This article was updated on July 12, 2018.
AI technology is transforming industries. Certain fields, like manufacturing, are feeling a significant impact with the elimination of jobs and the redesign of core business processes. CNBC reports that 6 percent of jobs will disappear within five years in the face of automation. For example, as Newsweek notes, automated gas pumps eliminated numerous jobs at service stations, but created new opportunities for engineering, software developers and technicians. One of the next frontiers AI technology is set to define is customer service jobs. How can organizations expect automation to affect these roles, and what steps can they take to prepare for them now?
Increased Efficiency and Smarter Customer Interactions
Consumers are already beginning to see the effects of automation in different parts of the service industry. One hotel chain is employing robots to deliver room service, notes the Los Angeles Times. The Daily Mail notes that KFC has already opened a concept store in Asia, which is entirely operated by robots and AI. Routine tasks that are largely handled by people may shift toward technological solutions. There's a potential for cost savings on wages and increased efficiency, but there's a bigger question — what do you lose in quality of the customer experience?
The Human Touch
In the film "Passengers," the spaceship is staffed by a robot bartender. In an interview with Discover, the film's director and actors explained that while the robotic bartender was programmed to be the best bartender possible, there were elements of the service profession — "trying to anticipate the needs of one very particular person in very particular circumstances" — that pushed the boundaries of his programming. He tries to learn what a joke is, for example, and to provide empathy. Service positions often involve more than just completing a task, and automated technology simply can't consistently deliver on those more nuanced elements.
AI and automation can help improve the efficiency of certain aspects of the service experience. However, they can't really address parts of the customer experience that require a human touch. HR leaders can help their organizations navigate critical decisions in this area by incorporating a clear point of view into their HCM strategies.
How HR Leaders Can Prepare With HCM
1. Know Where AI Technology Makes Your Team Better
In many cases, AI isn't about eliminating jobs, it's about helping your team increase efficiency. For example, could certain signals tell a waiter it's time to check in on a table? Could voice recognition software be used to initially take a fast food order, while an attendant preps the order more quickly? Hiring and training your service staff to maximize the value they get from these tools will become a critical component.
2. Define Roles That Can't Be Replaced
As organizations increasingly look for efficiencies through technology, it's going to be critical to determine the roles that can't be replaced. Certain roles derive too much value from the "human touch" to be completely replaced by AI. As a result, HR leaders will need to have a clear perspective on which roles can't be replaced and determine strategies that can balance efficiency with the customer experience.
3. Develop Hiring Criteria Around Comfort With Tech
The role of the service person will be changing. Not only will they need to be comfortable collaborating with technology, but their people skills will need to shine as a differentiator and value-added component that makes the case for keeping the human touch in the service process. Consider how technical skills and people skills can be recruited for, trained up and measured as part of the employee management experience.
The evolving technology landscape is going to continue to change the way humans interact with their environment, including service environments from restaurants to hotels. From an HCM perspective, it's going to be critical for HR to take a leading role in defining where to draw the line between technology resources and human resources to ensure optimum efficiency doesn't come at a higher cost to the customer experience. Adapting to this reality is a critical focus for HCM strategies in the years ahead.
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