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Say Goodbye to Your Service Job

Our CEO would frequently refer to our company as a “family” every time he would speak. It always had a stench of bullshit to me, but today it stunk pretty bad. Like every family, a time comes when you have to make tough decisions when the going gets rough. Today was one of those days; we are re-organizing and eliminating redundant jobs. I for one had to fire the “grandma” in the family – maybe the company is the Charles Manson Family.

I told the employee of almost 30 years that she had been replaced by a robot. It wasn’t even a cool robot, it was software written by some punk kid that made her job unnecessary. I hate to break it to you, your boss doesn’t love you – you will be gone as soon as a credible robot can replace you.

The robots are coming for our jobs and the service industry will get it hard – this has been coming for years but the pace is about to increase.

My friend Paul was turning 50, so I took my very first Uber to the party. I thoroughly enjoyed the Uber ride, mostly because of my driver. He turned out to be an engineer during the day and part time Uber driver – I loved the social experience.

Not along after that, the CEO of Uber stated in a Time Magazine interview that the one thing that could make Uber better is firing all of the drivers! His argument is that Uber will be cheaper and better without the expensive drivers.

A local trucking company would often advertise during their truck driving recruitment that the jobs couldn’t be outsourced. It was true that jobs like driving used to be safe, but self driving vehicles will eliminate millions of jobs – taxi drivers and truck drivers will take a huge hit.

The service industry is in for some radical changes, specifically for customer facing people. For all the debate about minimum wage for industries like fast food, I think the final verdict will include massive layoffs. Then maybe the remaining employees may see a pay increase across the board. I don’t think we are far away from completely automated ordering. I can already order and pay without talking to anyone at many restaurants.

What about contact centers or call centers? Well, I do this for a living and I have not met a single service leader who does not want to increase self-service use – they all want to have fewer people.

Organizations generally want to handle customer interactions by balancing costs  versus the customer experience. This is why they will often send calls to their IVR, even if they don’t belong there and even if it causes customer pain.

The only thing standing in the way of millions of additional interactions being sent to automated systems is the fear of customers showing up to corporate with pitchforks.

In other words, most organizations want to send more and more contacts to IVRs, and other self-service options – so they can eliminate more employees. Smart organizations do their best not to cause too much pain while doing this and instead wait for better technology before going further.

Here is the thing in case you haven’t been paying attention; we are now in the era of the IVR 3.0 (The IVR you used to know + Natural Language + Artificial Intelligence). It basically lives in the “middle”, the space between very complex and mindless interactions. These interactions are simple for a human, but don’t make sense for the IVR because it will create too much pain. I have seen this technology in action and it will be a massive job killer! The future will include fewer reps, supervisors, analysts, managers, directors, and even fewer VPs.

My friend Mike who helps companies benefit from this technology for a living, points out that the glass is half full. He argues that the technology will create happier reps, since all the remaining interactions will be high value and more rewarding. “Organizations can just choose not to backfill for attrition”. I agree with him, but call me a cheerful realist because any way that you slice it, there will be fewer people working in customer service. But maybe it is a good thing.

I have some thoughts on what the future may look like, for now I have an Uber driver waiting to take me the airport – hopefully there is actually another Human in the driver’s seat.

My Book: The Curated Experience: Engineering Customer Service to Build Loyalty – is now available  (AudioBook, PaperBack, ITunes & KindleBarnes & Noble)