As a call center manager, I have been reflecting on this question a lot during this year's ICMA conference. Every citizen engagement conversation inevitably turns to smart phone apps and how they can make government accessible - especially for our next citizen, the millennial generation. So, if an app can take your request and send it to directly to the correct city department, do we need Customer Service Representatives?
I remember when our call center first ventured into on-line web requests. Now citizens could submit their request even when the call center is closed. Now they could reach us while at work, even if they can't get to a phone. Now our call volume would drop.... but it didn't! In St. Louis, our call volume stayed steady even as we received more and more requests via the web. The reason is that the web allowed a new demographic to reach us. People who used the web weren't using it in place of the phone, they were using it in place of not reporting issues at all.
I would venture to guess that after adding the web services and now the smart phone apps we will discover more duplicate requests. The same pothole may get called in by phone by the retired neighbor who serves as block captain, the business professional may submit a web request when he gets to the office and the high school student may submit it via their smart phone immediately after almost popping their bicycle tire in it.
Are our backend systems smart enough to catch these duplicates and consolidate them? Sending 3 trucks on 3 different shifts out to fill the pothole would be an obvious waste of resources. A CSR can monitor what's coming in to the database and help manage those requests before they get to the operating department.
Are our citizens savvy enough to distinguish between a pothole and a cave-in? Maybe not, but once the CSR reviews the photo attached by the smart phone user, they'll know the difference and can re-route the request to the street inspector and save a wasted trip by the asphalt truck.
The role of the CSR may shift with the digital revolution happening in our society, but I'd caution against anyone predicting that new technologies will cause the contact center to slow down. In fact, our contact center seems to get busier each time a new method for submitting requests comes along.