AI and its impact on the BPO sector
BPOs are primarily extensions of US-based companies, with the goal of controlling cost. They embrace any advancement that will allow this. The parent companies may be ready, but is Jamaica ready? Is the BPO workforce ready?
The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry utilises technologies such as customer relationship management software, cloud computing, data analytics, human resources information systems and application technology, among other collaborative tools, to allow constant communication among clients, customers, and the call centre. Through these technologies, different BPO companies keep abreast of their client, company and personal KPIs, and can predict and plan staffing for different business functions. They do this through instant-messaging capabilities, on-demand meetings, customer surveys, and US-Jamaica workforce management collaborations, just to name a few.
POST-PANDEMIC AI BOOM
Post-COVID-19, there has been a proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other tools used to automate processes that are now impacting the traditional customer service roles in the BPO sector. For example, Tesla has created an AI that completes sales calls, responds to common customer questions, and is well-mannered and sounds like an interested sales agent.
A version of this technology could be incorporated in the sales-driven BPO companies in Jamaica. This AI can book appointments, make notes, and send or call as a reminder for these appointments. Some of these functions are what sales agents are doing. As an investor, why not use this and only push calls to humans when there are trigger words?
Other AI tools such as chatbots, virtual assistants, and email automation are changing the way customers experience customer service when they reach out to customer care. The tools can handle basic customer inquiries, generate sales or leads, engage in proactive order processing, social media management, and customer surveys.
One company that uses AI is AI Operator. They have a chatbot on their website that can answer questions about their products. LTVplus (a virtual BPO company) recently partnered with AI Operator to offer this service to their clients.
AI AND BPO IN JAMAICA
Many BPO companies in Jamaica are still performing basic cognitive tasks, such as virtual assistant, answering product-related questions, and the updating of customer records from documents scanned to a central system. These functions are slowly being replaced by AI tools.
Companies like AI Operators and LTVplus are investing in more self-service options, building out knowledge base with chatbots that are more human than ever. Some of these bots are equipped with natural language understanding and can process requests, track clicks, and offer solutions to customers as they browse a website.
Fortune 500 firms who are parent companies to the BPOs in Jamaica will eventually want to transition the sites to using these AI tools. Are Jamaicans ready for this change?
JOB SECURITY AND AI IN JAMAICAN BPO SECTOR
Many of the lower-level roles that top BPO companies employ require low skills and basic cognitive functions. With the addition of AI to these roles, people may have a hard time buying into the usefulness and ease of use of these technologies. People have access to information now more than ever and it only takes one negative post, comment, or video to spread fear among people.
AI is seen as a replacement for humans, and people in lower-level customer service roles might not be too welcoming. Many lower-level staff will become worried that they will soon be replaced with technology. “Where is the sense of a little security in my job that I had last year?” are just a few of the thoughts that BPO workers may have when they think about AI.
STRATEGIES TO PROMOTE AI IN BPO JAMAICA
As the world moves to using more AI tools, many companies in the industry will have to consider some of the following strategies to promote technology acceptance and curve job insecurity issues:
1. Skill Development and Collaboration with Industry Experts. Employers and employees will need to examine, through research, the trends in AI globally and create training initiatives in collaboration with industry experts. Partnership with the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), and engaging further collaboration with the leadership of the Global Service Association of Jamaica (GSAJ), HEART/NSTA Trust, and international companies like OpenAI would be valuable for this objective. This will promote the long-term relevance of employees and companies throughout this shift.
2. Pilot Project and Proof of Concept AI Centers of Excellence. The Government should encourage BPO companies to start small-scale pilot projects with AI to examine the benefits that the company will gain from adopting this into their organisational framework. This could form the framework for other industries to follow.
3. Government Intervention and Regulation. The Government is moving towards establishing a task force to conduct research on AI and its implications on Jamaica. This is a great move on the part of the Government to assess and create strategies to help all industries. BPO companies would benefit from keeping up to date with this development, but they also need to evaluate the impact on their company to see the benefits and the challenges.
CALL TO ACTION
BPO companies in Jamaica will need to consider teaming up with the GSAJ to understand how AI will impact the industry. Such a move would strategically align companies to maneuver the challenges of this transition. This partnership would allow for the companies in Jamaica to use the information provided from the research of GSAJ to offer different business solutions that could create more jobs to replace the ones that will be lost.
As Anand Biradar, president of GSAJ, commented in The Observer on April 10, 2023, the sector has 12 to 18 months to fully prepare for the integration of AI and maximise the outcomes. BPO companies in Jamaica need to start understanding AI and its impact on the sector, and use this to help with remaining relevant.
Dr Tiou Clarke is a lecturer in the College of Business and Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to email@example.com.