5,000 Irish jobs in customer experience to be affected by automation

24 May 2019

Image: © charles taylor/Stock.adobe.com

Could the traditional call centre or sales job be easily replaced by a chatbot?

More than 56,000 people are currently employed in customer experience (CX) roles across Ireland but at least 5,000 of these jobs could be impacted by increased automation and chatbots.

A new report called CX Transformation from IDA Ireland – in collaboration with leading players in the CX industry in Ireland including Virgin Media Ireland, CarTrawler, Voxpro, AIB and Workhuman – has warned organisations that they need to innovate or be irrelevant.

‘Change is the only constant – this is particularly the case in the world of business where companies either innovate or they get overtaken’

The IDA Ireland report indicates that Ireland has been officially recognised as one of the key CX capitals of the world. Originally formed as the call centre sector that relied heavily on customer relationship management (CRM) in the 1980s and 1990s, the sector has evolved to be more language- and technology-based, embracing omnichannel platforms and digital disruption.

Key markets served by Ireland’s CX operations include Ireland (92pc), the UK (52pc), western Europe (37pc), Eastern Europe (27pc), and the US and Canada (22pc). An increasing market of customers are also served in Asia Pacific, Africa, and Latin America.

CX sells

“Change is the only constant – this is particularly the case in the world of business where companies either innovate or they get overtaken,” said Martin Shanahan, CEO of IDA Ireland.

“This is relevant for the CX industry in Ireland, where forces of change in the coming years will mean that the industry will evolve rapidly as customer expectations increase.”

The report indicates that there are three major market forces that will transform the sector in the coming years and that will potentially affect at least 5,000 of the current 56,000 roles.

The first is technology and data forces, including the rise of data centralisation, automation and AI, messaging and mobile, and the rise of digital assistants with natural language processing as well as AR and VR. 25pc of CX and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020, up from less than 2pc in 2017, according to Gartner.

The second force is strategic, whereby there is greater integration between marketing, CX and engineering alongside the growth in subscription-based business models. The subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100pc a year over the past five years, with the largest retailers generating more than $2.6bn in sales in 2016, up from $57m in 2011.

The third force is generational. A 2018 study by PwC in conjunction with UCD Smurfit School of Business found that more than half (54pc) of customers prefer to use text-based communication when contacting a company with a query or complaint. This rises to 70pc for 18- to 24-year-olds. An overwhelming majority (88pc) of respondents who are familiar with chatbots were under the age of 34.

Evolution, not revolution

Four women and two men, all smartly dressed, at a conference.

From left: Daniela Illuminati, Voxpro; Michael McCarthy, Virgin Media; Andrea Johnson, Workhuman; Shane Nolan, IDA Ireland; Dorothy O’Byrne, CCMA; and Maebh Ryan, IDA Ireland. Image: Fennell Photography

“CX has entered a digital age where organisations are driven to adjust how they interact and engage with their customers,” explained Dorothy O’Byrne, managing director of the Customer Contact Management Association (CCMA).

“Digital disruption continues to transform the role of customer contact centres, impacting on skills and technology required for employees to perform. It is therefore essential for centres to actively exploit these opportunities, move up the value chain and provide superior customer experience whilst driving business objectives.”

The IDA report sets out a vision for Irish operators in the CX sector that urges them to remain competitive by focusing on the three models for CX evolution: technology adoption, people change and services transformation.

The roadmap, developed with industry partners in the CCMA and Enterprise Ireland, sets out a course for Ireland’s CX sector amid huge leaps in AI and automation in recent years.

Increased data centralisation and winning customer trust, as well as natural language processing, are also affecting an industry that Ireland has been to the forefront of over the last 30 years.

“Customer experience is a large and important employer in regions throughout Ireland,” said Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, TD.

“I welcome the publication of this report and urge the industry to continue to come together to plan for the changes that are already affecting this industry and map out how Ireland can sharpen its edge in this area.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years