Can Artificial Intelligence Kill Outsourced Customer Support?

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By Jacob Maslow

robot girl in helmetDell Computers (NASDAQ:DELL) got a lot of nasty publicity when a lot of its American customer base complained about Dell’s technical support services. When people picked up the phone, they could barely understand the accent of the person who was supposed to help them with customer support services. Not surprisingly, Dell had to move a huge chunk of its tech support operations from India to the Philippines and, failing that, back to the United States. In fact, Dell is charging customers extra money just to speak with an American customer support or tech support professional.

This is the dark side of outsourced customer and tech support. The reality is that, while the promise of outsourcing is you can pay a Filipino $2-3$ an hour compared to $12-$20 an hour for an American, the work product quality that you get can mean the difference between a customer staying loyal or a customer leaving you. Too many American companies are finding this out the hard way. The good news is that, as the global outsourcing industry matures, more and more companies are turning towards technology. While there is still a need for a flesh and blood human being to answer a customer support call, the actual point of human contact is constantly being pushed further and further down the chain of engagement.

The earlier levels of engagement are increasingly being handled by software. Highly sophisticated software using artificial intelligence and highly elaborate decision logic trees are improving overall customer service results. Moreover, this reduces the overall cost footprint of outsourcing companies. This means that they don’t have to hire as many people. Also, this means that they can pay the few people they do hire higher wages in exchange for higher skill levels and work quality.

The Good News: Sales Can’t Be Outsourced

You might be thinking, “Well, if this is the trend of customer support outsourcing, does this mean that American investors really have nowhere to invest in the outsourcing space?” Absolutely not. The good news is that sales cannot be outsourced. There will always be a need for a flesh and blood human being who can read the signals that the prospect is sending out over the phone. That is to increase the chances of a sale. That is never going to go away.

Moreover, this is the kind of outsourcing that can definitely take any enterprise’s profit margins to the next level. Don’t be surprised if artificial intelligence continues to make inroads in the world of outsourced customer support.

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