back to article Service call centres to become wasteland and tumbleweed by 2024

Capital equipment will outlive the working life of the engineers who service it, self-healing systems will do away with everyday maintenance, and call centres will be replaced by automated dispatch notification. All this will come to pass in the next five years, according to predictions arising from a Forrester Consulting …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Tumbling Tumbleweed

    First, even near term 'Futurist' studies by consulting groups are notoriously and frequently wrong.

    Second, the title 'digital transformation decision makers' tells you all you need to know about the group consulted for the study. These will be people for whom disruptive technology is their bread and butter, they will disrupt no matter the cost or how wrong it will turn out to be, most of them will have gone the way of Roy Rogers along with their tumbleweed before a lot of their ideas work.

    Even the call centres that are allegedly on their way out haven't begun to work well in many cases.

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge
      WTF?

      Does Not Matter

      There is no technology advanced enough that can't be screwed up by a user.

      In the trade, we call it job security.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Does Not Matter

        There is no technology advanced enough that can't be screwed up by a user vendor.

        FTFY

        1. gnarlymarley

          Re: Does Not Matter

          There is no technology advanced enough that can't be screwed up by a user vendor.

          Just need to look at BGP. The idea of automatic repair works most of the time, but there is part of the time where it is not capable to repairing itself and needs some external intervention. That failover is where the AI always defaults to humans.

      2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        1. Avatar of They
          Thumb Down

          Re: Important!

          You sound like a 'digital transformation decision maker'.

          Just mention 'Agile' a few times and the word 'Journey' and we can all be sure.

          1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Tumbling Tumbleweed

      "near term 'Futurist' studies by consulting groups"

      They do, however have considerable value. They tell you what's not going to happen.

    3. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: Tumbling Tumbleweed

      Yep and I'd rather speak to a person than a bot. Amazon chat have now done away with a real person from the start, so I have to feed that lots of bollocks until it gets to the point of saying "Do you wish to chat to a real person" fucking yes!

  2. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

    Pfft!

    As long as there are computers, there will be people too dumb to run them. Therefore, call centers will be a thing until the next asteroid.

    *I'm retiring in the same time frame as listed in the article so I really don't care if I'm wrong!*

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    Sounds like the solution is to shorten the life of the capital equipment

    There are some CE companies making products that became effectively obsolete in a couple years when they stop providing updates they might want to learn from...

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like the solution is to shorten the life of the capital equipment

      Yeah planned obsolecence effectively guarantees this utopian vision never comes to pass. Even the "quality" stuff these days struggles to last 5 years, never mind engineer lifetimes.

      Well.. unless they plan to euthanise service engineers every 4 years. Hmm.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Sounds like the solution is to shorten the life of the capital equipment

        All service engineers to be replicants within 5 years.

        Call centres to be staffed by replicants within 5 years.

        Only growth industry to be Blade Runners - who will have be recruited in massive numbers.

        So simply train replicants as Blade Runners. Problem solved.

        What could possibly go wrong?

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Sounds like the solution is to shorten the life of the capital equipment

          If all else fails, you can always make paperclips ;)

      2. herman Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Sounds like the solution is to shorten the life of the capital equipment

        "Well.. unless they plan to euthanise service engineers every 4 years. Hmm." - Here, have a Corona!

  4. don't you hate it when you lose your account Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I'm calling you from Microsoft

    But if all those Indians get replaced by computers that sound like Siri, how will I know it's a con.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: I'm calling you from Microsoft

      because Microsoft do not call you.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Linux

        Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

        What! You can't be serious... I get those nice people called John, Steve and Alan calling me from Microsoft five or six times a week. It will be a shame not to get to speak to them anymore. I really will miss their insistence that my 'Computer has a Problem'.

        Shame really. I just string them along for up to ten minutes before telling them that I don't have any computers that run Windows. But even then, they still try to persuade me that I do. PErsisten them Indian 'Johnnies' I'll give them that.

        [All the above should be read with your tongue very much in your cheek]

        In 16 days, I will have been Microsoft free for three whole years. Wonderful. I really do sleep better at nights as well.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
          Go

          Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

          My late father used to play that game. At pushing ninety, he was also able to add authentic 'I'm sorry, I can't quite hear you' and similar 'misunderstandings' before he told them he was on Linux.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

            May he rest in peace, seems to have been a gentleman of the type I like.

            1. Da Weezil

              Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

              We like the ones who are patient enough to wait while we "download team viewer over our dial up connection in the remote Scottish Highlands, thats usually good for over 30 mins of tying these tw*ts up.

              While we are jerking them around, they are not victimising some poor sod who doesnt know enough to catch on that the call is a scam.

              We consider it our public minded duty :)

              1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

                Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

                And, not coincidentally, he lived on the Isle of Skye :)

              2. Emir Al Weeq

                Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

                >While we are jerking them around, they are not victimising some poor sod

                My thoughts exactly.

                My PC is never on when they call, sometimes it can take nearly 10 minutes to start up*. My typing is not too good either.

                *They did say that they had detected it was running slow.

          2. N2 Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

            Pint for him, the one with a halo round it

            May he rest in peace.

        2. Old Lady

          Re: because Microsoft do not call you.

          Yep at the age of 76 I can play 3 characters, The little old lady who’s a bit deaf, the clipped voiced BT operator who started work as GPO telephonist or the caring volunteer that helps other elderly work a computer. As the little old lady they give up in the end, as the BT operator who uses Microsoft, Apple & Linux I get sworn at, the best one was an Asian woman, she knew every swear word there was & as the volunteer when I gently ask why are they targeting elderly people I’m told we are all rich & don’t need so much money & in any case we are going to die soon.

      2. mr_souter_Working

        Re: I'm calling you from Microsoft

        they stopped calling me - I used to like shouting at them and once spent a delightful 10 minutes simply saying "fuck you" to one of them.

        1. herman Silver badge

          Re: I'm calling you from Microsoft

          You should go to Slovakia. Over yonder, the word 'fucked' actually means 'really'. Then you can be a fucking fucker, without a fucking care in the fucking world.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: I'm calling you from Microsoft

      By running Linux or *BSD

    3. Glicky

      Re: I'm calling you from Microsoft

      If my wife is feeling tired/evil upon receiving one of "those" calls she will turn to me and ask "Do you want to take this?".

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm calling you from Microsoft

      The cold call recording asking you if you want your oven cleaning has now apparently been replaced by one from "BT" to tell you your broadband is going to be suspended. The voice is a man with what I hear as a northern English accent. It always reminds me of a stereotyped cowboy builder.

  5. Marco van de Voort

    Does an AI lie detector already exist?

    I've been on an major (Chello) ISP helpdesk for two years, doing 2nd and 3rd line (senior) work. Basically all the customers wanted was an engineer to come and sort things out, and they all had already checked everything (they thought). NOT!

    We already had expert systems for self help, and they were next to useless. (unless you liked in kicking in open doors). Customers simply couldn't specify the problem beyond "Internet doesn't work" (*)

    (*) test one: does mail work? Yes, hmm, then "some internet works" :-)

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: Does an AI lie detector already exist?

      The customer is always right. Even when objectively wrong and in a way that is provable in seventeen different ways, the customer is always right.

      You'll probably get a lot of responses about how certain tech savvy readers of El Reg. were able to "school" the ISP's first line support because they had designed the equipment, written the specificaiton or been designing everything in the ecosystem.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Does an AI lie detector already exist?

        The customer is always right.

        No they bloody well aren't.

        And the attitude to consider them being right even when they bloody well aren't is wrong too.

      2. Marco van de Voort

        Re: Does an AI lie detector already exist?

        Not calling him a liar in a confrontational way doesn't mean he isn't.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Does an AI lie detector already exist?

      You don't need a lie detector. If customer is complaining about a broken computer, and speaking, they're lying.

      You need a truth detector, for the vanishingly small number of times when, "no I haven't changed anything, yes I have rebooted, yes it was working ten minutes ago", are all actually true.

      1. gnarlymarley

        Re: Does an AI lie detector already exist?

        If customer is complaining about a broken computer, and speaking, they're lying.]

        This is what my Service Provider would always say when I tell them their server or router was down. Then they figure out that the problem is actually on their end and they "quietly" go fix it. Alas, this idea of me calling them and they think I am lying is the reason why I moved on to another company.

        "The customer is always right" has nothing to do with customer honesty, but has everything to do with the idea that customer support is "willing to listen to a possible issue. When you brick over your customer and call them an immediate liar, you push them away as a customer.

    3. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: had already checked everything (they thought)

      Ah, when I was at the Petroleum Company which was British, I used to get so many trips to Rotterdam for support on installations that failed.

      First, we sent them written install documents - They 'followed the instructions exactly', yet the install failed.

      Then we sat on the phone with them going through an install. 'Yes, I did that, no, it didn't work'

      So we'd fly out to Rotterdam in the morning, stand behind them while they did the install from the instructions, said not a word, helped not a jot. And the installs worked. Every. Bloody. Time.

      Then a train trip to Schiphol for a flight back to Blighty

      Still. it was a good way to pick up 400 cheap fags at Schiphol on the way home, back when I was a smoker.

  6. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Stop

    No more call centers? What a wonderful world we live in!

    Imagine my relief when I can no longer get a person on the phone to discuss my particular needs. Instead I can only be serviced by always-reliable automated systems and menus that instinctively know that the only thing I ever need is to find out about my service is what my current account balance is, and whether I would like to charge that amount to my debit card, or am I feeling adventurous today and would I like to charge my credit card as a change of pace?

    This is what peace of mind looks like.

    (/sarcasm off)

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: No more call centers? What a wonderful world we live in!

      How different would it be to what we have now where the operator just follows a script? We are using minimum wage workers as voice recognition/data entry systems.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No more call centers? What a wonderful world we live in!

      The HMRC automatic call pre-auditing seems to have a branch condition wrong. It asks "Are you calling about underpayment" - you say "No". You are then treated to a long spiel about what you can do in a case of underpayment - before you get to the option to engage a human.

      1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

        Re: No more call centers? What a wonderful world we live in!

        "Are you calling about underpayment" - you say "No"

        Unless you are calling from from Northern Ireland, in which case, to your response of "Now", it proceeds to inform you about underpayments?

    3. 's water music Silver badge

      Re: No more call centers? What a wonderful world we live in!

      <pseudo code>

      Hold

      Play $YourCallisImportant

      Hold

      Play $WeAreExperiencingHighCallVolumes

      Hold

      Play &DidYouKnowYouCanUseOurWebsite

      +++

      Sub Hold

      Play $tune

      Wait 10000

      End Sub

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No more call centers? What a wonderful world we live in!

        "End Sub"

        Disconnect Caller

        End Sub

  7. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Really?

    ' 675 "digital transformation decision makers" '

    Were Steve Bong and Garland of Flowers among the 675?

  8. Brian Miller Silver badge

    Back to mainframes...

    Basically, customer service systems will identify fault flags as they happen, locate the nearest appropriate field technician and send them the job details directly. Or so the claim goes.

    "The computer called for service." Actual quote from the IBM service guy. Yes, we will finally get rid of all of those pesky personal computers, and everybody can use terminals once again. The mainframe will call for puny humans to serve it, and the users shall accept what is provided on the terminals.

    There are simply so many security problems that would just go away if mainframes were used instead of a zillion PCs. No, you can't open that attachment. No, you can't surf to that web site. No, you can't plug in a USB anything. There is just simply so much in the "no, you can't" that I'm surprised that IBM hasn't made it a marketing line.

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      "The computer called for service"

      That would have offered some variety for my mother, whose phone number was a digit-transposition away from IBM's 24-hour customer service number. Instead of the sound of raging Air-con that usually alerted her to the nature of these midnight calls, she could have had the trill of a modem negotiation.

      (Those who doubt that a computer could make the same dialing mistake as a stressed human have apparently never heard of configuration files, or dealt with remote logging and diagnostics in the days of dialup)

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  9. AustinTX
    Facepalm

    What about telecomuting?

    I find it absolutely astonishing that they would prefer to develop black boxes which misunderstand what people say to them, and reply with nonsense, than to allow people to simply work from home without a smouldering boss stomping around behind them.

    1. Alumoi

      Re: What about telecomuting?

      Black boxes are a one time investment, meat sacks you have to pay monthly.

    2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: What about telecomuting?

      Smouldering bosses require workers present to justify their existence.

  10. Mephistro Silver badge

    These predictions remind me of when...

    ...the company I was working for received an evaluation copy of Windows 3.0 (in 1990) and I was tasked with trying it. My boss at the time, no doubt quoting some MS saleslizard, said that in a few years most computer techies would be out of a job due to GUIs and such.

    I politely pointed to him that the only thing that GUI did employment-wise was raising the complexity of repairs and enabling ignorant and stupid users to do even more harm. We even made a bet, whose winner would be decided in five years time.

    I left the company the next year and I couldn't collect my 5000 pesetas* though I'm pretty sure I won that bet without a shadow of a doubt. 8^)

    *About €30, though back then you could dine with your significant other at a posh restaurant for that amount.

  11. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Fortunately

    I started reading this putrid idiocy on an empty stomach. Artificial idiocy will not be anywhere near capable enough in 500 years let alone 5 years to understand the nuances of a problem. As long as there is Slurp's Spyware-as-a-Service call centers will be around. (Don't get me started about the stupidities I have to deal with the company's Bloat box on an almost daily basis).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That these people intend to do away with call centres I can accept.

    That the technology with which they intend to replace them does not work is obvious and well known to all.

    There is no conflict between these two facts. History has shown that customers will accept arbitrarily terrible and ineffective service, because individuals are unwilling to pay even a few pence more than the lowest price for anything, and corporate accountants will refuse to sanction anything that isn't the cheapest even if it's quantifiably inadequate. The liars who will close these call centres and replace then with piles of fetid software written by the low bidder in India will keep their SLAs the same, so your beancounters will insist that the product+service meets all requirements and no, you cannot pay more for the product that offers proper support because why would you need to. When they fail to meet the SLA, there will be no one to complain to, and if you do manage to get someone they will undoubtedly have "records" from their robots showing that they did everything needed.

    The race to the bottom is over; you've won. Congratulations.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Of course when everybody's won the race to the bottom the only way to go is up. So look to the first business to realise that quality is a differentiator. That's real quality, not ISO9000 box-ticking quality.

      1. mark4155
        Thumb Up

        I'm a self-employed Telecom engineer (Ex-BT) most of my customers are generally pissed off with going round the houses to talk to some human.

        My strapline on my advert is "Talk to a real engineer - Not a robot"

        Works for me and keeps me in a comfortable life balance, oh and if they call me with attitude I tell them to piss off and call their service provider.

        Toodle Pip!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "So look to the first business to realise that quality is a differentiator. "

        John Lewis Partnership lost £26m last year - and they are usually regarded as a quality supplier for which you pay extra.

  13. IGnatius T Foobar ! Bronze badge

    If the first world can't have the jobs...

    Honestly, if a job is so simple that it can be shipped from the first world to the third world, eventually it's going to be simple enough to be automated. Looking at it that way, I'd rather see call center bods have some of their functions moved to automation (yes, SOME of them ... you're not going to take the humans out of the equation, no matter how hard you "digitally transform") instead of having all of them offshored.

  14. boltar Silver badge

    "digital transformation decision makers"

    AKA MBAs and C_Suiters who can barely find the on switch to their iPhones, much less actually understand the technology and its current limitations, and so have fallen big time for all the promises and BS visions of techno "evangelist" snake oil salesmen.

  15. Roopee
    FAIL

    I was wrong

    When I read that headline I thought "that's so stupidly wrong it's got to be Gartner", but I was wrong, it was Forrester. Same difference.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bwah hah ha ha ha!

    Good luck with that. 10 years ago our copier company pushed us for auto fulfillment. A year ago the director finally agreed. We now have 8 black toner carts on the shelf, a 6-8 month supply. We should have 3.

    A couple years back my roommate got a nest “smart” thermostat. He turned on the super smart eco mode, and we caught it turning the AC in the middle of the day when no one was home.

    It’s not that it’s impossible, just that the people trying aren’t smart enough to pull it off. Like fusion, I eagerly await its arrival in 20 years.

    1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: Bwah hah ha ha ha!

      It’s not that it’s impossible, just that the people trying aren’t smart enough to pull it off. Like fusion, I eagerly await its arrival in 20 years.

      Ah, so shortly before ReactOS reaches full MSWin XP compatibility...

  17. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  18. Maltese Phil

    Working in a call centre where voice recognition technology has been trialled for automated systems hasn't worked too well. Hence the long call waiting times to speak to a person who hasn't yet been made redundant

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              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: The right technology is everything!

                Five posts in a row from IlyaG, not mentioned his patents yet......

                1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          "Should be removed?" However, these words - " in " and " the " - were used! They were important to a person! And they were barbarically removed...

          Would be difficult if you were trying to locate a discography for 'The The'.

  19. swm Silver badge

    The middle class is being automated out of existance

    If you look over the last 20 years you will see that many non-skilled jobs don't exist any more. Look at Amazon - they have automated the fulfillment business to a large extent so only lower-paid workers are needed. I believe that this automating of jobs will continue so only minimum wage workers and fat cats will survive.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The middle class is being automated out of existance

      "[...] so only minimum wage workers and fat cats will survive."

      ...and hairdressers. Surgeons and dentists may have more robotic assists - but not sure they can be totally replaced. The danger is that they will not keep their manual skills up to a good level if a machine gets too good in routine cases.

      Machine assistance is good in the overlap phase when assisting a skilled human. Eventually the humans lose their expertise - and their successors have very limited knowledge or experience. As E.M.Forster predicted in his uncanny internet age story "The Machine Stops" (1909).

      1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: The middle class is being automated out of existance

        "[...] so only minimum wage workers and fat cats will survive."

        ...and hairdressers.

        Would we have automated Telephone Sanitizers?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The middle class is being automated out of existance

          "Would we have automated Telephone Sanitizers?"

          Yes - the human ones would have been recruited for a new Elon Musk project. Continuing his theme of naming spaceships after literary sources - this would be "The Ark B".

  20. Mike Henderson

    So within five years Sky will have replaced my set-top box - and every other one in the country - with one that will call home when picture quality is poor, have an AI system cross-correlate with weather conditions and other reports, determine whether the problem looks like an antenna or cabling fault, and proactively despatch an antenna technician if that is indicated?

    When they could otherwise sweat the existing dumb STB asset for at least another five years?

    When technicians now only get called when picture quality has dropped to a completely unacceptable level so the customer reactively complains, thereby avoiding NFF callouts?

    Pull the other leg, mate.

    What are they smoking up there in 'digital transformation decision makers' land?

    And that's just one example

    Complete bollix

  21. southen bastard

    better operational decisions around predictive maintenance and customer service,"

    None and none

  22. Peter Galbavy

    Who do the shiny new systems call when they have a problem handling the calls from their automated customers?

    Recursion, n: See Recursion.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Blade918rr

    Of course, AI can also replace end users, so we all be out of a job. Only people in work would be process architects feeding AI developers.

    No system user/operator end points just a shared customer interface.

    Hope governments have a plan to replace all the work options for people, many people find purpose in work.

    I see a very depressing future ahead.

    need to revisit the questions: Can we? AND should we ?

  25. batfink Silver badge

    Bollocks

    "Self-healing" has been available for close on 20 years, Most serious service management suites already allow you to automate recovery actions.

    However, all those who advocate it don't seem to have actually tried implementing it, and haven't discovered the vast complexity of identifying all the failure modes of your complex application/middleware/DB/OS/network/hardware stacks and tried to code for the appropriate recovery actions. Implementing anything meaningful in this area is a huge (ie expensive) project.

    Yes, some things are relatively simple. At a network level, you can detect nodes dropping out and route around them - but hey, you've already done that in your network design, haven't you? Yes, if you're lucky you can detect a lot of hardware issues, but that's going to gradually disappear as we virtualise everything. As for the rest...

    Apologies, the old scars are showing...

  26. DuncanLarge Silver badge

    Ahem

    The good thing about being clued up on 'puters is you know how to break them in ways that require you to be employed to fix them ;)

  27. FrankAlphaXII

    Automated service management and the elimination of the contact center is just like the supposedly paperless office, they keep saying its going to happen, and then create five new forms. Considering how fucking clueless end-users and automatic troubleshooters are, I don't think those of us who work in any kind of customer facing tech support position have anything to worry about.

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