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AI vs. human customer service agents: will humans be automated out of work?


min read

There’s been a ton of speculation about whether AI will start to replace human workers. Instead, AI has already proven to be a powerful tool to make our work less repetitive – and less stressful.

With all the recent advances in AI, speculation abounds about the role it will play in the future of work. McKinsey’s Global Survey on AI reported that AI adoption has grown from 20% to 50% in the last five years, and that natural language processing is a fast-growing segment of these new tools. New generative AI models like ChatGPT and DALL-E are revolutionising what is possible from AI – and making some worried for their jobs in the process.

Some see a fourth industrial revolution on the horizon, with all the economic instability and labour displacement that the first three brought. There are particular concerns in countries like the Philippines, where business process outsourcing (BPO) is a significant labour market but also a market that’s being heavily augmented by AI.

There’s no question that AI is already changing the future of work – but instead of replacing jobs completely, it’s changing workplaces for the better by eliminating mundane tasks. While AI’s predictive capabilities are striking, it still needs to be moderated by human judgement in order to eliminate risk and ensure quality control.

Business process outsourcing: risks and possibilities

In the Philippines, the BPO industry is worth $30 billion USD per year, making it a large segment of both the national economy and the global $230 billion BPO market. Many companies outsource contact centre labour to workers in the Philippines, but advances in natural language processing have created some concern about the future of this industry.

This concern isn’t new: in 2017, Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV inquired about the Filipino government’s readiness to address what he saw as the inevitable negative impact of AI, speculating that it would threaten Filipino jobs in the BPO industry.

However, other government officials were more optimistic; the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Mochito Ibrahim said that AI represented an opportunity to “move [workers] up the value chain” rather than a threat that would destroy jobs completely.

Five years later, that optimism has been reflected in the growth of the Philippine labour market, which saw some of the strongest growth in South Asia. Overall, South Asia saw a world-class 6% growth in 2022 and is anticipated to grow by another 5.3% in 2023, according to the International Labour Organization.

There is still demand for BPO, but the expectations of companies are shifting. McKinsey reports an increasing demand for BPO that includes tech solutions such as analytics and automation alongside live agents. And it’s not only large businesses that expect automation: for BPO contact centres, customers are also increasingly expecting instant service over multiple channels. That is difficult to scale with human agents alone, even for outsourced contact centres. Digital solutions can also help companies align performance expectations with the contact centres they outsource to, by tracking KPIs and conversational analytics that signify value. 

However, that doesn’t mean companies can eliminate agents entirely. Excellent, personalised customer service remains an important differentiator for brands – and AI still can not solve complex customer queries perfectly. Human agents are still vital for maintaining the service standards set by businesses. 

AI works best on human teams

Although AI will change the nature of work, it won’t replace work itself. From self-driving cars to ChatGPT, it’s become clear that AI needs human oversight for quality control and complex decision making. Additionally, tasks that require unstructured solutions or empathic responses, such as complex customer service issues, aren’t suitable for AI on its own.

Instead, AI can help augment work. In the customer service landscape, tools like chatbots are excellent at assisting with basic, repetitive queries and collecting data on interactions. But for customers that have complex requests, the human touch is irreplaceable.

To learn more about how Proto can help boost the service potential of live agents, reach out to our experts today.

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