Philippine Call Center Workers Secretly Using AI to Boost Customer Service

The use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer support industry is causing both benefits and concerns in the Philippines. Bernie, a technical support agent in a large IT call center, has been secretly using AI tools like ChatGPT and Bing to improve his responses to customer complaints. Bernie finds that AI makes his work easier, helping him provide engaging and persuasive answers. However, he believes that some of his colleagues rely too heavily on AI, leading to inappropriate responses to customers.

Despite the advantages, Bernie’s workplace strictly forbids the use of generative AI. The Philippines is a major hub for business process outsourcing (BPO), and the industry is grappling with the integration of AI tools. While automating tasks can lead to cost savings, there is a fear of job displacement for the country’s 1.6 million BPO workers. The industry represents 7.5% of the Philippine economy, making it crucial to find a balance between embracing AI and protecting jobs.

Some experts argue that the government needs to develop a plan to address the technological shift and equip workers with AI skills. Mon Ibrahim, a former official in the information and communications technology agency, warns that failure to do so could result in significant job losses. BPO companies initially experimented with AI tools like chatbots, but these lacked empathy and frustrated customers. With generative AI, however, the risk of poor responses has decreased.

To address the challenges, Philippine senator Imee Marcos has called for an inquiry into the potential displacement of BPO and manufacturing workers. Marcos highlights the rapid development of AI and its impact on job loss, citing a study that estimates 1.1 million roles could become obsolete by 2028. She emphasizes the need for lawmakers to understand global AI developments and work together to navigate the impending technological revolution.

Industry associations, like the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), believe that call centers should adopt generative AI while ensuring workers are properly trained to use these tools. The IBPAP recently formed an AI Council to develop upskilling programs for BPO workers, enabling them to perform higher-value work that AI cannot replace. The goal is to defend the sector and address concerns through education and workforce development.

However, the timeline for these upskilling programs remains uncertain, and other sectors are already advancing in AI adoption. Startups like Navix Health, which produces AI-generated documents for medical professionals, are displacing some human workers. Colin Christie, the company’s CTO, acknowledges the potential job losses but believes that increased business resulting from AI adoption can create new opportunities.

Despite differing opinions, many agree that the Philippines must adapt to the technological shift to remain competitive in the global market. Failure to embrace AI could result in the loss of business and jobs. As the country navigates this complex landscape, there is a pressing need to find a balance between AI integration, job preservation, and upskilling the workforce.