Power to the people: The need for the human touch in omni-channel

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I recently heard Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and chief product architect of Tesla Motors, talk about technological advancements in the motor industry that will soon see the rise of driverless cars and the likely demise of humans behind the wheel. Although no one can deny the intelligence behind the technology, it sparked a question for me: how far will the future generation control their own destiny?

We have entered a world where our fridge will be able to order our milk without our intervention, where we can turn our heating on with our phones from over 100 miles away and where we can wear smart watches that can track our every move.  However convenient all these things will be, who is in control of our actions? Surely the beliefs we hold so dear about democracy and freedom of choice in a modern world suggest that taking away the things that a machine does better from our control dumbs us down as a species.

Target reportedly mailshotted a customer with maternity products because they knew she was pregnant by her purchasing decisions. The problem was, she hadn’t told the father yet

Infact, in a business context, what it also does is take away the judgement call that sometimes companies need to exercise with their customers, and which can only be achieved by the human touch.

In the world of work, we all know the potential for automation, or the “elixir of progress”, is huge. We are already seeing technology integrating into industry at a rapid pace.  A recent report by PricewaterhouseCooper estimates that in the decade between 1990-2000, the majority of the workforce was employed in roles whose titles only existed after 1990. Elsewhere, Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A Osborne have predicted computerisation could make nearly half of jobs redundant within 10 to 20 years.  Actions are being driven by data, accumulated from the digital breadcrumbs of the smart technology we are using, day in, day out.

I read in Forbes a story about the US retailer Target that mailshotted a customer with maternity products because they knew that she was pregnant - by her purchasing habits. They knew this before her father. This raises the dilemma for all business in the future: how far can a computer navigate the often complex customer journey and make the right judgement without empathy, emotions and experience?

As we head towards an ever more omni-channel experience where our every purchasing habit and digital interaction is recorded and analysed, it becomes all the more important to ensure that good human beings are at the helm of managing its use.

How far can a computer navigate the often complex customer journey and make the right call without empathy, emotions and experience?

Humans are fragile, imaginative, versatile, unusual and sometimes unpredictable but they possess by and large the most important non-digital attribute – morals. Customer experience, the pivot of any great business proposition, is itself a human problem, with each customer wanting a personalised outcome to their individual dilemma.

Although a standardised response can help in some occasions, there will always be those who need discussion, deliberation and a decision maker to determine the right call, at the right time. Recent research by Pew Research Centre showed the need for humans within businesses will continue as so many of our basic human qualities are hard to code. We are complex and like our DNA we are unique often needing a bespoke answer to a solution.

I hope that as the power of digitalistion leads to greatness, but that we use it wisely - put our most important attribute - being human - at the forefront of our digital decision making process and allow ourselves the flexibility to learn by our successes and our mistakes.

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