In The Age Of Technology Do People Still Matter?

Why Not Replace People With Technology?

In the second half of the 90s I was involved in consulting in the area of shared services.  Being a sidekick I got to witness the sales pitch.  What was the sales pitch?  No human beings.  Everything in the back office was subject to business rules. The business rules could be codified, programmed and back office work could be automated.  No human necessary. Nirvana: 24/7/365 nirvana of efficiency guaranteed to deliver the same outcome each and every time.

Today, I notice the same love of technology as regards the front office: where the customer meets the enterprise.  In this age of technology do people still matter?  Do we need sales people given that content marketing will generate the interest, product demos can be put on the web, and the ‘inside sales’ people can take the orders?  Do we need to have any people in marketing given that big data will generate the insights, decision engines will contain the heuristics, market resource management systems will hold the marketing assets, and marketing automation will take care of the execution of marketing campaigns?  Do we need people in the call-centres taking calls given the extensive self-help that can be enabled through digital channels and every customer would prefer to interact via Twitter?  Do we need people in the stores? Why not rebuild the stores so that they resemble a combination of a website and a vending machine?

What Do These Two Women Say On The Matter?

Allow me to share a conversation that I overheard the other day between two women.  Before I do that let me set some context.  Waitrose is supermarket chain in the UK and it is owned by The John Lewis Partnership.  The John Lewis Partnership has been and continues to do well despite tough times for retailers. Tesco used to be the darling of the CRM press and used to be the dominant supermarket chain. It has not been doing so well since austerity hit.  Morrisons is the fourth largest chain of supermarkets in the UK.

As promised here is the gist of the conversation (between two women) that I overheard at the weekend:

Mrs A: “Waitrose is known for their great customer service and rightly so. It’s easy to find someone to help you. And when you ask for help in finding something, the Waitrose person walks you across the store and takes you right to the item you are looking for.  They are so helpful.”

Mrs B. “I was in Waitrose this week and wasn’t sure what ingredients I needed for eggs Benedict; I haven’t cooked them before. So I asked for help. The Waitrose man didn’t know either but he told me that he would find out. I saw him walk to one of his colleagues. Then he came back and told me what I needed and how to cook eggs Benedict. He was so helpful: he made my problem his own. That’s such good service.”

Mrs B. “The staff in Morrisons don’t walk with you to the item you are looking for. Yet, I always find them  warm, friendly and helpful.”

Mrs A. “I don’t like Tesco. It is hard to find people in the store to help you. And when you do find someone to help they tell you where you can find the item, point towards it, and then leave you to it. They don’t walk with you and show you where it is.  They don’t care – not at all like the Waitrose people.”

Mrs B. “I used to do all my shopping at Tesco. Then Tesco got greedy – pushing up prices and cutting down on the customer service. Now, I shop for the basics at Morrisons and the rest from Waitrose.”  

My Take On The Situation 

I’ll leave you decide whether people matter or not in the age of technology.  For myself, I am clear that humans are simply more at ease in dealing with other human beings. And there is no substitute for great customer service – the way that the folks in Waitrose (and John Lewis) stores interact with their customers, and amongst themselves.

Before you rush off to revamp your customer service remember that one ingredient does not a dish make.  A great dish always consist of the insightful application of a recipe – and the recipe requires a mix of ingredients, in the right measure, and sequence, cooked for just the right amount of time.  How does one generate such insight? Through experience: on the battlefield of life.  What is the recipe?  The business philosophy and organisational design: what matters, who matters, the operating principles, how conflict is handled, how rewards are shared, how people are structured into groups, and how interactions-relationships-differences-conflicts are handled…

Please note: I am not in the business of giving advice (in this blog). So you shouldn’t take anything in this blog as constituting advice. In this blog I find myself involved in sharing my thinking and experience.  That is all. Then you make of it what you make of it.

Does Your Business Emanate the Warmth of a Cool Fluorescent Light?

I recently read Setting The Table by Danny Meyer. This book shows up for me as inspiring, useful and entertaining. In this post I want to share with you a few passages from this book and my thoughts on these passages. In the process I question the value-power of Customer Experience.

What gave rise to Danny’s way of showing up in the world?

In France we usually stayed in low-key, family run inns where the welcome felt loving and the gastronomy was exceptional.  Those trips left a lasting impression. The hug that came with the food made it taste even better! That realisation would gradually evolve into my own well-define business strategy……..

Take a look at your business, your organisation and ask yourself whether your welcome occurs as loving and your ‘product’ as exceptional as experienced by your customers. How did you fare? I say many, if not most organisations, have huge room for improvement here.

Does genuine customer-centricity lie at the heart of Danny Meyer’s business strategy?

The heart of Danny Meyer’s business strategy is being on the customers’ side. Here is how he puts it:

Hospitality is the foundation of my business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side……. Hospitality is present when something happens for your. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions for and to – express it all.

I invite you to take a look at the policies and practices of your organisation and assess how your organisation rates on the for and to dimensions. If your organisation is like the multitude of organisations you are likely to find that your organisation is not hospitable. Put differently, you are likely to find many instance of to and few of for if you look at your organisation through your customers’ eyes.

Is there power in distinguishing between hospitality and service?

When we make new distinctions new worlds of possibility open up for us. Danny Meyer has generated such a distinction and living it has been the source of his success.

Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of the product makes its recipients feel…… To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.

My question for you is this, has your organisation invented new distinctions that open up new possibilities? Or are you stuck in the taken for granted and common distinctions of your industry?  I say that everything starts with inventing new distinctions. Lets take the area of customer service. What happens when you invention the distinction ‘customer love’ and contrast it with ‘customer service’? Notice ‘customer love’ cannot be collapsed into ‘customer service’. Why? Something new-fresh is born with ‘customer love’.  The distinction ‘customer love’ calls forth a very different way of being-showing up in the world to ‘customer service’.

Incidentally, I say that there is no power, no vitality, no freshness, and no possibility in the distinction ‘Customer Experience’. This distinction has been made empty and meaningless by the way that it has been embraced. I’ll let you chew on that and get back to me if you disagree.

Do most businesses delivery plenty of light but no warmth? 

I love the way that Danny Meyer uses concrete metaphors to make instructive points.  Here is one that is particularly valuable and in line with the lamentations of Colin Shaw:

Imagine if every business were a lightbulb and that for each lightbulb the primary goal was to attract the most moths possible. Now what if you learned that 49% of the reason moths were attracted to the bulb was for the quality of its light (brightness being the task of the bulb) and that 51% of the attraction was to the warmth projected by the bulb (heat being connected with the feeling of the bulb).

Its remarkable to me how many businesses shine brightly when it comes to acing the tasks but emanate all the warmth of a cool fluorescent light. That explains how a flawless four-star restaurant can actually attract far fewer loyal fans than a two or three star place with soul.

How does your organisation fare on the light-warmth scale?  And in your Customer Experience efforts are your  business cases and people focussed on improving the light or the warmth?  From what I have seen, and what Colin says, it occurs to me that the bulk of Customer Experience efforts are focussed on the light.

Does your organisation lack soul?

It occurs to me that the distinction ‘with soul’ is worth savouring. I invite you to ask yourself how many businesses show up in your experience as showing up ‘with soul’?  When was the last time you experienced a product ‘with soul’? Or the last time you were served ‘with soul’? What about the last time you came across marketing literature ‘with soul’? When was the last time you came across a salesperson ‘with soul’?

I say that most workplaces and most brands lack soul. And the challenge is for these organisations to put soul back into workplaces and brands. It occurs to me that even that is not enough. It occurs to me that the true challenge is for us to show up ‘with soul’ each and every day and collectively put soul back into the game of business.  What do you say?