Image of contact center agents at the stop smiling as there is a depiction of a robot's hand making contact with the hand of a man.

For almost as long as machines have been handling tasks for humans, people have worried that human labor would become unnecessary. Especially now, with the huge surge in artificial intelligence (AI) brought on by COVID, people are worried contact center agents will soon become obsolete. That’s not going to happen for the foreseeable future. Below, we’ll break down how tech is used in a BPO call center and why AI falls short on its own.

How Tech is Used in Call Center Outsourcing

Often, AI is used as a catchall term for any form of intelligent automation that might occur in a BPO call center. There are actually multiple forms of tech involved and even a couple of distinct forms of AI as well. To understand why live humans won’t be replacing contact center agents anytime soon, it’s essential to have a background on the tech and its use as well as the benefits and limitations.

Artificial Intelligence

AI involves machines “thinking” or behaving in humanlike ways to provide and assess information and learn what to do with it. There are two forms.

Narrow AI: Also known as “weak AI,” narrow AI is the type most people are most familiar with. This type of tech is used in automated assistants, like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, and things like self-driving cars or facial recognition. Assistants using the tech are capable of carrying out tasks like opening a specific program or answering a basic question and can even find patterns in what you want, so their responses become more accurate over time. IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that made international news on Jeopardy, is also an example. In a contact center, narrow AI might be used to answer basic inquiries, like helping customers track their orders, get business information, make a payment, or find a specific product. According to Technology Review, this type of tech saw a 40 percent boom in April 2020 due to a mix of COVID call center closures and increases in customer needs.

General Purpose AI: Thus far, general-purpose AI (GPAI) does not exist. If R2-D2 of “Star Wars” or HAL of “2001: A Space Odyssey” were real, they’d fall into this bracket. GPAI takes narrow AI a step further. The machines can think like humans; only they process the information exponentially faster.

Robotic Process Automation

Unlike AI, which involves a sort of “thinking,” robotic process automation (RPA) is rules-based. Systems using RPA simply do what they’re told to do. There are two forms of it.

Attended RPA: With attended RPA, the bot is live on the agent’s workstation. It helps them do their job better or more efficiently. For example, a bot may walk a new agent through how to handle a specific call, collect information from various legacy systems and present it to the agent in an easy-to-understand format, or give the agent a nudge that it may be time to escalate a call if the handle time is too long. One of the most common examples of attended RPA at work is when the system automatically pulls up a customer’s profile or data as soon as the call is patched through.

Unattended RPA: With unattended RPA, the bot lives outside an agent’s workstation and performs tasks independently. For example, the bot may take the information entered by an agent and upload it to multiple legacy systems for later retrieval, send follow-up messages to the customer asking them to review the agent, ensure their concern was resolved, or complete order processing fulfillment processes.

Why Al Won’t Replace Contact Center Agents

All that said, it still might be easy to think that AI will replace contact center agents, but nothing could be further from the truth.

1. Many Customers Still Prefer a Live Agent

In “The Future of Contact Centers in the COVID-19 Era,” we touched on this a bit. People have embraced AI due to the pandemic, and most, even those who were resistant to leveraging tech before COVID, will use it now if it means they don’t have to wait for a live human. However, it’s not the preferred method for huge swaths of the population. In order to provide them with the level of service they need, live human agents will always be a vital part of contact centers.

2. A Live Agent is Often Needed Even After a Bot Assist

As Venture Beat reports, even Watson, the supercomputer that defeated Jeopardy Champions, didn’t always get things right. It struggled with categories like “presidential rhymes.” Apparently, delivering answers such as “Hoover’s Maneuvers” was a bit much for Watson, leading to a win for New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt. The same is true for any technology today. When an AI system knows an answer, it can deliver it lightning-fast, and it often knows the answer faster than any human as well. However, systems don’t always have the right answer, and sometimes AI simply can’t understand what someone is asking. We can laugh at examples of this in everyday life, like when Siri garbles our request or back when Alexa ordered dollhouses for anyone tuning in to a specific newscast. Still, it’s no laughing matter when customer service turns south, and a live human isn’t there to turn it around.

3. The Tech is Still Evolving

It’s worth noting that the tech is still evolving from a fiscal standpoint too. The latest tech can be pricey, and new capabilities are constantly emerging. With that in mind, individual companies that can afford the tech are likely to see their investments become obsolete quickly. However, this is less of a concern for organizations leveraging call center outsourcing, as keeping up with the latest advancements falls upon the BPO company’s shoulders instead.

4. The Two Complement Each Other

The bulk of an agent’s time is usually spent on repetitive tasks that can be automated if your contact center isn’t leveraging the right tech. That is a costly way of doing things and doesn’t deliver the best customer experience. It also means you’re probably experiencing errors from lots of manual entry too. Yet, as we’ve shown here, AI simply cannot replace humans. It takes both to run an efficient and effective contact center.

Find Your High-Tech Call Center Outsourcing Solution at DATAMARK

DATAMARK blends the best of both worlds—highly trained and skilled agents with technology—to deliver world-class experiences on behalf of the brands we serve. If your organization wants to explore how a BPO call center would work for you,
contact us for a consultation.