Robots on Track to Bump Humans From Call-Center Jobs – By TREFOR MOSS June 21, 2016 5:30 a.m. ET


Philippines’ outsourcing industry races to expand higher-end services as hedge against automation, which is already shaking up India

 In the Philippines, the outsourcing sector has high turnover. But outsourcing company TaskUs showed the WSJ's Eva Tam how adopting Silicon Valley startup culture at its workplaces helps retain talent. -- Photo: Eva Tam


In the Philippines, the outsourcing sector has high turnover. But outsourcing company TaskUs showed the WSJ’s Eva Tam how adopting Silicon Valley startup culture at its workplaces helps retain talent. — Photo: Eva Tam

MANILA—The Philippines’ economically important call-center industry has joined the growing list of businesses at risk of being gobbled up by automation.

In recent years, the Philippines, like India, has capitalized on its relatively large pool of English speakers to attract Western companies eager to cut costs by shifting customer service and other tasks to lower-wage countries.

But, as technology improves, an increasing number of the Philippines’ 1.2 million call-center workers, whose pay is modest by U.S. standards, are likely to have their outsourcing jobs outsourced to customer-service robots.

Robots already are starting to displace some humans from low-end tasks such as monitoring the performance of digital networks, according to Benedict Hernandez, an executive at the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines, the industry trade group. And, while robots aren’t yet smart enough to replace the human phone operators who do jobs like fielding calls from bank clients or helping people reset their modems, they will be within five years or so, according to Mr. Hernandez and other outsourcing specialists.

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