Advancement in robotics, autonomous transport, AI and machine learning could impact more than 5 million people’s jobs by 2020, according to World Economic Forum’s recent study.
‘The Future of Jobs’ study states that over 5 million people’s jobs are estimated to get impacted by technology advancement across verticals and some 2 million new highly-skilled jobs will be created by 2020.
This study is one more indicator of how the wave of automation is expected to sweep across industries. And the global BPO (business process outsourcing) sector is too under its impact with the rise of AI, machine learning and RPA (robotic process automation) technology led automated services.
Though, the automation wave is at its early stage, some of the Indian BPO firms led by their CIOs (Chief Information Officers) are already embracing it openly as a way to move forward by adopting new technology and enhancing employees’ skills.
The Automation Wave
“We have to embrace automation – it’s a reality. Automated tools like ‘virtual customer assistant’ are the new mode of self-service,” says Prashant Cherukuri, CIO – 7, Inc., one of the largest cloud-based self-service networks, operating in 5 countries with over 13,000 employees.
Going ahead, Cherukuri says that use of automated tools will actually become part and parcel of BPO industry. In fact, 7, Inc., has invested in service automation and built a ‘virtual customer assistance’ which will actually be used along with real agents on the front desk. His organization has developed algorithmic tools using proprietary software.
“BPOs need to strive and adopt newer technology trends to convert themselves into a digital transformation company through automating the omni-channel way, which is very big in the BPO industry,” says Dhananjay Prasad, CIO – Hero BPO & Hero Mindmine.
“Consolidation of voice, web based chat, emails, social, mobile, and other media channels into omni-channel is actually the first step towards automation in the BPO industry,” adds Prasad.
Improving Customer Experience
According to Prasad, today businesses want to be more purposeful with focus on customer experience (CX) rather just being profit centric. In order to do, automation through the omni-channel way is the first step in that direction as it will enable enterprises to maximise customer engagement in proportion to number of agents.
In fact, Hero BPO has set up a CoE (Centre of Excellence) internally some three months ago. It’s a small lab with few developers that are working to build chat bots specifically as per the needs of a client based in UK / US, informs Prasad.
Today it has around 1500 plus employees, offering KPO services to retails, ecommerce, telecom and finance. In terms of client base, 60 percent of clients are domestic while 60 percent are domestic.
Cherukuri of 7, Inc., informs his organization has created a platform using in-house proprietary software, which is an agent specific technology to enhance productivity of agents and benefit them.
With 100 percent business coming from outside India, Cherukuri further points out that one of the reasons behind automation is because most of company’s clients are under pressure to lower their costs, hence are using virtual assistant and other self service tools. Over 90 percent of business services that 7, Inc., offers are chat based non-voice communication.
According research firm Gartner, 85 percent of customers’ relationship with enterprise is expected to get managed without human interactions by the year 2020.
Rise of Omni-channel
Today, BPO companies are migrating from multi-channels to omni-channel platform and are building AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning based automated platforms to manage repetitive processes and mundane activities of contact centre agents.
The omni-channel platform actually saves times as well as it offers different modes like voice chat, web chat, mobile, social, chat bots and others as per the preference of customers. This actually offers more convenience to customers.
Having more alternative channels actually considered good for customers and omni-channel is evolving more now than in past. “We are working toward integrating omni-channel as means to enhance and provide a great customer experience,” he says.
Aegis as an organization is working on multiple things such as building an omni-channel solution, enhancing customer experience management through the use of analytics, automation and more, informs Mumbai based Subramaniyan.
The Essar Group owned company operates in India and nine other countries with over strong 40,000 employees. It has around 25,000 staff serving the domestic market predominantly the telecom, BFSI, healthcare and e-commerce sectors.
While customer experience remains BPO industry’s core objective, Subramaniyan emphasizes on the role of data or information in enhancing customer experience.
“Maintaining seamless flow of information across channels is very important from automation prospective and also is a key to omni-channel and customer experience management,” he explains. In simple terms, any conversation between an agent and the customer should easily be available across channels.
In context to customer experience management and automation, Subramaniyan says, “We will try and deliver automation to a level that enhances the customer experience management. Policy should be to automate as per customer’s delight and wherever it can be enhanced.”
The Fallouts of Automation
While there’s a growing outcry globally against automation and job loss, Prasad opines that when automation happens it will elite routine tasks and low skilled jobs, however he strongly feels that humans will need to upgrade their skills as it’s a world of knowledge based economy.
“Though automation takes away lot of repetitive and low skilled jobs, it also creates a demand of people with new skills and background like data scientists, analytics experts and others. These new skills are very essential in driving automation,” explains Prasad.
Like Prasad, Subramaniyan also agrees that there will some level of job losses due to automation however he does points this situation is no different to any other technology led transformation that had happened in the past.
According to Subramaniyan, there are multiple levels of automation however the primary level of automation is considered as a ‘basic hygiene’ which for example is about automating repetitive tasks or things rather than humans do it.
“The second level of automation is where Cognitive tools are used for automation, followed by mid-level automation which is all about integration way of doing thing. For example, this is not just on the front desk agent facing but also integrating the back systems like sending emails automatically,” explains Subramaniyan.
Taking a broader industry view, 7, Inc.’s Cherukuri says, BPO companies offering the plain vanilla stuff will take a big hit. With low end jobs or tasks expected to be taken over by technology led automation, the agents will be required to do high-end and complex transactions.
CIOs under pressure
Certainly, the automation wave puts immense pressure in terms of the future of BPO companies and the industry overall. Having said that, along with the business heads, the CIOs also need to play a proactive role in helping their organizations adopt to change rather than retaliate against it.
“CIOs truly need to stay updated on the technology front as well as have to come up with a vision for next 5-10 year period based on organization’s business and service offerings. They need to focus on value offering to their customers by utilizing unstructured data as it enhances productivity of staff nearly by 70-75 percent,” point outs Prasad.
Besides enhancing skills of staffs through imparting training on new technology tools and processes, Prasad says, “CIOs can actually re-engineer processes in their organizations that would help to enhance customer services and overall experience.”
With the low-end tasks expected to get replaced by automation and the agents, 7, Inc.’s Cherukurin asks his CIO peers to use more technology tools to enable contact centre agents and they should constantly strive to help agents with new technology.
“If you don’t be watchful about technology, than it will kill the industry and eventually it will lead to a consolidation of the BPO industry,” reiterate Cherukurin. Taking a different view from his fellow CIO peers, Subramaniyan argues that probably, it’s too early to focus on the skills enhancement of agents or advisors. He says, today most systems and tools like CRM (Customer Relationship Management) used by these agents actually are quiet intelligent and well integrated with different channels that provides a better information visibility.
“This doesn’t demand more training or skills. Basically this helps the agent in viewing the integrated information on his/her system but how an agent takes a decision based on that information is very crucial from customer experience point,” explains Subramaniyan.
From an organization and CIO perspective Subramaniyan advocates a ‘proactive approach’ in terms of meeting customers’ expectation. Citing ‘WhatsApp’ a highly popular mobile messaging platform among masses, he says that though businesses are not using it as a legal communication channel but if customers ask for it than BPO services provider has to offer it.
“We are in an age, where we can wait for our customers to ask for certain features in services. We need to be proactive in making services richer with new features for our customers,” he concludes.