Endangered Species? Customer Service by the Year 2022

As I sat at the reception of the customer service centre that morning, watching the beautiful ladies go about their duties, I could not help but wonder what that same scene will look like in the very near future. Will there still be customers thronging in, seeking assistance of various kinds? Or will the situation have changed so drastically that customers sit in the comfort of their homes and do by themselves whatever they would have otherwise visited a centre like this for? And if things change, what will become of all these employees? What will happen to the beautiful offices and all the exquisite internal decorations?

Readers may wonder what could have prompted such thoughts. Will there ever be a time when there won’t be any customer service workers? My answer would be that it is very possible. That is, if the expectations of a report titled ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’ from the World Economic Forum (WEF) come to pass. According to the 147-page report, the job landscape in 2022 will be drastically different from what we know it to be now.

The report stated that:

“…global labour markets are set to undergo significant transformation over the coming five years. A cluster of emerging roles will gain significantly in importance over the coming years, while another cluster of job-profiles are set to become increasingly redundant.”

The above paragraph was what actually got my attention and led me to take time and go through the entire report. Maybe I just wanted to be sure that I am not an endangered species by the time 2022 rolls in. Interestingly, what I found was even more fascinating. We are in for some exciting times ahead. What happened to our post-offices might easily be happening to a number of businesses, in my view.

Unsurprisingly, the jobs that are expected to experience increasing demand by 2022 are those tech-biased jobs such as Data Analysts and Scientists, Software and Applications Developers, and e-commerce and Social Media Specialists. Other such jobs that will become more sought after in the next five years are: AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Big Data Specialists, Process Automation Experts, Information Security Analysts, User Experience and Human-Machine Interaction Designers, Robotics Engineers, and Block-chain Specialists. I must admit that I have no idea what some of these jobs even entail. But that is where the world is heading – and we must prepare for it.

Interestingly and surprisingly, the report intimated that another group of roles that would see an increase in demand are those that require human skills. Those are the roles that “leverage distinctively ‘human’ skills”. Leading the pack of human skills roles was the ‘almighty’ Customer Service workers.

Seeing Customer Service in that mix was both amusing and reassuring. At least, I could breathe a sigh of relief. But come to think of it, if Customer Service had not appeared on the list, I would have wondered what kind of world we would be living in come 2022. Other roles included in this list were: Sales and Marketing Professionals, Training and Development, People and Culture, and Organisational Development Specialists as well as Innovation Managers.

If there was one thing this report made clear, it had to be the fact that customer service is not going away anytime soon – at least not in many industries. Customer service might evolve into something else. It might end up not looking like the customer service we have known it to be. But one thing will remain—its importance. The one industry wherein demand for Client Information and Customer Service Workers is expected to rise is the Financial Services and Investments sector – although the report stated that bank and related tellers as well as loan and credit officers might not be around by 2022 in some economies.

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However, it is all not rosy on the customer service front. The report also offers some stark warnings—customer service roles would also disappear in other industries. Some of the industries wherein customer service roles are expected to decline are Automotive, Aerospace, Supply Chain and Transport. The same trend is expected for the Aviation, Travel and Tourism industries. Roles such as hotel desk-clerks and concierges are all going to become casualties come 2022.  Customer Service employees in industries such as Global Health and Healthcare, Information and Communication Technologies, Infrastructure and Professional Services are also expected to go the same way.

This is why the scene at the Customer Service Centre that morning set me thinking. Being an ICT-heavy industry player makes the mobile telephony company I had visited very susceptible to the changes expected by 2022.  For instance, I wonder how many customers would come over to that centre if, on their own, they are able to find solutions to their own problems. What would happen if some new app or solution pops up that renders all those workers redundant?

I believe we are entering an era that should get every stakeholder thinking. For starters, it would help if all organisations got their hands on this report and used its findings and recommendations to make some informed decisions about what their individual industries should look like in the next five years. Organisations must necessarily take a critical look at their current approach to their all operations, as well as their tactics in customer service. Some serious thinking must be done so that these businesses plan well ahead of time.

It is clear that that there are going to be customer service roles which are going to be redundant—thanks to newer technologies. Customers will decide if those technologies are going to be deciding factors in where they spend their money. If customers vote for the newer technologies, then the business has no choice other than to jump on the bandwagon or risk being suffocated out of the market.

I recall the early days of ATMs in this country. There came a time when if a bank did not have an ATM, that institution was regarded as being out-dated. It was no longer a matter of if a particular bank wanted to have an ATM or not. It had to have one. Simple! What this WEF report is saying is that there are newer technologies on their way which will become must-haves for organisations in particular industries.

Banking on our mobile phones is another of those technology-driven moves that has come to stay. When it arrived, it looked like it was the reserve of just a few ‘privileged’ institutions. Who wants to travel all the way to sit in a queue if he/she can get the same service in bed? The whole idea of Artificial Intelligence and its potential influence on business operations is something that should offer both hope and apprehension for every business manager. The truth is that we really have no idea of the extent to which these changes will overtake us.

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For individuals whose current work or job aspirations are in customer service roles, it will be of great importance that they reinvent themselves so that they do not get blown away by the approaching winds of change. There are certain academic courses some individuals are currently pursuing which might become unnecessary by 2022. What will the individual do in such a situation? Will the person be able to reinvent themself so that he/she is still relevant on the job market?

It is also important to make it abundantly clear that individuals must take personal responsibility for their careers. The days of getting a job and not upgrading oneself for decades, but expecting the organisation one works for to train and develop the one, are long gone. We are entering, or are already in, an era when people can be proactive when it comes to their own job security. When an individual makes him/herself integral to the fortunes of that organisation, he can go and sleep with both eyes closed.

It will take a lot of guts to bet against this report, judging by the era we find ourselves in. What was relevant yesterday is not important today. Therefore, there is actually no assurance that today’s fact might be factual tomorrow. Evidence around us shows that these projections from the World Economic Forum are not very far-fetched. Anything can really happen. Social media alone has torn-up the rule book on how businesses should relate to their customers. Apps are being developed by the hour all across the world. Some apps have already rendered the jobs of many people useless.

Additionally, the study was quite extensive, involving many of the world’s Chief Human Resources and Chief Executive Officers. The study utilised an online questionnaire as its data-collection tool. The data was collected over a nine-month period from November 2017 to July 2018. The respondents were selected from 12 industry clusters and 20 economies which collectively make up 70% of the entire world’s GDP. The Report claims that the responses it gathered represented more than 15 million employees worldwide. These make the Report something to be taken seriously.

As I walked out of the centre that morning, I kept wondering how many of the staff there had heard of this WEF Report. Even if they had, how many of them had really given some deep-thinking to the projections – or was it a case of ignorance being bliss? I pray that somehow the WEF has got its projections totally wrong—at least the part that claimed customer service will be declining in demand for some industries. Come 2022, I don’t want those beautiful ladies to really become an endangered species.

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