People will Always be People – a simple truth often overlooked!
As I prepare to welcome the anniversary of my 60 years on the planet with open arms, it is interesting to reflect on the significant changes that technology has brought over the past 35 or so – not all of them good..
Western capitalism has driven a preoccupation with businesses earning ever-greater profits and utilising technology wherever possible to reduce costs. Whilst efficiency and optimising any operation are worthy aspirations, it seems to me that it is people who all too often pay the price for an increase in profitability. So much so that it is now conceivable that we’ll need to arrive at some form of universal basic income for everyone as the number of available jobs continue to decrease.
Fortunately, in our industry, there will always be a requirement for people – because they have the unique ability to form a relationship with other people – and in almost every business, it is these very relationships that equate with a consistent client base and also employee satisfaction (and longevity). In a world where an increasing number of people feel isolated and more alone that ever before, it is often the bond they form with someone who serves them a coffee or cooks a meal for them that makes the world feel more normal.
Anyone who has shopped online (and who hasn’t?!) is now increasingly familiar with the ‘chat bots’ who offer you friendly service and to answer your questions, all from a small window that pops up the instant you start browsing products. The theory is that if you hand the task of communicating with customers to an AI-powered bot, you can reduce the price of customer service and make a higher profit as a result.
In the same way, if we call up looking for customer service or to resolve a problem, it is not unusual to have to answer questions asked by a computer, often over several iterations, before maybe (just maybe) being passed through to a real person – who’ll ask us the same questions all over again.. Again, this is ostensibly about providing better ‘service’ by having what is supposed to be 24 hour availability of customer assistance.
But do either of these examples actually enhance anything but profit? Do the myriad organisations ‘subbing out’ their customer service to computers using AI realise that all they are doing is ensuring that there is no customer loyalty whatsoever being generated by their interactions with their customers – or potential customers? In fact, all they are achieving is to send a very clear message to people they ought to be building a relationship with that those very people aren’t important enough to speak with in person. No customer loyalty – and therefore a need to spend a fortune on marketing to new customers for every purchase! I imagine the cost-benefit analysis still comes out in favour of using computers!
One of the first things I say to everyone who joins our team is that it is the relationships they form with our staff and our clients that will determine the success of the business. We have a very firm policy of being honest – in all circumstances – and particularly when we have stuffed up, as we sometimes do. We know that if we’ve done our best and communicated with our clients, we’ll have built strong relationships that will withstand errors on either our part, or theirs.
Whilst the technology is readily available to have our clients book online and allocate shifts to our Brigade using an App, we remain doggedly committed to having a discussion (in person) with all of our clients wanting to book and all of our staff when we’re allocating work to them. We call all of our clients every week to check in, in case there was a small issue that wasn’t big enough to raise with us. It costs a lot more than automating everything – but it’s also why we’re still here and continuing to improve more than 30 years in..
It’s just dawned on me that I’ve owned and run this business for more than half my life! I’m intending to keep running it for another 20 years or so – and a lot of that is based on the relationships I’ve formed with my team and clients and Brigade members all over the country. And there’s another significant benefit of recognising that people are people – and fundamentally social creatures. If you focus on the people, working can actually be a lot of fun!