Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly, and it's having a devastating effect on a number of industries.
But one that no one is ready for is the call center industry.
Pesky telemarketers, fundraisers, and customer service reps will soon be completely replaced by robots. And it's not just the low-skilled roles that are at risk, either—AI will soon grow capable of handling more complex jobs, like telephone sales or business development.
Ready for the paradigm shift?
Progress in artificial intelligence call centers
Have you heard this recording yet?
For those that don't have the time: it's an AI sounding indistinguishable from a human, complete with realistic uhms and ahs.
And it was made 3 years ago.
3 years in the AI industry is like a hundred years anywhere else. What do I mean? Here's how far AI art models have progressed in approximately the same time-frame.
Imagine how good proprietary AI phone systems now sound and feel behind closed doors.
How will this affect you? Well, if you've currently got a job at a call center—fundraising for child sponsorship, for example—you'd better start brushing up on something else ASAP. Call center work is only going to grow less profitable and more precarious in the coming years as employers replace people with programs.
On the other hand, if you're a business that uses call centers, you're in for an interesting few years. You'll soon be able to cut your labor costs a ton while significantly improving the quality of your customer service.
The silver lining
At first, businesses will use AI primarily for outbound calls, since so much of what is said is scripted and templated already.
But be warned—AI call center software will quickly evolve from just outbound telemarketing to owning the entire sales system. They'll become the dominant way all phone sales are done, which will inevitably gut the industry (and phone calls in general).
- Artificial intelligence is the great equalizer: it eliminates market inefficiencies like arbitrage and poor product quality. Since many companies' entire value proposition is their ability to sell an inferior product well, they won't be able to endure this transition.
- Technology is ever moving towards more stimulation and more customizability. Sales is no different. When the 'phone game' becomes overplayed, sales companies will move to more interactive methods of outreach, like customized videos or virtual reality. These, too, will succumb to AI—but not for another couple of decades.
Of course, there are ethical considerations to be taken into account with any industry that's being threatened by artificial intelligence. After all, when robots start doing the jobs of human beings, those human beings need to find something else to do - your bills don't pay themselves (yet).
But the problem here is that call centers were already our economy's way of placing people who were deemed surplus to other job requirements. With machines replacing cold callers, it's hard to see how the workers are going to win this one.
What's more, it's not just the jobs that are at risk—it's also human interaction as a whole. AI will undoubtedly be able to handle customer service inquiries and phone calls far better than people can. But is that really a good thing?
There's something comforting about speaking to another person when you have a problem. It makes us feel less alone in the world—connected, as if through a tether, to another soul.
And while AI call center representatives may be able to provide excellent service that's indistinguishable in quality from a human, knowing the fact that it's not a person will likely cheapen the experience (at least at first).
Final thoughts: Artificial intelligence call centers
In short? Beef up that spam filter, harden your hearts, and (if this applies to you) begin looking for a new job, because conversational AI is right around the corner.
When I worked in sales, my job was hard enough—thank the almighty I won't have to compete with literal machines for a living.
Good medicine sucks to swallow. While the ever-increasing capabilities of AI will no doubt be good for society in the long-term, that won't stop the process from absolutely sucking in the short term.
Careers will be displaced. Livelihoods will be destroyed. And children will be sponsored—very efficiently.