BPO workers bet on 'human touch' to ride automation wave

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 07 2017 06:22 AM

MANILA - Business process outsourcing workers said they were betting on the "human touch" to keep their jobs, as the industry looks towards artificial intelligence.

The industry that employs roughly 1.15 million people expects that the shift to AI for mechanical tasks had the potential to displace 40,000 low-skilled workers while creating opportunities for nearly 700,000 with higher skills.

Potential job losses are a "myth" as companies that outsource operations develop "hybrid digital and live interaction agents," said SITEL chief operating officer Craig Reines.

Michael Noche, a 32-year-old training manager with Ibex Global, said he was "not threatened at all" by the looming automation wave.

"AI might have its own advantages but still we will not be able to deny the fact that human talent is something a lot more deeper and is indispensable," Noche told ABS-CBN News.

Call center supervisor Keith Rosales is similarly optimistic.

"Having AI do all these in the future is not possible. Human touch would always be needed when it comes to customer service," Rosales told ABS-CBN News.

"Customers still like to speak to a live agent instead of having to deal with a computer or robot. My company is trying to introduce self-service channels but so far, customers still rather call the hotline with live agents because it is more personalized," he said.

English proficiency and a service-oriented culture give Filipino BPO workers an edge over other outsourcing hubs said SITEL's Reines.

"There's no such thing as singularity replacement of human capability but it's rather how do we manage it," said Gilbert Camasura, president of recruitment firm Asia Select.

With the advent of automation, team supervisor Kevin Paolo dela Cruz looks forward to more years in BPO.

"I feel excited about it, I am working for a company with a goal of being innovative, to put the business to the next level, and it will help a lot of people who's looking for a decent, well compensated job," he said.