Automation Dooming Indian Outsourced Contact Center Jobs?

| Contact Center/CRM Views and Analysis

Automation Dooming Indian Outsourced Contact Center Jobs?

About a dozen years ago I heard a comment ascribed to a longtime CEO of a leading global teleservices firm who reputedly said: "I don't care where in the world you go, self-service will always be cheaper."

Well thanks to technologies such as electronic order entry, improved IVR, speech recognition but more importantly web self-service and more recently outbound notifications there is a growing realization that automation could doom many jobs, such as in contact centers, even in India, long the land of low-cost offshore outsourcing.

A blog entry that appeared in the New York Times last week by Vikas Bajaj says that India too is worried about where the jobs will come from in future (thanks Rich for the tip) 

S. Gopalakrishnan, the chief executive of Infosys, told the Times blogger that "he worried that over the next 20 years to 30 years, smarter computers and increased automation could do away with many of the back-office jobs that companies have moved to his country to take advantage of lower labor costs and greater economies of scale.

"He recalled the example of an outsourcing deal his company took on to enter orders into an electronic system for a customer. When the contract started, Infosys put 300 people on the job, but after a short while it dropped that to just 100 people, even though the workers were processing more orders, faster and more efficiently.

"What happened? I asked.

"He said that a greater percentage of the orders were now being submitted electronically by the customer's customers. In other cases previously separate computer systems were connected to each other, so more orders were flowing electronically with no human intervention. And finally, he said, Infosys itself had found ways to streamline its processes so that it needed fewer people to complete the work."

What makes Indian contact centers offshoring especially vulnerable are two factors. One, India is moving up the IT food chain, with better paying and higher skilled jobs such as in programming. Two, offshoring-serving contact centers' hours are deeply and understandably unpopular with employees because they must work unsociable (and unsafe) graveyard shifts to match the corresponding daytime hours in North America. That is on top of the typical contact center stresses from demanding and sometimes obnoxious customers while meeting stringent performance targets in very confining spaces at low pay.

Does this mean that offshoring will end? As India's companies and employees become more expert and proficient with technology, expect them to develop and refine automated less cost than their North American counterparts.


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