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How AI is disrupting the role of call centres and call centre staff

Artificial intelligence could eliminate many white-collar jobs in coming decades. Its effects are already being felt in the call centre industry, but there is still no substitute for the human touch

One of the most hotly debated subjects at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos concerned the risks posed by technology to jobs, political stability and cyber security.

Disruptive technologies have already fundamentally reshaped our ways of working. But while this has made us more efficient and productive in our jobs, it also raises the question of whether we are still needed at work when technology can do the job for us.

The development of bots and automated messaging is already changing the world of call centres, which are often thought to be one of the company departments most at risk of becoming obsolete in a world of artificial intelligence (AI).

Call centres are the front line of all big organisations, providing a vital link between businesses and customers. They are also the place that can make or break the brand experience. So, while we are seeing forms of AI in the call centre today, trained and intuitive human beings will not be fully replaced by robots just yet.

Artificial intelligence has two benefits

The potential for AI in call centres is twofold. First, it can seamlessly give customers the right information they need at the right time by offering self-service options, eliminating the need for a call to customer service. Second, AI has the potential to give customer service representatives more information to help them handle the complicated issues that self-service cannot resolve.

Given the continued relevance and importance of the customer service function, let’s drill down on that second point in more detail. While most of us are familiar with bots, which enable customers to resolve their issues through self-service channels, we are also seeing call centres using AI to service organisations and help customer service reps deal with a wider range of customer issues.

AI software has been developed that can listen to calls and decipher their impact on the customer, such as how the issue was resolved, whether the customer’s loyalty will increase in the future as a result of the call, and what could have been done to help smooth the situation if the customer gets upset.

How AI can help call handlers with complex queries

In this way, AI is now helping to predict customer behaviour on the phone, to provide recommendations to the customer service reps on how best to deal with the issue.

However, the computers are not doing all the work, as a human workforce is still needed to effectively and efficiently resolve customer issues, using insights and recommendations from AI to deliver messages to customers in a certain way.

CEB research has found that the best type of customer service rep for handling complex customer issues is someone who can take control of the conversation and proactively lead that customer to a mutually agreed solution. Because this type of person understands what customers need and doesn’t have to follow a script, they are best equipped to utilise the information provided by AI to personalise the customer interaction and help resolve the issue.

It’s true that AI is unburdening call centres through bots that can answer simple and oft-asked questions online, without the need for the customer to pick up the phone. This means the job of a customer service rep is becoming more varied – the bots answer the routine questions via an online chat or other channel; the people on the phone are the problem solvers.

When AI and customer service reps work in tandem, where data insights are combined with a personable phone manner, the best results for customers can be achieved.

This was last published in January 2017

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I called a major cell phone company to report an attempted identity theft. What I got was an impenetrable thicket of recorded messages and menu options. No AI there. So I sent a letter and resolved never to do business with them.
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