Are contact centre jobs really at risk to machine learning?

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We’ve compared the pros and cons of machine learning and made a case for human connection. Now we’ll show you how to get the best of both worlds and remain a serious contender.

Eye of the Tiger’ starts playing in the background.

If trends in digital transformation are anything to go by, interesting times are ahead for the contact centre. Statistics are popping up everywhere about the effect advances in AI will have on jobs.

One publication reported that 640 000 IT jobs would be lost to AI by 2021. Another stated that 9% of US jobs across all industries could be at risk.

Let’s not mince words. AI is a must-have to succeed in the competitor landscape, and the contact centre is no exception. In fact, we’d go as far as to call it essential.

There’s a but coming.

Don’t throw all your eggs in one basket

The contact centre industry was an early adopter of machine learning. Smarter routing, automatic user verification, voice recognition – it’s all already happening.

But technology changes quickly. We’re talking next-generation service here, and the beginning of a major digital transformation.

In other words, the landscape is changing.

US-based Forrester Research predicted that this year AI automation would be the prime enabler of a great customer experience. In a nutshell, the point it was making was that voice and chat interaction would increasingly be used to replace the engagement channels usually handled by humans.

There’s no way to sugar coat it. In that scenario job losses are a thing we have to reckon with.

But it doesn’t need to be. Because what’s the point of this amazing new tech if we can’t coexist with it?

Think about it. You’ve got the technology. Box ticked. But are you adopting it correctly? In other words, have you looked at how prepared your company is to handle these new capabilities or investigated how to align this new tech with existing staff structures?

Using AI to help your staff work better – for example implementing automated QA metrics to assist your QA team assess agents more efficiently – is a far more holistic approach than replacing your QA team entirely.

Making a case for the Integrated approach

Right, so you’ve invested in a whole whack of new tech, now what?

First thing’s first. If you don’t have the right people, it’s not going to do you any good.

In the tech world we talk about deployment. Developers test and deploy new features regularly. Then they spend some time bug fixing. Once that’s done they start looking at that feature all over again to see how it can be improved.

Basically, what we’re saying is you need to have the right people in place to align the AI strategy with your business structure. You may already have a visionary within your organisation who’s been singing the praises of automation for some time. This could also be a new skill that you need to bring on board.

On that note, it’s probably a good idea to train everyone in your business about the new AI, to ensure that digital transformation takes place from the ground up. Oh, and then very importantly, assure your staff that you’re not firing everyone.

A recent McKinsey report entitled Artificial Intelligence: The Next Digital Frontier argues that having an open culture towards new technology is the only sure way to ensure maximum profitability: ‘To get the most out of AI in the long run, an organisational culture open to the collaboration of humans and machines is required.’

Never overlook the human touch

No matter how technologically advanced a contact centre becomes, you cannot separate it from its vital core function. We’ll give you a clue. It’s in the name. Contact.

Yes, there’s a tech solution for everything these days, and both companies and customers are relying on it more and more. Automating certain query resolutions can be quick and effective, and machine learning is fantastic for connecting your customers with the right agent (like, our single waiting room does exactly this).

But for every tech solution to a problem, there is always a new channel opening for customers to communicate with your business.

It goes without saying that an integrated omnichannel solution can manage this effectively – automated responses and even chatbots can be used at the frontline of some channels – but at the end of the day, a friendly voice on the phone or an email response from a real person are the windows to the heart of your business. That isn’t going to change any time soon.

After all, the last thing you want customers to see when they talk to you is a fortified wall of automation that’s impossible to penetrate.

Machine learning can transform organisations, but it shouldn’t show the door to a stream of employees or isolate it from its customers. No contact centre can succeed if it fails to engage with its customers.

Change for the better, integrate new learnings with your team, and continue to delight your customers.