Chat and conversational AI services have the potential to further elevate the local call centre and BPO market. What are those opportunities, and how can companies adopt them?
South Africa’s call centre industry is booming and is a preferred offshore customer-support destination for many international organisations. It attracts significant investment, generates employment, kickstarts careers, delivers customer satisfaction, and boosts loyalty for businesses and brands.
Local call centres are a growing market. In 2021, the state and business process outsourcing (BPO) sector released the global business services (GBS) master plan that aims to create 500,000 new jobs by 2030. These prospects are realistic: South Africa benefits from its strong English language base, central time zone, and relatively mature technology sector. According to the 2021 Front Office BPO Omnibus Survey, SA was 2021’s most favoured offshore customer experience (CX) delivery location.
The new generation of AI-powered voice assistants
SA’s call centres are at the front of the Global Business Services (GBS) industry, and AI-powered voice assistants are opportunities to maintain and expand that lead. In a recent webinar hosted by the Digital Solutions Group (DSG), experts weighed in on the topic.
“Humans supported by new technologies still have a lot going for them,” said Gerry Brown from The Customer Lifeguard, the webinar’s host. “There are many voices in the customer experience world who will say customers only want to talk to real humans. Well, naturally we do. But what if there aren’t enough people? Or it’s 2am? Then what?”
The solution may lie in AI-powered voice agents, capable of providing seamless service, taking up mundane tasks, analysing customer sentiments, and supporting human agents who can focus on empathy and problem-solving. These new AI agents are the next evolution beyond the voice assistants on phones and smart speakers.
“Voice agents like Siri and Alexa are more task-based, which is quite different from a conversational flow,” said Dion Millson, CEO of Elerian AI. “But those definitely opened up a willingness of people to use voice when they want something done quickly. Voice is such a natural method of communication for people.”
The new AI voice agents also take inspiration from the emerging world of conversational chatbots, replacing hierarchical scripts and word prompts, said Brandon Meszaros, CEO of the Customer Experience Group (CXG):
“When we talk about digital assistants versus chatbots, digital assistants have flexible dialogue handling, the ability to free flow in a conversation, and understand intent. They can really drive a conversation that’s aware of intent and emotion.”
How voice assistants serve humans
Artificial intelligence has raised concerns that AI agents might replace humans. However this is far from the case, especially in the GBS sector. Humans prefer connecting with humans, who can express empathy. Instead, AI agents handle routine and mundane tasks.
For example, said Millson, consider how spam has made us averse to answering unknown numbers and how hard it is for call centre agents to reach customers with legitimate queries.
“Around forty percent of an agent’s time is often spent just trying to get hold of the right person, and only six percent of the time was actually engaging with the caller. That’s such a waste of human potential. That is something that the digital agent can automate.”
Customers want extraordinary experiences delivered through an agent or predictable processes. AI-powered voice assistants are making enormous strides in customer experiences (CX).
“There are many practical examples,” said Meszaros. “Telefonica, a large global Telco based in 15 countries, deployed AI voice agents to manage calls across different scenarios. Today they automate 42 million calls per annum across that particular mobile support service.”
AI systems give the agents more space and time. Most customer requests don’t need a human agent, enabling those agents to focus on high-value calls. AI-powered voice assistants improve CX by shifting the human agent’s emphasis from call volumes to quality engagements.
How companies can adopt AI voice assistants
GBS and CX AI-powered voice assistants provide excellent advantages for engagement, personalisation, and convenience. Yet, companies should pace themselves and adopt such technologies strategically. They need nuanced integration based on the organisation’s support processes.
Foremost, as Meszaros emphasised, companies must “not just invest for the sake of investing in technology, but invest in to see a return, and an improvement in customer experience. Self-directed transactional capabilities link closely to back-end processes. There needs to be solid business processes sitting behind these engagements. It’s not just the standard ‘press one through five’ system.”
Millson agreed, noting that a pragmatic and phased approach to different service requirements helps organisations mature their approach with less risk.
“We typically start off with inbound calls—answering calls, identifying the caller, maybe doing some self-service options, authentication mechanisms. Then we can focus on customers getting what they need from a self-service perspective, such as getting a bank statement or changing their personal details. And then there’s creating the standardised processes, the low to medium complexity, high-volume stuff.”
There is no doubt that new AI-powered voice assistants are a part of the modern call centre. SA’s BPO industry is already a global leader; now, it can lead even further with AI-powered voice assistants.