November 11, 2014
Call centers may be obsolete in a handful of years. Online services such as help desks and intelligent websites could transfer all areas of service to the domain of the Web. So much for a multichannel approach; what businesses and customers may have on their hands in the next few decades is a reduction, a distillation to simpler times.
This largely appears to be the mindset of Australian telecommunications company Telstra ( – ). Its CEO, David Thodey, notably commented that traditional call center jobs would be obsolete within a few years. The company has been sending much of its call center work overseas, and its customers are reportedly not happy with that move. However, Thodey’s comments in August to ABC.net that concern Telstra’s future may have raised even more concerns.
“You think about how you interact with a bank today,” Thodey said to ABC.net. “You don’t go into the bank branch that often and that’s going to be the truth, I think, about many of the traditional service-related jobs. It’s going to be more and more digitally done and I think as difficult as that is to face, we have to… the off-shoring is a temporary sort of step.”
As correct or incorrect as he may be, his comments may have been somewhat premature. Business Insider Australia reports that, , he said call center agents must be good at their jobs – no matter where they are located. He said many of the Telstra jobs are in Perth and justifying those positions “because we’re a multicultural society and often the criticism is around language or communications skills.”
That is an arguably good point that any call center owner could make. Agents should be able to effectively communicate with their customers; likely no one would deny that. Thodey is not completely backing down, though, and also recently bolstered his August comments with this statement:
“I do fundamentally see that contact centers will decline in the future,” he said.
“More people are going online, and they prefer it as a better experience.”
Thodey’s words are not the end of commentary on the subject. Business Insider also states that David Tudehope, the CEO of Macquarie Telecom ( – ), has taken the opposite position and contends that the offshoring call center positions are not always the best idea. He explains how an internal bidding process allowed the company to consider its call center operations as a core part of overall operations.
“We thought that contact centers were noncore but when we thought about it, if we believed customer service was the key to our business, how can we not do contact centers ourselves? It’s a very important part of how we touch our customers. Outsourcing it just didn’t make sense,” Tudehope said.
There are likely many business managers from all industries that will fall on one side of the debate or the other. For some companies, offshoring could be the correct course; for others, that will not be the case. Either way, if Thodey ends up correctly predicting the future, many call center employees could be out of a job in the next couple of decades. Customer service operations could shift entirely from traditional call centers to remote workers that operate entirely through online portals. Ultimately, though, it may be up to the public to decide the future of those positions because they are the ones that demand exceptional service. They may continue to demand services which only call centers can provide.