It might not be well received by a lot of people in India and the Philippines (and really a lot of other places)...but I dare say....the end of the call center rep is in sight.
Sure..it will take years...and I suppose there a chance it might never happen. I doubt it though.
Just imagine the following scenario:
You call your airline and instead of being routed into a telephone tree a female live operator picks up on the first ring. No number pressing, waiting and more number pressing to get hold of a person.
You tell her what you want, book your flight , request the window seat and the special vegetarian meal. You are off the phones within minutes. The operator had your frequent flyer details readily available and even engaged in some small talk. Her favorite baseball team had lost (happens to be your hometown team also)...she even knew the score from the weekend game. In a total coincidence she also had visited your hometown and knew one of the restaurants in your city.
Now....the next time you call your airline the exact same rep happens to pick up the phone. She does remember your last conversation, asks how your to LA trip worked out and you effortlessly continue where you left off. ("...same credit card as the one you used the last time?")
A call and customer relation scenario like this would be a dream come true...not only for you but also for the decision makers in charge of sales and customer service of countless companies.
A select few companies believe they can make the above described scenario happen..and they are putting their money where their mouth is.
The game changer to make it happen is Artificial Intelligence (AI). IBM's Watson and its peers are finally emerging out of the shadows and are becoming the backbone of solutions like the one described.
The quasi cognitive abilities of Watson, taught by ten's of thousands of conversations hours loaded into its "brain" will enable Natural Language Processing (NLP) on a level never yet experienced.
The lady you are talking to will be well modulated machine voice...and the response will be powered by an AI application which has been taught to be engaging and personal through thousand and thousands of conversations.
In short...the learning process of the Artificial Intelligence unit will mimic the best call center rep money can buy.
If you think this scenario is far fetched or we are a decade away from it...think again. The prospect of eliminating 5000 call center reps, its associated management structure and coming up with a better product is a lure every company will follow over time.
We have been working with Watson for some time now and I can say with certainty it will happen, It will obviously require effort and time (money) but the potential payoff is so huge that some companies are committing vast resources to the project.
In reality only companies with huge call center operations have the budgetary means to support the development effort required to make it work. Companies only get one chance to make a first impression. The product has to satisfy mainstream America right out of the gate.
As such the pivot away from a human operator will be slow....but it might become an avalanche faster than most people expect.
The implication of a successful conversion to a machine based call center service are enormous...both in cost of human capital and financial impact. It is a nightmare scenario for some of the biggest providers of call center services...but it will happen.
Corporate America has been ruthless eliminating American jobs through the use of offshore call center services...surely it will be equally ruthless eliminating those providers too.