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OPINION: Robots can’t replace the human touch

OPINION: Robots can’t replace the human touch

OPINION: Robots can’t replace the human touch THE RISE OF AUTOMATION VS THE HUMAN TOUCH
By David Newman, CEO, Carole Nash

Much is being written afresh about the increased role of robotic and artificial intelligence in the workplace, and the efficiencies such an approach will bring to businesses across the board. The recent launch of the 'chat bots' from Facebook has been described by their own management team as heralding in 'the first day of a new era'.
 
But social media aside, manufacturing industries have been long-term early adopters of automation to different degrees, and the much talked-up expectation is that all industries will see an increasing impact where workforces and their skill-based fallibilities will be under pressure from smarter approaches.
 
The value of algorithms and applications are hard to deny in any business where finance is part of the offer or the model.  We use them too at Carole Nash, as part of the insurance model where real-time pricing is critical for the third of a million motorbikes we arrange insurance for. But while I admire what they add and am always excited by technology that could be a game-changer, I am far from seeing this a takeover or a threat to jobs.
 
Because when people sometimes talk about insurance as a numbers game, with low levels of customer loyalty and pricing as the be all and end all, I do not think they understand us. Of course pricing is vital, but so too is care. Conversation. Listening to the customer. Thinking with them around their specific needs. No algorithm can deliver that – as Facebook will be seeing with the critique in play from some on their experiences with the chat bots.
 
There is a reason why we encourage our staff to be bike enthusiasts. A reason why customer satisfaction scores are at the top of our success criteria. A reason why this year we introduced a customer council for the first time.
 
I believe the counter culture to the 'rise of the robots' is the 'return of the human touch'. For every brilliantly inventive mould-breaker that relies on tech, there is a business where looking after the customer personally is the mantra (a few manage both). If you cannot see this being the case, then ask yourself the last time you got fed up working through a 'conversation' you could do nothing about  - it was probably because it was an automated one.
 
I am not fighting the need for, or reality of, tech-based disruption for business good. I welcome it - when it adds value. What I believe in is balance, and a hope that the key word of 'care' is not one that can be replaced by a keypad. That an interest in what you are selling as a business does not disappear under the banner of efficiency, and that when you turn up to work the office culture that makes the day worth working is not absent.
 
None of this is quite here yet, especially as I would hope being in a services industry the word 'service' still has meaning. But making sure the eye is kept on a balanced future is important to maintain corporate individuality and a point of difference in business.
 
I love the algorithms that improve the real-time nature of our finance model. But I also love that in our latest survey, our length of customer telephone call times increased to amongst the longest in the industry. Inefficiency or proper relationship efficiency? I know where I call it.