Humanizing Automation to Help Employees Work Smarter Not Harder

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Back in late 2015, I wrote an article titled Work Harder or Smarter? in which I offered up some ways to help employees work more efficiently – ultimately, to work smarter. The last item on the list was automation. Fast forward five plus years, and automation is likely at the top of the list now for a lot of companies! But for many, the term “automation” brings chills, with visions of job losses and customer frustration.

Clearly, this is an important consideration when you start thinking about automation. In 2018, PwC discovered that 75% of consumers want more human interaction in the future, not less. The more technologically-advanced brands become, the more people crave human interaction. But two-thirds (64%) feel that brands have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience. (Confusing findings, for sure.)

As for employees, the fear of job loss is a bit over-hyped, according to 60% of job seekers in research conducted by ZipRecruiter. But, at the same time, 70% who have heard of automation are actively looking for jobs that are less likely to be automated. They also found that two-thirds (64%) believe employees in most industries will be replaced by computers or robots at some point in their lives.

Here’s the thing. Companies aren’t looking to automate people right now; they’re looking to automate processes. There’s a big difference. Automating processes is about taking the menial, mundane, and repetitive tasks and procedures off employees’ plates so that employees can focus on doing more mission critical and value-add tasks, like building customer relationships, innovating and creating for the customer’s benefit, and handling more-difficult projects that require human thought and decision making. Think about the productivity levels of your customer success and customer experience professionals – and the impact that productivity has on the business. Automation can have a huge ROI.

Employees are critical to automating processes because they’ve got the skills and the knowledge needed to (a) identify those repetitive tasks and (b) teach the robots how to do them. On the flip side, automating people is exactly what you think: replacing people with robots. This may have happened in some assembly lines or warehouses, but again, that leaves the human to do mission critical work, to ensure that the outputs are of superior quality and meet customer expectations.

Let’s go back to the PwC finding, that consumers feel that brands have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience. Moving automation to a priority list for most organizations seems counter to this finding. Trust me, the experience is and will always be human. But there are ways that automation can be humanized and personalized.

Here’s a great example of a humanized video (which would have been even more powerful had it been personalized), from a customer experience perspective. I ordered some furniture online for my office a couple days ago. I’ve never purchased from this furniture store before – in person or online. They sent me a video to help me prep for what’s ahead. I suppose they could’ve just emailed me these details, but the video adds that human touch, more so than words in an email would.

I have a great example from an employee experience perspective, but also for the customer experience. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about some of the different customer [insert term here] terminology that we associate with the various disciplines focused on customers. In that post, I introduced the concept of digital customer success and how you can use apps like Cast to automate, visualize, and personalize your content to inform and inspire customers to take action. If you take a look at the work that customer success professionals do with their customers, like onboarding, ensuring product adoption and usage, identifying new opportunities, and more, you can probably quickly uncover repetitive tasks that, if taken out of their workstreams, would give them more time to focus on customer conversations and value-add work.

Here’s the example. Cast works with Yelp to help their customer success team onboard more than 6,000 new restaurants per year by using each restaurant’s data to create personalized content, including key metrics related to their first 30 days on Yelp software. The content created for each restaurant comes in the form of a cast (visualized audio content) and includes recommendations and actions restaurants can take, such as buying Yelp ads or making Yelp posts, to best utilize the Yelp product. Here’s how that works. This content gets sent to restaurants at a preset interval, and not only saves the customer success team time (and the business money) by not having to do these readouts manually for 6,000 different restaurants but also allows them to address either more high-value customers and their concerns or focus on developing initiatives to help their customers drive more business and realize the value they expected.

Given this is the second time I’ve mentioned Cast in a post, I should note that I am an advisor for the company. But I’m also working with a couple of clients in the automation space; I’ve interviewed their customers about how they use robots and other automation tools to make the inefficient efficient. That is ultimately the goal. They want employees to think differently and to do things differently, and the only way they can do that is to remove menial tasks that should really be automated. Did you know that accounts receivable representatives have about 500 tasks they do daily – daily! – that are mundane and could be automated for both accuracy and sanity?!

If you’re a customer success professional, think about the things you do every day that could be automated. Do your customers ask for the same kinds of data or information – and do so at regular intervals? Are you pulling this data manually for them? If you’re a customer service professional, I know that self-service options like knowledge bases and chatbots are ways to remove some of the less-critical customer issues from your workstream and simplify problem resolution for your customers, but what else would you automate?

You’ve got to consider the following if you want to automate processes: Is the task time consuming or labor intensive? Does the task require human input or decision making? And, importantly, is the data available and easily accessible to automate? Sadly, many times we uncover that tasks that should be automated but are not because employees spend a lot of time finding and centralizing the data first.

Obviously, you can’t ask yourself these questions in a vacuum. You’ve really got to think about the impact on the customer, as well. In many cases, you’re saving time for the customer because you’re providing information they want/need before they ask for it. Proactive is always a good thing!

As with anything else you do, if you’re going to automate your customer success tasks or customer service tasks, think about the objectives and the desired outcomes (for the business, the employee, and the customer) and spell out some success metrics, like: increased productivity and efficiencies;  reduced fraud, risk, and omissions (forgot to do something); cost and time savings; employee satisfaction; and customer satisfaction.

In 2019, I wrote:

I like the idea of reducing employee and customer effort through automation. But before you can do that, you should really try to understand where that effort is happening. Don’t waste time reducing effort in one part of the experience if it’s way more of a deal breaker in another part of the experience. Yes, reduce effort everywhere, but you can’t do it all at once, so you’ve got to prioritize. How? Start with mapping the customer experience, followed by creating the corresponding service blueprint, which will identify the people, tools, systems, processes, and policies causing pain for the customer experience – and for the employee experience. These two combined will be a huge eye-opener! And, yes, map the employee experience, too.

It’s time to embrace automation as one lever to improve the employee experience and the customer experience. I believe the experience will always be human; the human touch is not going away. But if we’ve got the tools to simplify, let’s use them!

There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all. -Peter Drucker

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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