Are Firms Becoming More Human?

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I am writing this article because of potential Value Creation for companies and possible reduction of Customer Value in the future. All of you need to think about this as you plan for the future.

First one must accept that firms are really human, though they often pretend not to be. This is based on a simple thought. They are run and manned by people. This feeling that firms are able to portray of being inanimate is a major reason for the culture being non-human centric.

With digitisation and automation, there is an upheaval now. Humans are being partly replaced by robots. AI is being used to answer day to day questions via chatbots. Many mundane jobs are now being replaced by machines, and so there will be fewer humans within the companies. Thus companies will have a greater reason to pretend to be less human. This of course, reduces Customer and Employee Value.

Customers, especially the younger ones are comfortable with net-based interactions, including emails. Getting emails on your mobile a few years ago was a novelty. Today it is a necessity. The younger Customers are getting used to non-human companies and non-human interaction. They are comfortable with robots, and working on the net/mobile.

Automation Downside

Some of the downsides of automation and AI is the loss of jobs and having to fire people. What will these people do? They need to be re-trained to make them re-employable.

Those people left behind in companies that are reliant on automation and robots will need more service skills in an automated world. History has shown deep automation in industries like banking led to a crisis twenty years ago, because of job losses. Today, banks, for example, are making deep labor cuts in departments including customer facing people and also are letting go back end people. Those who are left have to be re-trained in new working ways and skills that are different from the past. Is this meant to add more Value? For whom? The company or the Customer? Guess who will lose?

Customers are expecting and getting used to more voice/data/net type of interaction and less face to face or direct interaction. This requires more humanness in the backend machines. Services have to be more personalised, and help the customer manage his portfolio, his home, his transportation. The demand for services will increase and that for goods will decrease as demographics change to a larger aging population.

Care giving services like caring for old people will need people, and in countries where the population is decreasing this could be a problem. In companies, reduction of caring staff could lead to reduced Customer Value, though costs will reduce. Much better customer support will be needed with the people left after automation.

Will this reduce humanness, or reduce Customer Value? Well, there will have to be ‘creative destruction’ of jobs because new skills will be needed with automation of routine processes and backend work, Very well designed customer support will be required. So all of us looking of the future must pay heed to this.

A positive could be, for example, customised products including mortgage products, all being given to the customer in 10minutes with machine decision making help. This will happen because AI will get a deeper understanding of customers, and make decision making easier.

Critical Human Skills

Humans will survive because there will still be a need for curiosity, creativity, and communications. And for using my 6As combining awareness (and curiosity), ability, agility, anticipation, ambidextrousness, and attitude. And all this with listening empathy.

These skills do not exist and will have to be taught. And new jobs such as “mixed reality experience designer”, “algorithm mechanic” and “universal service advisor.

And so the inhuman companies (read bosses) have decided what their people have to do and what their customers should expect. Nowhere do they talk about themselves and their humanness.

The human touch requires deep emotional understanding. Re-training will have to include soft skills along with software and digital thinking. New AI and digitisation aid humans to improve their soft skills by reminding them to be more thoughtful and empathetic in their customer interactions. Simultaneously, the training will be on improving technology skills of the people. The company’s people will have to apply their humanness with sector knowledge, technical know-how and human skills.

A BrightEdge survey states that 60% of the marketers that were surveyed say they will be using AI or automation. 31% say this will improve customer understanding, 27 % cite productivity gains and only 8% claim higher ROI. The major prize is personalization.

Remaining questions are:

  • Will the remaining workforce be more human, more caring?
  • Will added data collection allow better customer value to be created?
  • Will the bosses become more human so as to create Customer Value?
  • Will companies become more human and accessible and less inanimate?

Companies Can Be Human

I can (and I am sure you can) give examples of companies not being helpful and showing their not-so-human face. Let me give you examples of the human face of companies.

I was in San Francisco and had to go to San Francisco General for emergency treatment. I had medical insurance, and the hospital billed the insurance company, who did not pay, as the policy would reimburse payments made by me. I tried to pay the hospital, but they would only bill me and give me no information on payment or give me bills the insurance company could use to reimburse me. I found it very difficult to communicate with the hospital. Try doing this from India.

Finally, I called Tata AIG and the call center put me in touch with someone who was willing to listen to me and go beyond the rules. They said they would waive the reimbursement rule and pay the hospital directly. They were human in understanding my predicament and created value for me.

A second example is a large group of doctors, where I went for follow up treatment. The doctor and the staff treated me, my predicament of being unwell in a foreign country and just helped me out in all kinds of different ways. They never worried about billing. They were always accessible and caring. I could call and get answers and see them without an appointment. They also gave me a care kit free of charge to help me on my journey back to India from San Francisco. Great customer value.

A great example is Air India during the floods in Mumbai a few years ago. The airport was closed for two days. Passengers with other airlines were stranded as their staff had left. Air India had its entire staff at the airport, and took care of passengers (even from other airlines), fed them and took care of them. What caring!

Recommendations

  1. Accept you are human and your company is human
  2. Ask when the company pretends to be not human with employees, partners, and customers. How can you change this?
  3. Does the company ask you to wear a not-so-human company cap and ask you to deal with others wearing that kind of a cap?
  4. Ask how you can make the company more human?
  5. Finally ask how you can make your systems more human. Ask how you can design your AI and non-human assets to be more human.

See the difference it will make. Your customers and your people will notice this. You will leave the not-human companies and people behind.

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