Be Wary of Digital Machinists in Your Customer Experience Programs


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A few months back, I blogged about a key focus area for Gartner’s Digital Business research around the idea of Digital Humanism.  The core tenet is that people (and the golden rule) need to be a key focus of digital business efforts.

From the Gartner perspective, there is another side to Digital Business, that of the machinist (the entire concept is explored more completely by my colleague Brian Prentice in research that is available to Gartner clients). In short, the machinist view of the world is all about process optimization.  This has long been known (and balanced) in the BPM area where some have said “the only good process is one where we can remove people entirely.”  That is sometimes said in jest, but there are many many times when the balance between  efficiency or humanism tils heavily to efficiency.

As you think about the opportunities around digitalization, there are more and more chances for optimization.  A machinist will seek to automate everything.   For example, a sensor detects you are in an accident, a machinist would immediately notify your doctor, your family, and your insurance company.   No time to waste.  A humanist would think about the implications of that, and maybe wait until their is more understanding of your condition.  Or, give you the ability to choose who to notify in these situations (before the accident happens).

Gartner’s views of machinists v. humanists are quite polarizing.   This is to make clear the difference.   And, even as we might say to ourselves “no one would truly think purely as a machinist”, it does happen.   We all regularly experience the impact of technology where it is less than ideal for us because “that is the way the system was designed.”  We can’t interrupt the process because it wants to complete without our involvement.

Beyond Digital Business, now think about this from a customer experience perspective.   We have the same issues.   I love hearing from providers of customer care solutions, or customer care managers, who talk about being focused on customer experience, but the first metrics they site is the ability to maximize agent productivity.  Often, the front end of that is a machinist view of call routing.  It is not about the experience; its about efficiency metrics.  The humanist, on the other hand, focuses first on providing the best possible service with a secondary (and related) goal of doing this as efficiently as possible.  Humanism comes first.  (I explored this from the perspective of the balance between business and customer goals in another recent post.)

It is really simple.  If you truly embrace the idea that customer experience matters, then humanists must drive your customer experience  programs.  Machinists can help, but they can’t lead and machinism can never be the priority.

It really is that simple.  If you embrace customer experience, you must embrace digital humanism.   If you don’t, your customer experience goals are highly unlikely to be achieved.

Republished with author’s permission from original post.

Hank Barnes
Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies--particularly around marketing, positioning, and customer experience--for technology providers. Hank has more than 25 years of high-technology sales and marketing experience in both field and corporate roles, both as an individual contributor and the marketing leader for several startups. He is a long-time proponent of customer-centric marketing and the use of customer experience as a key differentiator for business success. His posts here include content from his days with Adobe, SAP, and now Gartner


  1. Hank…it would be great if the world of service could be neatly divided into the perspective of the machinist or that of the humanist. Unfortunately, the 32.5 shades of grey are more characteristic of the natural order of things. When we put philosophical discussions in finite boxes, I wonder if we are encouraging understanding and insight or are we facilitating polarization and conflict? The easy answer to all customer service issues is to start with the humanist view? I am clearly more humanist than machinist (in your parlance). But, as I write this in flight with the Delta Airlines auto pilot navigating my journey, I can envision situations in which I might prefer to let the machinists take the lead.

  2. Chip,

    Great points. Sometime polarizing views are effective at illustrating concepts. It is hard to imagine anyone with 100% machinist perspectives, but I certainly have seen companies take a machinist view of processes purely for efficiency perspectives (regardless of the impact on customer experience).

    Like with most everything, a balance is required, but highlighting the extremes can sometimes make people more aware of their tendency to get too focused in one direction or another.

    Automation is not a bad thing and their are many situations where automation improves the experience. But there are others where it doesn’t.

    The shades of grey are the reality–my highlighting some extremes seeks to emphasis that the answers are in those shades.



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