Once Upon a Time People Assisted One Another…

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It seems like every week I read something like:

UiPath, a robotic process automation (RPA) startup that’s setting out to help companies automate repetitive tasks, has raised $30 million in a Series A round of funding. UiPath <is>…bringing automation to the ‘intelligent enterprise.’ It specializes in building what it calls ‘intelligent software robots’ that help businesses complete laborious and repetitive processes through computer vision technology and rule-based processes.”

Or…

Servion predicts that, by 2025, Artificial Intelligence will power 95% of all customer interactions, including live telephone and online conversations that will leave customers unable to ‘spot the bot’”.

Technology investments and futuristic predictions of a world where virtually all service is done by undetectable robots are both intriguing and daunting. But how did we get here? And will we reach a point where humans won’t provide any service to one another?

The path to our present-day obsession with machine-aided service is clear. It involves a perfect storm of at least these three major contributing factors:

  • Increased salary pressure. Fueled by lower unemployment in many parts of the world, as well as increased costs for finding qualified staff members, and fierce competition for talent, spending for automation has become an attractive investment.
  • Ubiquity of mobile technology. Global demand among consumers for instant and effortless service at their fingertips has fueled self-service opportunities across digital platforms.
  • Unprecedented breakthroughs in AI, Machine Learning, and Visual Technologies. Whether it is augmented reality, virtual reality, holograms, voice activated devices, or artificial intelligence platforms, machines are engaging with people to help us work faster and smarter than ever before.

But what about the future? If the predictions are correct, 95% of interactions will be “powered” by AI. Will there still be a place for human service delivery?

I am convinced the answer is yes. Here’s my thinking

  • Lower skilled jobs are and will continue to be replaced by automation. Who wants to call a brand to have their address updated – when such a transaction can be handled through an app, a text bot, or an online link?
  • For the foreseeable future, as Artificial Intelligent machines continue to learn to navigate the ambiguities and nuances of complex social interaction, humans will have a place delivering complicated tasks that rely on experience and abstraction.
  • In the distant future, highly skilled service professionals will provide rare and desired experiences for people who will want to “opt-in” to humans – as a contrast to a world of bots and machines. Those professionals will likely be aided by machines, but customer-facing interactions will be delivered with authentic warmth, interest, and compassion beyond the reach of the smartest technology.

So, what’s your prediction and where will you make your bets? Are you “all in for AI”? Or will you hold some of your chips back to assure that a part of your future service has a human touch?

For now (and I hope forever) human service providers will need to learn to play nice with machines. Let’s hope the machines will play nice too!

6 COMMENTS

  1. Machines replacing humans is a trend that’s been ongoing for centuries. Yet somehow we manage to adapt.

    In modern times, factory workers have been replaced by robots.
    PCs and email made secretaries (mostly) obsolete — at least for typing letters.

    On it goes, except now it’s a bit more scary that knowledge works are in the cross hairs of technology. Automating complex jobs like driving is possible now, and perhaps routine within a decade.

    Regarding service, some software makers already offer human-assisted service for an additional fee. Others can use the forums and fend for themselves.

    That won’t work in all industries. BofA got a lot of push back on trying to charge for teller-assisted service. Rather than charging more for human-assisted service, brands can make sure that self-service actually works well, and use human interactions add the intangibles that machines lack.

    I think the top brands will strive for a balance of high tech for efficiency and high touch for high value customers and truly loyalty-building experiences. Getting the balance right is key.

  2. Bob, I just finished listening to a podcast about the resistance people have had to automation and how automation moved forward. All of it has moved people from the countryside to the city and now from the city to the virtual.

    Your message about balance is the central component. Transactions are expedited by technology and relationships are fueled by people. Seth Godin once noted a sailboat without a sail can float but moves little. The joinder of talented people, sound processes, and effort-reducing technology fuels movement into the future!

  3. Robotic Process Automation can help companies execute various business processes quickly and accurately at reduced costs with less need for human intervention than ever before but there has also been some fears around robots replacing the human workforce. But is this suggestion realistic? Can robots steal jobs currently being performed by humans? These “robots” are exist within their own right but they are not here to negate the need for humans in the workplace. Experts suggest the complete replacement of human employees by robots is not likely to happen and that RPA is much more likely to contribute to potential job reallocation and even job creation.

  4. Oliver Harris, I have been remiss in responding to your extremely insightful post. I particularly appreciate your calming voice about the likely reality that RBA will not lead to the elimination of human jobs but instead will relocate and create more possibilities. Again thank you, Joseph

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