Business success needs staff to remain central & not replaced by technology

I recently heard Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and chief product architect of Tesla Motors, talk about the future for the motor industry that will soon see the rise of driverless cars and the end of humans behind the wheel. Although impressed by the technology behind it, it made me think, how far will robots take over our personal, and professional lives?

With the Internet of Things looming around the corner and technology becoming integrated into every aspect of our working lives, here are my top five pieces of advice for business owners to balance technology with the human touch in the workplace.

Let technology be the enabler, not the driver

Back to the driverless car, if technology is in control, the question is ‘who is in charge’, and who reaps the benefits of success and takes ownership over the failures? In business it is always good to ensure your team knows that technology is the facilitator but they still have the ownership. We all know the “elixir of progress” is huge. We are already seeing technology integrating into industry at a rapid pace. Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A Osborne have predicted computerisation could make nearly half of jobs redundant within 10 to 20 years.  If you make individuals take ownership over the task – even if it is as simple as pushing a button on a project – however seamless the technology might be, they should take the credit if it goes well, and also be answerable when it doesn’t.

Make product development about human benefit rather than ease of facilitation or budget

It sounds obvious, but it is amazing how many companies focus their product development around what is easy to produce or add onto their existing product and service, rather than what their customers really want. Listening to your customers, letting them co-create and evolve your product or service means that you will be bringing products to market that your customer base and potential customers desire and will be likely to purchase. Many of our clients do this through Customer Experience Centres – bespoke brand centres built to court, engage and entertain customers – where they can give feedback to existing products and help model future incarnations.

Ensure someone, not something is making the judgement call

I recently read in Forbes a story about a customer mailshot undertaken by the US retailer Target to a customer to promote maternity products because they knew that she was pregnant – by her purchasing habits. They knew this before her father. Whatever you feel about the ethics of the mailshot, it does highlight that however advanced technology is to date, a computer cannot, yet, navigate the often complex customer journey and make the right judgement without empathy, emotions and experience.

Have a voice at the end of your customer journey – if they want one

Remember your customers are human, as are your employees. Any customer engagement ultimately can lead to sales, or loss of leads. At the core of your business is a human interaction. Customers want to feel special, that your service or brand is meeting their personal needs.

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.

Although standardised responses can help in some occasions, there will always be an occasion where only a voice at the other end of the conversation will be able to navigate the complex waters of a customer query.

Be humane

The ultimate difference between robots and technology, and humans is their ability to emote. Until this changes, this is our trump card when it comes to business. Engage with your customer, excite them, motivate them and use your humanity to provoke a reaction with them – hopefully a positive one that produces a sale. Again this can be facilitated through technology but the thought process needs to be humane.

Personally, I hope that as the power of digitalistion leads to greatness. However, all business owners need to utilise our most important attribute – being human – at the forefront of our digital decision making processes and in doing so put our customers at the heart of our businesses.

Max Eaglen is co-founder and director at brand agency Platform, that works with the brands including Vodafone, British Gas and HCL to create Customer Experience Centres, where clients can listen and act on feedback from customers to help their brands evolve.