rich and poor countries. Initially developed in the West, it grew to become a major global employer as large telephone systems were developed. According to the Birmingham Press and Mail, the first call centre opened in the UK in 1985, when Direct Line became the first insurance company to sell its policies over the phone. There are around 1.3 million people employed in the UK and more than 6 million in the USA today.

The developing world soon realized that it had a huge cost advantage over developed nations. The Philippines took over the top spot from India in 2011 after many years as the market's dominant player. Due to its lack of connection to the south-east Asian mainland, the Philippines failed to attract foreign investment in manufacturing, which improved living standards in Thailand and Vietnam, but its people speak excellent English, and 1.2 million work in call centres today.

Working as a translator and gigging

Call centres are also experiencing two significant trends thanks to artificial intelligence and related technologies. As long as the pandemic and populist nationalism don't derail global trade, real-time translation should accelerate global trade. As Google focuses on B2C applications (business-to-consumer), other companies are entering the B2B space. An example of such a company is Unbabel, a Portuguese company.

A second application of gig economy business models is in the call centre industry. The Solv solution from Concentrix enables individuals from anywhere in the world to become accredited to work on certain types of business and then log on and log off whenever they want. Increasingly, contact centre workers are not required to have much knowledge of the products and services of the companies they represent due to improved support tools. Information stored in cloud databases can be accessed instantly. As they interact with clients, demonstrate empathy, and work with constantly evolving technologies, they are evaluated more heavily.

Human-centric design

To obtain goods and services, younger companies design their business processes services so that customers never have to contact a human. Digital disruptors aim to make their websites and logistics operations so intuitive and user-friendly that customers never have to search for the contact link. In the right circumstances, this generates a tremendous cost advantage. It generates a lot of frustration when it fails. A major problem arises when legacy companies try to pull off the same trick, by hiding their contact details, and lack the sleek ergonomics of the disruptors' websites. Many once-great companies will fall because of this behavior, as consumers are not easily fooled.

Read More: Work more efficiently with an inbound call centre service

In a nutshell

Observing that we overestimate technology's short-term impact, yet underestimate its long-term impact is a classic example of Amara's Law, which states that we overestimate short-term effects but underestimate long-term ones. The employment in call centres was growing in single-digit percentages a year prior to the virus. As the economy recovers post-pandemic, call volume will remain stable, but customer contacts will decline, and the call centre will become more and more a contact centre, handling many more exchanges digitally.

Over time, it is likely that contact centres will become as scarce as warehouses. The question is, how long will this take. It is not too far away, Peter Monk, the GM of Concentrix Australia says, "There will be many aspects of my job that can be done largely by machines in the near future.".


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