December 13, 2019

Why human skills are more valuable than ever in a tech-driven workplace

We’ve all heard predictions of robots taking over, along with horror stories of people losing their jobs to machines and lines of code. It might sound like science fiction, but automation is already changing the workplace. Robots pack orders in warehouses while websites gather user data and run it through algorithms to suggest products to customers. You can even order a Big Mac from an electronic screen without a member of staff getting the chance to ask, ‘would you like fries with that?’.

McKinsey estimates that 47 percent of a retail salesperson’s activities could be automated, and The British Retail Consortium predicts that over the next 20 years, 60 percent of jobs in retail will be at risk due to automation. So how are workers and job seekers supposed to compete with technology that’s faster, cheaper and never takes a lunch break?

Remember, computers are not good at everything. While they excel at repetitive and structured tasks like approving loans, deciding whether a customer should be on-boarded or identifying fraud, they struggle with the cognitive and social skills needed for excellent customer service.

By freeing employees from repetitive tasks, automation allows them to focus on the areas where only the human touch will do. For example, a simple customer service bot can answer about 80% of queries on its own. This lets customer service representatives focus their attention on the other 20% that require more empathy, creativity, social skills and emotional intelligence.

The key person to consider is the customer – what do they feel about it all? Richard Cawston, Supply Chain Managing Director of XPO Logistics, reports that customers are cautious about abandoning human connections completely, “These advances are unarguably impressive, and spell a bright future for the retail industry. However, we’re finding that some consumers still prefer the reassurance of human interaction – and this need should not be ignored.”

People still value everyday interactions with staff, getting advice from a human being and bumping into friends in the supermarket queue, making a human connection all the more valuable in an increasingly technology-driven world.

“While AI technology can provide efficiency and cost savings, human interaction creates value like no other. People are social beings, and ultimately nothing can ever truly replicate the experience of connecting with another person. Only humans can create a sense of relationships and trust with your customer’, reports Priya Iyer, Chief Executive of customer service technology company Vee24.

To manage this transition between human and machine, Mohanbir Sawhney, Professor of Marketing and Technology at the Kellogg School of Management, advises us to work with technology, rather than against it, “The future will not be computer vs. human, but computer plus human. For example, even if a call center becomes automated, humans will need to manage it.”

He also predicts a growth in the hospitality and tourism industries as increased automation gives people more leisure time, leading to greater demand for hotel workers, flight attendants, transportation, and guides.

In fact, human skills are so sought after that the World Economic Forum is predicting that sales and customer service jobs will be among the most in-demand in 2020.

So the key to thriving in a workplace full of robots? Become even more human.

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