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Empathetic Robots Are Killing Off the World’s Call-Center Industry

That’s a growing threat to the Philippines, where outsourcing accounts for 9% of the economy.

At a Sitel Group call center in Metro Manila.

At a Sitel Group call center in Metro Manila.

Photographer: Xyza Cruz Bacani for Bloomberg Businessweek
Updated on

The coronavirus pandemic has been tough on the global call-center industry, and nowhere more than in the Philippines, the world leader in the field. Hundreds of thousands of employees in the former U.S. colony field queries from the other side of the planet, and for the past year many of them have had to work alone from home through the night, grappling with frequent electricity outages, isolation from friends, and the snores of parents, partners, siblings, or children crammed into tight quarters. What comes after Covid-19 is likely to be even worse.

The lockdowns of the past year have accelerated the shift to greater automation in responding to inquiries to lenders, insurers, and telecom operators. Callers looking for assistance with a bill or bank statement increasingly communicate with artificial-intelligence-powered bots. And when they do connect with a human, it’s more frequently in a chat window with someone who’s engaged in multiple conversations at once.