How bots are transforming India’s call-centre industry

How bots are transforming India’s call-centre industry

India Inc’s dependence on call centres is changing rapidly as the first level of calls are increasingly being handled by bots. This means companies are now looking for employees who can speak several languages, understand complex financial processes, upsell products, and work across platforms.

Arjun Ramaraju chief executive of Conneqt Business Solutions, said, “The IT, BFSI and retail sectors have some of our top clients in India. The bots help with first-stage, transaction-level communication with customers and are taken over by people when the processes become more complex.”  The digital IT and business process management services provider employs 30,000 call-centre agents. Three years ago, it had 20,000 agents.

Interestingly, the push to recruit more agents is coming in from non-metros. “Tier 2 and 3 towns are the prominent drivers of the growth of call centres as people from these places still want to interact with customer service in regional languages,” Ramaraju added.

Business process management company WNS noted that call centre agents now need domain knowledge to handle complex questions from customers. “Query management has changed and resolutions are no longer binary. Business-to-consumer (B2C) startups now use both bots and agents to handle their customers,” said R. Swaminathan, chief people officer at WNS. 

The company said that while revenues are growing at 12% a year, hiring has risen by 5-6% annually. Swaminathan pointed out that while BFSI clients are prominent, those in smaller towns need to talk to agents for equities-related queries that bots can’t handle.

The tug-of-war between bots and human employees at call centres is due to digitisation across profiles as companies look to become more cost-efficient. For instance, HDFC has compiled reasons why a customer would want to reach out, and allows them to perform more than 200 types of transactions over WhatsApp. It has about 10 million customers registered on WhatsApp banking.

“Customers now tweet, send a text message, WhatsApp or call phonebanking staff. We have now unified these customer-care channels, and through WhatsApp banking, one could have a more meaningful conversation than before,” Anjani Rathor, chief digital officer of the bank, said in an earlier interview with Mint.

The number jobs at the lower end is growing quickly, while senior roles are petering out. This could affect career transitions. “Automation technologies are reshaping the BPO industry, impacting contact centers and call centers globally. Robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing (NLP)-powered chatbots, machine learning (ML), intelligent data processing (IDP) and cognitive virtual assistants (CVA) are some of the automation tools disrupting the outsourcing world,” said Ritu Sethi, partner, technology practice, at recruitment firm ABC Consultants.

Mint reported last week that a wider deployment of AI technology by India Inc would likely make 15,000-20,000 jobs redundant this year, as a large number of coding profiles, system maintenance and support functions at junior levels will become automated.

“Amid widespread fears that automation will wipe away repetitive roles in the BPO industry, it has been observed that technology has in fact helped increase productivity and efficiency, thus augmenting the performance of employees,” Sethi added.

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Published: 09 Jan 2024, 04:22 PM IST

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