1.2 million Filipinos work in call centres based in Manila and across the Philippines. The BPO industry has been a blessing for the nation and has created a middle-class that was nearly non-existent before the late nineteen-nineties. Trickle down businesses in the capital city have flourished over the last two decades and depend heavily on the disposable income of twenty-something call centre representatives (CSR) who, in many cases, have few bills to pay. Whether you’re working in Ortigas, Eastwood or the BGC, you’ll find Karaoke bars that stay open 24 hours a day, and a multitude of coffee shops and fast food joints that also never close. Since much of downtown Manila caters to the needs of call centre employees, I have to ask the following: When one tech magazine after another report on the future automation of all call centres, why do local and federal authorities seem so nonplussed about the eventuality?
Eighty percent of all call centre jobs will disappear by 2025; please don’t doubt this. With an average salary of $450 per month, that results in 5.2 Billion USD disappearing from the Philippine economy. What industry will replace all these jobs? Six percent of the Philippine GDP is from call centres and the elimination of these dollars will cause an economic fallout that the Philippines has never experienced before. The 24-hour Karaoke bars will close down and the coffee shops will let employees go or just call it quits. The employees who share nice downtown apartments with other CSRs will move back in with their parents and buildings will cut rents in half and still have no tenants.
Doom and gloom? Well, yes, it is and Filipinos should start preparing for the inevitable. They won’t…because Filipinos have a money in, money out mentality and that’s unfortunate.
If you are presently a call centre employee and have been for a while, I want you to ask yourself the following: Has the software you’ve been working with changed in the last five to ten years? Is it more efficient? I was in the call centre/help desk business for a very long time, here in Canada. I once worked in a bank call centre with one hundred and fifty employees. There are less than forty now and it’s because of automation and more efficient software. Five years from now, that same call centre will employ ten CSRs maximum. I was told by an employee that although business has neither increased or decreased, at least one CSR is let go every month.
Celaton is a software company, headquartered in London, England. They are one of several companies that have created, and are still perfecting, software that can mimic any call centre function other than upselling product. Help desks, for instance, will be replaced by virtual bot assistants who can answer any question and understand any accent. Chat box questions will be answered by virtual software that can decipher complex typos and bad grammar. This is happening now; it is not a future development. It is happening now!
Another factor to consider is the telecom infrastructure in Manila. New technologies will require faster broadband capability and almost one hundred percent reliability. The Philippines cannot handle such expectations, especially something that will require huge investment in infrastructure. Who is going to pay for this knowing that automation will be crushing the industry?
If you’re a CSR right now, ask yourself what you will do five years from now when that BPO company that has supplied you with a paycheque decides to move their call centre operations back home? What are you going to do?
What’s scary is that there is no replacement industry and there is no plan to create a replacement industry. The Philippines seems ambivalent when it comes to creating new industry and seemingly prefers to wait for foreigners, such as Japan, to offer big dollars to exploit resources and the workforce. I hope that Filipinos take matters into their own hands and become independent. As it stands now, when this economic retraction begins, Manila will be in chaos and an entire nation will suffer through a recession never experienced before.
Stop kidding yourself, the demise of the call centre industry in the Philippines is going to happen. Prepare now.