It's like War of the Worlds except with call centres...Human agents will be replaced by automated response systems in call centres within three to five years This is the prediction of the authors of the Merchants Contact Centre Benchmarking Report due to be released at the end of the month. Mike Cleugh Head of iCommerce at Merchants, which is a subsidiary of Dimension Data, said with the vast improvement of technologies such as voice recognition, it is "a seriously strong contender for replacing human agents in contact centres". However, Evan Kirchheimer, managing analyst for CRM at Datamonitor, said there is "definitely" a trend towards automation but he said that he does not believe this will endanger agents jobs overall. "Low skilled jobs maybe, but with channels opening up, agents will be dealing with more complex inquiries," he said. "A few years ago people said email would kill call centres but this did not prove to be the case," he added. In the survey 19.4 per cent of the respondents said they had deployed multi-channel (chat, email, fax, SMS and voice) contact centres and 51 per cent said they intend to do so. 18.4 per cent of respondents stated that they had implemented a virtual contact centre by linking multiple sites and 23.4 per cent said they intend to do this over the next few years. The survey shows there has been growth in customer self service, which according to the authors of the report is driven in part by the requirement in the difficult economic climate, to reduce costs. Cleugh told silicon.com: "We think this trend will continue as improved technology allows customers to use automated systems for more and more complex tasks."