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Automation Takes Toll On Offshore Workers

Wireless phone company wants to save even more money on call centers

Paul McDougall

January 23, 2004

1 Min Read

Low-wage foreign labor may pose a threat to American call-center workers, but their counterparts in countries such as India and the Philippines themselves face being replaced by increasingly sophisticated voice-automation technology.

It's already happening in the cost-conscious and competitive wireless phone market. Liberty Wireless, a division of InPhonics Inc., will launch this week an automated customer-care system using technology and hosting services from BeVocal Inc. Liberty Wireless recently outsourced customer-support operations to PeopleSupport Inc., which operates call centers in the Philippines. But it wants to save even more money. "We want to use less offshore labor and more automation," says Liberty president Don Charlton.

Liberty Wireless customers soon will get automated responses to inquiries concerning account balances, payment locations, rate plans, and the like. More-complicated calls will still be routed to Filipino operators, but Charlton ultimately wants 50% of customer calls handled through voice automation, up from 10% about a year ago.

"We see more of our clients automating than offshoring," says Elizabeth Ussher, VP for technology research services at Meta Group. The emergence of VoiceXML has made it easier for companies to integrate speech applications with other systems because it incorporates open, Web-based standards.

Cingular Wireless LLC is close to launching a pilot that will use Nuance Communications Inc.'s VoiceXML-compliant application to respond to all but the most complex customer calls. A highly automated operation makes it easier and more cost-effective to bring new customers onboard, even those acquired in a merger, says Von Wright, director of IT for customer experience at Cingular. "When you have a solid, open infrastructure, it allows you to extend the capabilities you have," he says. Cingular is bidding to acquire AT&T Wireless Services Inc.

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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