AI News, Rise of robots threatens to terminate the UK call-centre workforce

Rise of robots threatens to terminate the UK call-centre workforce

At the annual Google developer jamboree in California last week, the tech giant wowed the audience with the language skills of its virtual assistant software, now so fluent it can make calls without the recipient realising the voice does not belong to a human.

The digital revolution is also expected to affect utility companies, with 11,000 jobs expected to go as challenger brands such as Lumo offer cheaper gas and electricity deals to customers willing to manage their accounts via an app.

“But with advancements in AI … we can now create new voices in just a few weeks and are able to capture subtleties like pitch, pace, and all the pauses that convey meaning.” Last year, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson set up the Future of Work Commission to look at how the workforce would be affected by automation.

“The government should be thinking urgently about how we respond to these changes, especially if job losses are concentrated in particular communities or regions.” The majority of customer-service workers are concentrated in a few hundred large operations around the country, each employing 250 staff or more.

“In the south-east they are more expensive to run, so the big ones are in Scotland, Wales and the north-east.” Morrell said retail-related jobs were the most at risk as the cocktail of rising store costs and the growth of e-commerce triggered the closures of high-street stores and company closures and also has an impact on back office operations amid a widespread culture of cost-cutting.

“The result is that retailers need to cut the cost of contact [with customers] over the next few years, with telephony seen as a higher-cost channel for them.” Every couple of years there’s a bogeyman that’s going to take jobs, but we are not seeing it “The use of web chat as a relatively cheap and immediate channel will continue to grow strongly, meaning that retail contact centres could replace telephony agents with chat agents both real and virtual,” he added.

If there is an area finding it tough it’s retail, as the industry has been impacted by online shopping.” She added that the digital boom had radically changed the job description, with the image of a headset-wearing phone operator now outdated as staff straddled multiple web chats, social media posts and emails, as well as answering calls.

For young people call centres has been the work that is available to them.” The birth of the modern call centre can be traced back to the 1960s and the creation of automated telephone exchanges that could handle huge callvolumes.

Call centre

The origins of call centres dates back to the 1960s with the UK-based Birmingham Press and Mail, which installed Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) to have rows of agents handling customer contacts.[2][3] By 1973, call centres received mainstream attention after Rockwell International patented its Galaxy Automatic Call Distributor (GACD) for a telephone booking system as well as the popularization of telephone headsets as seen on televised NASA Mission Control Center events.[4][5] During the late 1970s, call centre technology expanded to include telephone sales, airline reservations and banking systems.

A contact centre is defined as a coordinated system of people, processes, technologies and strategies that provides access to information, resources, and expertise, through appropriate channels of communication, enabling interactions that create value for the customer and organisation.[11][12] In contrast to in-house management, outsourced bureau contact centres are a model of contact centre that provide services on a 'pay per use' model.

The modern contact center has developed more complex systems, which require highly skilled operational and management staff that can use multichannel online and offline tools to improve customer interaction.[13][14][15] Call centre technologies include speech recognition software to allow computers to handle first level of customer support, text mining and natural language processing to allow better customer handling, agent training by automatic mining of best practices from past interactions, support automation and many other technologies to improve agent productivity and customer satisfaction.

A call centre can be seen as a queueing network and results from queueing theory such as the probability an arriving customer needs to wait before starting service useful for provisioning capacity.[26] (Erlang's C formula is such a result for an M/M/c queue and approximations exist for an M/G/k queue.) Statistical analysis of call centre data has suggested arrivals are governed by an inhomogeneous Poisson process and jobs have a log-normal service time distribution.[27] Simulation algorithms are increasingly being used to model call arrival, queueing and service levels.[28] Call centre operations have been supported by mathematical models beyond queueing, with operations research, which considers a wide range of optimisation problems seeking to reduce waiting times while keeping server utilisation and therefore efficiency high.[29] Call centres have received criticism for low pay rates and restrictive working practices for employees, which have been deemed as a dehumanising environment.[30][31][32] Other research illustrates how call centre workers develop ways to counter or resist this environment by integrating local cultural sensibilities or embracing a vision of a new life.[33] Most call centres provide electronic reports that outline performance metrics, quarterly highlights and other information about the calls made and received.

However, it has also been argued that such close monitoring breaches the human right to privacy.[35] Complaints are often logged by callers who find the staff do not have enough skill or authority to resolve problems,[36] as well as appearing apathetic.[37] These concerns are due to a business process that exhibits levels of variability because the experience a customer gets and results a company achieves on a given call are dependent upon the quality of the agent.[38] Call centres are beginning to address this by using agent-assisted automation to standardise the process all agents use.[39][40][41] However, more popular alternatives are using personality and skill based approaches.[42][43] The various challenges encountered by call operators are discussed by several authors.[44][45][46][47][48] Indian call centres have been the focus of several documentary films, the 2004 film Thomas L.

Jobs on the Line: New Technology Could Replace Millions of Call Center Workers in the Philippines

And then, after a lengthy wait, tapping more information into your phone and being transferred to the right department, you reach a call center worker, an actual human being.

(For years, India had more call center workers than any other nation, but more recently U.S. companies began relocating to the Philippines, where people speak American English, rather than the British variety.) The country is 12 or 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S., depending on the time of year, and most Filipino call center employees work through the night.

How do these people suffer on the other side?” Expecting to find weary workers with little love for their jobs, Matos instead found people happy to have such lucrative positions.

Call center workers in the Philippines account for just 3 percent of the country’s employed population (one reason why the figure is low is because the jobs require a high level of English).

These people have starting salaries of around $400 a month, significantly higher than the minimum monthly wage for service industry workers, which is around $285.

As the narrator of a video on the company’s website puts it: “With each transaction, inStream is continuously learning, reducing the need for human intervention in the future.” Keep up with this story and more by subscribing now Automation is good for businesses looking to cut costs wherever possible—but it’s bad for the ones who manage the Filipino call center workforce.

Benedict Hernandez, the chairman and president of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines, which represents nearly 100 companies that employ contact center workers, has said the industry is trying to stay ahead of these technological advances.

Once a month in this American-owned call center company, there is a meeting to celebrate every birthday from that month José Sarmento Matos If the Philippines wants to handle these complicated tasks, however, it will need better-educated workers with excellent language skills—and that requires investment.

Then, on August 15, he announced he was cutting the country’s labor and employment budget from $390 million to $280 million to better fund the police and security services.

(Duterte is currently engaged in a war on drugs that has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 people.) Budget cuts are not the only problem threatening the advancement of the Philippine call center industry.

Duterte’s frequent criticism of the U.S. (he called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” on September 5) has prompted some Filipinos to worry that U.S. businesses might consider relocating their offices to other, more welcoming nations.

Christine, 34, gets home after work around 10 a.m. Normally she works from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. 'I can often get only two or three hours of sleep.

Call center workers are not only immersed in American culture in terms of what they consume—from Starbucks and fast food, to TV series and movies—they also live by American time zones, day and night.

Call centresThe end of the line

WHETHER in Nairobi or Albuquerque, a shopping centre is not really a shopping centre unless it has at least two anchor tenants.

These can be department stores, cinemas or bookshops—anything that will fill a large space and lure customers past smaller boutiques.

The first “businessprocess outsourcing” jobs appeared in the 1990s: the term covers tasks from answering phones to processing invoices and animating TV shows, mostly for rich-world firms and governments.

The country is especially strong in call centres: it has already overtaken India, even though India has about 12 times as many people (see chart).

The government designated call centres, or “contact centres”, as they are formally known, an export industry and cut their taxes.

The relative preference for Filipino accents has become so strong that large Indian outsourcing firms such as Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services have moved some of their “voice work” to Manila.

Night work is tough, say a dozen call-centre workers who have come off their shift at 7.30am, and are sipping coffee in Manila.

For all that Americans prefer Filipino accents to Indian ones—which these Filipinos can impersonate, amusingly if not accurately—they still suspect they are talking to foreigners, and may be angry and rude.

Some officials and politicians claim that call-centre workers are behind a rise in HIV infections (albeit from a low base).

A report by the University of the Philippines in 2009 found that call-centre workers in Manila were slightly more likely than other young people to take drugs, and were much more sexually active.

When somebody challenges a gas-meter reading or asks to move an old phone number to a new SIM card, many databases must be updated, often by tediously cutting and pasting from one to another.

Blue Prism makes software “robots” that carry out such repetitive tasks just as a person would do them, without requiring a change to underlying IT systems—but much faster and more cheaply.

The cleverest systems, such as the one Celaton, another British firm, has built for Virgin Trains, refer the most complex questions to human operators and learn from the responses.

It can quickly retrieve and display customer data on their screens, reducing the need to transfer callers to other departments (where, irksomely, they will have to prove their identity yet again) or log on to a creaky IT system (“I’m sorry, our computers are down at the moment”).

Lately, for example, qualified nurses have been in demand to advise American patients on whether their sneezes and rashes might be serious—one result of cost-cutting inspired by Obamacare.

Or it is possible that computers will learn to handle almost all simple inquiries, leaving humans to deal with the most incoherent, irate customers.

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