We’ve all had some contact with call centres, generally to complain to customer services or to request information that we need but can’t find. It can be a frustrating experience. Those on the other end of the line probably feel the same way! For the live agents staffing the lines, it can be a highly stressful task dealing with multiple calls from (sometimes) irate customers, who need to know the same information and therefore ask the same questions. It’s a tough and often repetitive job.
As such, the turnover at call centres can be between 30 and 45 percent, two to three times higher than the average for nearly every other industry. Job security is also under threat. Virgin Media closed its call centre in Swansea earlier this month, resulting in nearly 800 job losses. Following this, there was the inevitable backlash blaming technology as the driver.
Some of the blame was laid on developments in voice technology and artificial intelligence (AI), with analyst firm ContactBabel forecasting that “46,000 jobs in customer support will disappear before 2021 as firms embrace automation.”
We need to move beyond focusing on the supposed negative impact AI will have on jobs. These assertions cause the public to recoil without providing the chance to embrace the enhanced job satisfaction, new employment opportunities and economic prosperity made possible through this emerging technology.
New technology often introduces scaremongering, yet time and time again it initiates productivity gains. It happened in the 19th Century with the introduction of factories and manufacturing. It was the same in the 1980s with the introduction of word processing and email. I see AI as the next genre of this and we will adjust to accommodate what it can do to improve our lives, both as workers and as consumers, not simply fear what it means for the labour market.
According to a 2018 report from the OECD, fewer jobs are at risk of automation from AI and robotics than previous forecasts have warned. The report found that only 14 percent of jobs in OECD countries, which include the US, UK, Canada and Japan, are “highly automatable”, meaning their probability of automation is 70 percent or higher.
If we look at different industries from the recent past we can see that automation hasn’t destroyed the jobs market within those sectors. For example, self-checkout machines have been appearing in stores since the 1980s yet retailers remain the top employers in the private sector in the UK. We now have millions of ATMs, yet we still have nearly as many bank tellers. Computerised automation often results in a very low net employment rate change.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent, meaning automating responses to simpler, routinely-asked questions. We have the technology to make this happen now. Firms should be embracing it, not blaming it for making them lay off staff.
Our real-world experience is that AI delivers better-qualified leads, enabling the human team to spend more time giving a higher-value service.
For our customers, our conversational AI, Ami, is built into websites and filters out the tyre kickers and qualifies the prospect before passing the request to the call centre staff, meaning the call is significantly more likely to be a successful sale and at a higher value. This technology is not taking jobs away but improving the quality of those already there. Commissions are increasing and Ami’s clients are hiring.
AI provides an opportunity, not a threat. While retraining may be necessary, the jobs that current employees do will change for the better as a result of this advancing of technology. This can only be good news for the jobs market as new and different jobs become available as a result of this technology.
It’s likely that all our jobs will change, mostly in a positive way. I think those of us who use AI will have an advantage over those who don’t. Rather than shying away from embracing this new technology, we should all be doing as much as possible to ensure we are keeping up with technological advances, as employers, employees and customers.
Louis Halpern, Chairman, Active OMG
Louis is Chairman of Active OMG, the creator of Ami. Ami is conversational artificial intelligence. Ami’s first application is to conversationally increase sales and provide customer support on digital assets. Ami has increased sales on all her client’s websites by at least 20%. Louis described his role as Chairman: “My role is the Company’s cheerleader and lawmaker. When growing a startup from scratch you have to make sure the company has a clear vision so everyone knows how to actually achieve its agreed goals.
Unlike a CEO my role is not to accumulate responsibilities, instead it is to find, create and nurture leaders to deliver results”.
Using a philosophy of disruption and empowerment, Louis has founded and rapidly grown several companies across multiple industries, including digital marketing agency 101010 and software development company Financial Software Limited. Louis has a knack of being able to explain sophisticated products in a way that highlights business benefits. He has influenced business to implement positive change, working with Board Directors across brands including Herbalife, Nando’s, Supernanny, Malmaison, De Vere, Aviva, Mock the Week, Benefit Cosmetics, UBS, HSBC, Lycos, Schroders, Rising Star and United Business Media.
He has made contributions to New Media Age, The Guardian and The Times. Louis is currently working on his second book, “The Sex of Sales”.