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The future calls: AI in the contact centre

May 12, 2017

Peter Quinlan   

Vice President, Unified Communications and Collaboration Product Management

While it’s true that many so-called ‘routine’ contact centre tasks can now be managed by AI systems, it is yet to be seen how many jobs will be lost as a result.  Equally importantly, it will be a while before we know what type of jobs remain, and how to get our workforces ready for them.

Thanks to advancements in data analysis, AI and natural language processing (NLP) are improving the call centre experience – which is often a cause of complaint for customers. Unlike a human, an AI can review thousands of hours of recorded conversations, or live conversations in real-time, and in moments see what excites and annoys callers. This analysis can then be used by humans to improve customer service in all kinds of ways, including giving upset customers the attention they need before it’s too late, or predicting and addressing issues that upset them in the first place. This also means that companies are now in a much better position to get valuable insights on their customers.

We’re really just starting to scratch the surface of how AI systems can be used to re-design sales and support processes for an improved customer experience.

NLP is redefining the digital call centre experience via bots that have the ability to authenticate and serve, and now even understand more unstructured data in the form of conversational-style speech – almost as well as a human. Speech bots also act as an intermediary channel for the AI back-end, and in return, the AI improves the accuracy and spontaneity of the response by the bot.  We’ll also see bots leveraged in omni-channel contact centres, where customers can effectively and seamlessly be served through video, chat, content sharing, co-browsing and other tools.

While all this means that a lot of mundane tasks will be automated, it also means that other, more valuable jobs will be created.  Ensuring that workers are capable of doing these jobs will be key to a company, industry and even countries’ competitiveness.

In the industrial revolution workers had to be re-skilled for work in factories, and as developed economies throughout the world made the transition to service economies, their work force had to evolve further. Currently technology is evolving too fast for most countries and companies to keep up. Many individuals who have been doing low-skilled jobs in all industries, including contact centres, will find themselves similarly challenged. This will result in job losses for some individuals, countries and companies, and job creation for others, as work migrates to where the most capable – not necessarily the lowest cost – workforce can be found.

It is certain there will be winners and losers in this transition, but I think it is too early to say who they will be.  But if I had to bet, I’d put my money on the individuals, companies, and countries that are most aggressively looking at how they can leverage these new AI technologies and re-skill their workforce for this new environment.