Getting emotional about AI
It’s a cruel, but persistent belief that call centre work is a repetitive and low-skilled occupation. Call centres or, to give them the sector’s preferred description, contact centres have been the butt of a thousand jokes and anecdotes.
Yet they employ many more thousands in what can be demanding and complex roles. The dated notion of the operative merely responding from a brief crib sheet to help get a telephone engineer to your house, or take you through baffling flat pack furniture instructions has long gone.
These days contact centres demand operatives skilled in foreign languages, software and other technical skills.
Now they’re being released further from the mundane tasks of old to allow them more time to deal with the real reasons customers are calling.
Shashi Nirale works for Servion, a multinational company which describes itself as the “only global, end-to-end consulting-led specialist in proactive customer experience management.”
The gobbledegook translates simply into a company providing the “nuts and bolts” of contact centres. It helps make them work.
In essence, it is handling the next generation customer experience and this means introducing more artificial intelligence, or robotics.
Servion is a true giant operating in 60 countries and Nirale was hired last year to manage its EMEA business.
During a visit to Glasgow for a Contact Centre Association conference, he spoke to Daily Business about this technological transformation of the industry, what it means for those working in it and the customers who use it.
“We are trying to make life easier by automating the mundane tasks,” he says. “AI will cut out the routine information by reducing the time needed to check your details. All these tasks will be automated.”
That will free up time for operatives to focus on the problem itself, he says. “It could reduce call times by half.”
More than that, the robotics will detect characteristics in the caller’s voice.
“We are trying to understand the customers’ emotions a lot more. That means understanding behaviour and mood,” he says.
In future, an irate customer will not simply get through to the “first available” operator, but to the one with the appropriate skills for dealing with such customers.
Nirale studied for an MBA at Strathclyde University so is familiar with Glasgow which has long been regarded as one of Europe’s biggest employers of call centre jobs.
Scotland, collectively, has the highest number in the UK, serving companies such as BT, T-Mobile and Prudential, so there is a lot of interest locally in the technical changes taking place.
It plays into what is being called the “emotion economy”, which impacts on all business sectors. AI will have a fundamental role, says Nirale, and contact centres of the future will be able to predict why customers are getting in touch.
It demands new skills, but also plays into the fintech space which is developing the technologies of the future that will affect the world of work and create new types of jobs.
“Technology is changing rapidly,” he says, “and it is good to see politicians and those in education recognising these changes with coding and programming becoming more commonplace.”
Education: Strathclyde University (MBA)
Occupation: Business IT Consultant
Career highlights: Genpact, Cap Gemini; joined Servion Global Solutions as senior vice-president EMEA October 2016