Is the call centre dead?

Is the call centre dead?

In the UK there are reckoned to be around 750,000 people employed in call centres[1], with around a third of those dedicated to outbound calling. That’s 4% of the UK working population, a percentage pretty much matched in the US, France, Germany and most other major economies. AI (Artificial Intelligence) has a role to play in optimising inbound enquiries because the power of voice to text, in near real time, provides the opportunity to…

a: better route callers to the most appropriate person to deal with their enquiry


b: in certain instances, the caller’s message can be understood by the AI, a ‘silicon based unit’ if you will, so well that they can be answered before engaging with a more expensive ‘carbon based unit’.

ContactEngine are mainly interested in automating the outbound call centre function and proactive communication to stop the inbound caller even picking up the phone in the first place.

How so?

Many companies use call centres to act as a mediator between the CRM system and the customer. So, for example if a customer is expecting a delivery, repair, installation or visit of some kind in their home – then traditionally a human has called the customer (with the CRM system bringing up an auto ‘dialler’) to ‘firm up’ that visit. However, given that ContactEngine know that the best time to gain a response from a customer in the UK (based on big data analysis) is not between 9-5, and when a business is large enough to conduct 1000’s of such visits a day – then a call centre cannot hope to outperform an automated dialogue engine, with in-built AI features, which is what we do.

Equally with inbound calls, if a company analyses what makes a customer call in – then in many instances a swift ‘all channel’ communication to the customer (we use SMS, e-mail, instant messenger, phone calls, cycling across channels to gain a reply) can stop that call ever being made. Examples here include automatically letting a customer know that a direct debit mandate change has been received and acted upon, that a bill seems to be climbing unexpectedly or that a flight for next summer’s package holiday has been confirmed. These are all real instances when a proactive intelligent piece of automated comms has stopped the need for a customer to call in and made them happier in the process.

Now the question is: ‘does this result in the end of the call centre’? Well no it doesn’t, not quite. It will mean the end of people reading from a screen and acting like a computer, but it will also mean that the inbound calls, which are beyond the wit of an AI bot to deal with, are then handled by real people, who are expert in their field.

That said, the industry itself reports a likely shedding of >30,000 jobs in 2017[1] due to ‘automated digital channels, increasing usage of self-service’ and the inevitable ‘blame all’ of Brexit.

I would suggest however that over time reducing the cost of a call centre by intelligent automation will make a business more efficient and lead to better service and increase customer numbers – which itself leads to more employment!

Kaspa Hazlewood

New Business Director