Welcome to your new call centre operator – a chatbot

There are many predictions that artificial intelligence will displace routine and rule-based roles in areas such as call centre operators, accounting, law services and financial analysis. With the enormous strides made in natural language processing  (think Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant), call centre roles are likely to be handed over to chatbots sooner than we think.

The rise of AI

For example, Google Assistant can currently understand around 15 languages, and Googles says it will support 30 by the end of the year! Alexa has around 40,000 skills (tasks/requests it can perform) which has exploded from only 7000 eighteen months ago.

This rapid increase in capability means AI-powered chatbots will be very attractive to call centre managers. Chatbots never take sick days, are unfailingly polite, can quickly scale to surges in demand, don’t need a desk, never get stuck in traffic on the way to work, and they continually learn to do their job better. What’s not to like?

Chatbots as a compliment to people

We are not yet seeing the wholesale replacement of call centre operators; rather there is a blending of chatbots with people. The chatbots are being used to handle the more routine task of call routing and first level problem solution. They can also augment the human conversations by identifying the emotional content and the nature of the query. This better prepares the operator to respond adequately. But the line here is likely to move as chatbots become more capable.

Marks and Spencer recently moved 100 of their call centre staff to other roles, as chatbots have taken over their duties. This is an excellent example of a business seeing opportunity in with this emerging technology, as opposed to viewing it as a cost-cutting measure. They now have a pool of talent they can deploy to focus on things that were previously getting less attention.

The future of AI

Talking to a computer will soon be as normal as talking to a human. And it will become increasingly hard to discern the difference. This opens up both opportunity: “can you please take me back to the chatbot as they know more” and dilemmas; “Alexa knows more about me than my wife”. We live in exciting times.