A robot working at a computer in a call centre

How We’re Adapting to the Age of AI

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m in the “telephone answering service” business. “Those still exist?” is a common response that no longer surprises me.

It’s understandable. The TAS industry was supposed to have died 50 years ago. 

First, telephone companies themselves threatened to make our industry obsolete in the early 1970s. Then came the answering machine, followed by voice mailboxes, and finally, cell phones. Yet, the industry reinvented itself each time. 

The turning point came in the mid-eighties with computerization. Everything changed. Call distribution, automated message delivery, skills-based routing, scripting software – these tools transformed telephone answering services into a sophisticated operation. Today, the answering service industry is unrecognizable from what it was when I started working at AnswerPlus in 1972.

With the software and tools now available, our CSRs can sound and perform remarkably like a receptionist sitting in your office. We can book appointments, schedule meetings, process donations, respond to urgent calls, and dispatch help at a moment’s notice. Instead of fading into extinction, we’ve become more involved in our clients’ business than ever before. 

Now, the TAS industry faces a new challenge:  Artificial Intelligence (AI). Human-sounding robots capable of answering phones, responding to questions, and taking messages. While natural language models haven’t reached human levels of intelligence yet – it’s definitely a threat.

A year ago, I was tasked with leading a committee at AnswerPlus to study AI. Recognizing AI’s potential for disruption, the owner and CEO of AnswerPlus, Dana, wanted us to educate ourselves. Our goal was to understand the threats, but more importantly to identify potential opportunities.

After a year, we have started to see a clear path. Technology like AI has massive potential to augment our service offerings, creating a hybrid model that leverages human expertise with AI efficiency. In the future, AI-powered “robots” could act as an enhanced IVR system, screening out non-urgent calls and freeing our human CSRs for the urgent calls requiring warmth, empathy, and a level of human-decision making. This “front-ending” with AI would reduce call time for CSRs, ultimately lowering costs for our customers.

The future of the TAS industry and AI is bright – we’ve not only survived technological disruption, we’ve thrived on it. As technology continues to evolve, the question isn’t “will AI replace answering services?” but rather “how can we leverage AI to become even more valuable to our clients?” 

Group of employees on AI Committee video call
Our first AnswerPlus AI Committee meeting, 21 people strong.

About Paul Lloyd

Paul Lloyd was one of a small group of individuals who worked with the Canadian government in the early 80’s to bring cellular technology to Canada and was one of the original five shareholders in Rogers Communications. Paul previously held the role of President and CEO at AnswerPlus until 2002. He remains a trusted advisor of AnswerPlus, providing strategic advice and special counsel to the leadership team.