Nearshore Americas

Automation May be the New CX Engine, But Soft Skills Will Remain the Fuel

Automation seems to have taken hold of the imaginations of most people in the business world. Thanks to the advent of generative AI, this year has been dominated by fantasies of how automation technologies will revolutionize the ways in which businesses carry out their operations, including what roles (if any) will be played by humans with abilities that land on the “softer” side of the spectrum.

Soft skills keep proving their relevance even in a landscape dominated by conversations that trend towards the technical and the predominantly numerical. Even in IT, where technical skills are at the core of the industry, executives are finding value in having engineers who can properly handle the human side of a business interaction. 

The CX space is going through its own wave of tech mania. A recent Deloitte survey shows that 80% of contact centers are “actively engaging in some stage of AI deployment” (either virtual voice assistants, chatbots or agent assists). Some of the top players in the business have been marketing themselves as providers of “digital business services”, and recruiting accordingly.

One would believe that the CX industry, which is very “human-centric”, runs the risk of becoming too technical. Nevertheless, industry executives seem to be holding on to the softer side of the business.

“More than ever people are realizing that when you’re in a business of care, of solutioning, you cannot rely only on the rules or the technology. You have to build a connection”, stated Jim Farnsworth, SVP of Growth at GlowTouch, during a Nexus 2023 panel. 

Apocalyptic scenarios have strong-armed their way into many of the conversations about automation and the future of labor. In spite of that, professionals seem to trust that (very human) skills will still be appreciated in the age of thinking machines.

When you’re in a business of care, of solutioning, you cannot rely only on the rules or the technology. You have to build a connection—Jim Farnsworth, SVP of Growth at GlowTouch

A recent survey by Thomson Reuters shows that 64% of the professionals see a rise in the “appreciation of their professional skills” as a result of massive AI deployment in business, with 24% expecting to see that increase happening over the coming 18 months. (The professionals surveyed by Thomson Reuters worked in law and tax firms, as well as corporate and government legal departments.)

That same survey shows that professionals in the business world worry a lot about AI’s capabilities to address some of the issues that only humans are able to handle, at least at the moment. When asked about their biggest concerns over the technology’s implementation in business, 25% of respondents pointed to accuracy. Ethics going “out the window” was mentioned by 15% of respondents, and a loss of transparency by 5%. 

“Widespread job losses” (19%) and the “demise of professions altogether” (17%) were also mentioned. 

 

A Humanized Vision of the Future

Amidst a wave of automation, soft skills remain at the core of the CX business. The aforementioned Deloitte survey states that 81% of CX executives are investing in agent-enabling AI tech “to improve the agent experience and operational efficiency”. 

The argument for soft skills and a human touch in CX is coming from the customers themselves too. Data gathered by Survey Monkey shows that 90% of people still prefer to be attended by a human than a chatbot in customer service. Respondents stated that humans are more understanding (61%), better explainers (53%), less frustrating (52%) and better at offering options (50%) than chatbots. 

The few (10% of the surveyed) that prefer chatbots over humans pointed to better availability (41%), speed (37%) and higher information accuracy (30%) as the main reasons behind their preference.

We have to go back to the human side again because technology is here and will stay forever—Mauricio Velásquez, Managing Director at consulting firm Velásquez & Company

While automation will certainly help with CX operations, industry executives don’t forget that they’re still in a service-oriented industry in which customers seek solutions for problems that are (at least at the moment) are too complex for machines to handle.

“We don’t take ‘What’s my bank account?’ calls anymore,” said Jim Farnsworth. “We take complex problems that require a collaborative solution with the customer, and it takes a smarter person than ever before, a more informed and engaged person than ever before, and a more enabled person than ever before.”

“Are we going to have fewer basic call handlers and text handlers? We will. But are we going to have a deeper connection with customers through our business? Absolutely,” he added.

 

A Problem of Measurement 

Soft skills have been around for much longer than automation technologies. Even then, companies still struggle to measure their actual impact on business.

A study by NICE –a developer of CX automation products– shows that, although 94% of companies state their appreciation for soft skills, 59% don’t measure them. 

The main reasons behind the lack of hard data around soft skills, according to the surveyed, are a lack of knowhow about soft skills quantification (42%), a lack of buy-in from operations (41%) and the possibility that those measurements might lead to “quality disputes” (38%). 

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The arrival of automation technologies and the deeper implementation of data analytics will undoubtedly change the parameters for recruiting among CX vendors. Technical skills will be appreciated, for certain, but all indicates that soft skills will remain at the core of business, at least among the more successful players.

“We have to go back to the human side again because technology is here and will stay forever”, commented Mauricio Velásquez, Managing Director at consulting firm Velásquez & Company, during a Nexus 2023 panel. 

“These girls and boys working on ITO or BPO tasks, they need to be more complete; they need to have more things that are human, not technical,” Velásquez added. “Because the technical stuff is coming.”

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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