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Michael Blake, Business Transformation Manager – Digital, Findex
The decade long trend of automation continues within the tech sector, with teams always focused on which tasks can be given to technology to complete, replacing the need for repetitive human behaviour within an organisation. There’s a clear and well-defined business case for this investment, you can reduce operational costs, mainly through a reduction in staff count. It’s a worldwide trend, led by some of the biggest firms globally, with some industries more advanced in implementing autonomous processes.
Car makers around the world have been implementing automation for more than a decade now, with U.S. makers installing 127,000 industrial robots in 2016, up 70% from 2006 data. So, what’s been the result? The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis outlined statistics showing the U.S. automotive industry generated a record $175.9 billion in added value in 2016 with the industry's employment levels at 70% of its peak in 2000.
This seems like a great result for the industry – record levels of value growth with a reduction in staff costs, the ideal situation. But this data does not consider the longer-term impact of the changes that have been implemented.
While fully automated brands are cheaper, they have not demonstrated an ability to develop loyalty from customers at the same rate as traditional brands; this is especially prevalent in the second and third generation customers, who are far more likely to solely focus on cost advantages when making purchase decisions. There are additional medium-term considerations as well, as back-end automation relies heavily on front line staff ‘feeding’ through data on unique customer sectors. With companies focusing on staff reduction, less staff will inevitably lead to less diversity in product development, limiting appeal to a market that becomes more diverse each day.
As a first step, focus on automating the mundane tasks your staff has to constantly repeat, it will improve profitability, limit errors and can improve staff morale
Alternatively, you can impose the other extreme by avoiding automation completely. You may be able to effectively sell your brand as being locally made and employing staff in opposition to technology, but you will inevitably be beaten on price by competitors that have adopted technological advancements, and you’ll be hamstrung on scale, unable to grow at the same rate as your customer base.
Keeping the Humanity
There is an effective solution to the issue of automation – balance, and ensuring that while you adopt some forms of automation, a focus on maintaining a human element to your customer experiences is there too.
As a first step, focus on automating the mundane tasks your staff have to constantly repeat, it will improve profitability, limit errors and can improve staff morale as teams see the investment as a core benefit of their roles, not as a means of replacing them. Additionally, use machine learning to address the bottom 10% of value adders long term, the tasks that are low value to clients and present a large cost of completion. As your program develops, these changes will work year on year to improve efficiencies while maintaining that human element of client experience.
Concurrently, it’s important the vision of your automation program is tied to your brand, both internally and externally, for staff and clients to ‘buy in’ to what you’re implementing. In effect, the purpose of implementing automation is to ensure the best level of client service at the most effective price and client service is always best when it is person-to-person, not person-to-machine.
Automation should be presented as an opportunity for your staff and your business to better connect with clients, as a tool being implemented to enhance all aspects of the service your business has provided previously. It’s vital that you ensure your automation program is part of a wider strategy to become more client focused, similar to what we have witnessed Apple do.
Apple is a company that has heavily adopted machine learning and automation tools, while also maintaining the ‘human’ brand image by having customer connection points teaming with human staff offering help to customers. We’ve seen the corporate giant become the first company to be valued at $1 trillion, by effectively implementing technologies while also maintaining the vibrant human elements of their brand which continues to drive loyalty from customers.
Technology alone can provide a huge cost advantage to a business, but ensuring long term success will always rely, in some part, on humanity.