A long peddled talking point in the tech and AI space is that “call centers are dying.” The claim is that humans on the other end of the phone attending to customer service, are gradually and completely being replaced by Interactive Voice Response, and other forms of AI.
This claim has been around since the year 2000, and despite it being as old as a vintage wine, we’ve yet to see it come to fruition.
In fact, call centers are trending up, and they’re going to be a part of B2C and B2B operations for a long time coming.
Ongoing Covid Concerns
In 2020, the world heralded “Heroes” from all walks of life who bravely stepped up in the face of terrifying global uncertainty, to attend to the needs of their communities. Hospital workers, emergency responders, and service workers of all stripes became “essential” and heroic. Call center agents, who make up 5% of the workforce in the U.S. as noted by AnswerNet CEO Gary Pudles, were deemed essential workers at the onset of Covid19, and indisputably fall into the Heroes category.
Many call centers went remote during the pandemic. Along with the popularity of remote work, the dangers posed by indoor, in-person gathering drove up the need for live agents to take calls from customers, medical patients, students, and any other designation of people needing information.
The move out of centers and into home workplaces has only physically decentralized call centers. Their popularity and necessity has grown due to the pandemic. As the pandemic fluctuates, most organizations aren’t taking chances. The majority of large businesses are wisely staying dependent on the first line of safely executed customer care available, by utilizing call center services.
The Human Touch
Whether or not the world’s dealing with one covid variant surge or another, customers feel anxious and upset when they need a problem addressed. It eases the woes of most frustrated customers or end-users to get a real, live person on the phone. Broadly, customers trust people more than they trust machines. Especially in the U.S.
According to Forbes, in the United States, the telephone call is still the main, preferred channel of customer service. This is over contenders like email, in-person, live chat, mobile app, social media and SMS.
73% of people will still pick up the phone to get ahold of an agent. The emotional component of having a real person’s voice on the line who is actively looking into your issue (or answering your question) is the most satisfying problem-solving scenario for the majority of American consumers.
Further, when probed in more detail for their feelings on answering services, more than a third of consumers (34%) named IVR or Interactive Voice Response (those robots who love to say “Sorry, I didn’t get that, what are you calling about?”) as the most frustrating part of an answering service experience. Call centers with live, living agents will always win out over their mechanical counterparts.
Business Process Outsourcing, or the process by which subcontractors and other third party agencies perform tasks on behalf of organizations, is on a tremendous upward trend, as internal employees become more and more deeply specialized within their respective fields.
Call center operations are a predominant example of BPO, and prior to the pandemic, they were practically synonymous with it. The sweeping changes Covid made to workforce norms have diversified how much of an organization’s processes are outsourced. Nonetheless, call centers with competent agents have long been an outsourcing methodology used by organizations to trim the fat.
There are a number of reasons for this. Businesses want to free up talent to strategize and relish their core competencies. The time and task orientation involved in being a first point of contact for customers is better delegated to third party agencies who can serve this function.
As with most things in business, the primary factor of BPO’s growing popularity is cost. Call center services, especially those like AnswerNet, often come with a pool of already trained, already vetted talent that can act as that smiling voice on the other end of the phone. Rather than hire, onboard, and train internally, companies are opting for the more affordable package that comes with the assurance of agents who are ready to hit the ground running.
A Piece of the Workforce Pie
Along with these three reasons, let’s recall AnswerNet CEO’s stat from earlier in the article. With 5% of the US workforce being call center reps, call centers are a pillar of the American economy. At AnswerNet, we’re proud to have so many thriving and helpful centers under our umbrella. So join us in nixing the outdated talking points.
Y2K didn’t crash the entire infrastructure of the web, and call centers certainly aren’t dying. Like the web, they’re stronger than ever.