Monday, 25 February 2019

Is Automation Killing Good Service?

We use automated systems and processes in many daily tasks, whether it’s setting up a subscription or payment instruction, buying a product or service, booking a plane ticket or something else.  There’s no doubt that automating many of the activities that used to be carried out by actual people has done much in terms of improving efficiency, saving money and making lives easier in general.

As many of us will have found, however, when the “system” fails, things can go badly wrong.  We can find any number of stories about how the “Customer Service/Helpdesk/Hotline” weren’t able (or, sometimes, willing) to resolve a problem.  In the case of being unwilling, training is one of the answers.  In the former (being unable), we encounter one of the downsides of automation.

When we look at the way that automation has replaced repetitive, manual tasks, we see that it has also replaced the knowledge of what actually happened to get them done. In much the same way as a child learning maths is taught the “manual way” of adding 1 + 2 to make 3, if we just give them a calculator they can still do it, but won’t understand how the process works.  

Similarly, Helpdesk/Hotline staff may not be aware of what actually happened to result in the problem facing them (although this will, hopefully, disappear as they acquire more experience).  Things break down because, as they lack the understanding of why “1 + 2 = 3”, they are usually obliged to resort to a checklist or putting customers “on hold” whilst they refer to someone else.  

Why do organisations do this?  The answer is, it’s cheaper.  An inexperienced employee is generally cheaper that an experienced one.  In one anecdote, a friend of mine commented that one of the world’s largest banks had made its experienced staff redundant (thereby losing goodness knows how many combined years of corporate experience) and replaced them with people who simply don’t have the basic knowledge.

Yes, automation helps, but if it’s viewed as a replacement for experience and knowledge, this is where we risk going wrong in our bid to save costs.  Much better to ensure that it complements experience than replaces it.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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