I celebrated Labor Day today, like many others, by staying home and getting some chores done. But I wasn't completely oblivious to the significance of the day. I thought about what I do and its significance to peoples work lives.
Sometimes I'm asked if automated phone systems are costing people their jobs. That's a fair question, because some businesses that put in automation do so only with the misguided goal of saving money by cutting a lot of CSRs. I don't think it costs jobs in the US, and in fact I think IVRs that are implemented correctly make CSRs' jobs more enjoyable. I've done analysis in enough call centers to know that one of the the biggest problems call centers face is turnover: keeping experienced CSRs in their seats.
CSRs have a tough job. They work with difficult software systems to serve customers who are sometimes abusive. They are constantly monitored by supervisors and QA analysts. The pay isn't that great. Career paths aren't that attractive. And, depending on the call center, a high proportion of the calls are mind-numbingly simple and tedious: password resets, transfers to another department, account balances, "did you receive my check/paperwork/order yet?" types of questions, and so on. People who don't find satisfaction with their jobs tend to move on, and there isn't a great deal of satisfaction in resetting passwords day after day.
It's that last category of call that needs to be automated properly - the simple, repetitive requests that can occupy a large proportion of a CSRs day. Keeping all of the simple questions away from the CSRs would allow them to spend all of their time on questions that require thought and expertise. Of course, the call center managers need to do their part and provide the sort of training that allows CSRs to deliver real value and properly reward those who do.
So I'll go on thinking that I'm doing my little part for the gallant CSRs who work in our call centers until someone sets me straight.