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Joseph's Blog

{Infographic} Customer Experience Speaker, Consultant, Author, or … A Robot

Customer Experience Speaker, Consultant, Author OR…A Robot

At first, I didn’t have the heart to place my various occupational titles in the search field. I was afraid I’d find I’d already been replaced. However, a wave of courage washed over me and I went boldly into the unknown. Whew…as an author I might be safe with a percentage just less than 4%.

In case you’re lost, you too can go to a website that predicts the likelihood your job will be replaced by a robot. That website aptly named willrobotstakemyjob.com – gives a 96% probability that original content creators like me will withstand the onslaught of AI and robots. That site (which in my view is really a computer algorithm somewhat akin to a robot) paints a less cheery picture for many other job categories.

Customer Experience Speaker, Consultant, Author VS. CASHIERS

Let’s say you are a retail cashier, your fortune (at least according to the website) is the reverse of that projected for authors. According to the site, your probability of being replaced by robots is 97%. That roughly translates to 97% of clerk jobs being replaced by robots in years ahead.

While I am convinced there is something to these predictions; I think there needs to be deeper analysis. Let’s say you are a first line supervisor of housekeeping and janitorial staff (the website predicts 94% of the jobs in your profession will be replaced by automation). In that case, it might be worthwhile to look at more “robot-proof” professions while also considering what skills will be needed to be among the 6% of remaining humans. Maybe it will require knowledge in how to oversee the efficiency of a robotic set of housekeepers or janitors.

Quite frankly, I’ve always believed we are 100% replaceable – if not by robots by other people who are poised to add more value. To mitigate against our replaceability, we have to constantly assess what produces value in an ever-changing marketplace of customer wants, needs, and desires.

I remember reading a Harvard Business Review article a number of years ago titled What Value Creation Will Look Like in the Future. In it, author Jack Hughes made three key points:

1.) Master the Machines

2.) Get Obsessed with Value

3.) Make Creativity Real

As a customer experience speaker who delivers keynotes and workshops, I’ve had to adapt to be the “master” over mobile technology. Unlike prior generations, audience members can opt-out of my live speaker content if they find something of greater interest or value on their mobile device. In that part of my business, I need to leverage and create greater value than what consumers can find through technology.

All of us, not just speakers or clerks, are competing with technology and automation to add value. When we are a provider that loses to technology we are likely to cry foul (a clerk replaced by a self-serve kiosk). On the other hand, when we are the consumer who wants self-service we are likely to complain if that self-service option is not available.

As a customer experience consultant, I am constantly working with business leaders to help them “get obsessed with value” and look for ways to provide the right mix of people and technology to deliver it. Together my clients and I look for what serves their customers best. In other words, we look for what adds the most value at each interaction point along the customer journey. Further refinements are made based on the differing needs of varied core customer segments.

I take little comfort in the prospect that my occupations might be somewhat insulated from the intrusion of AI and robotics. Instead, I spend a lot more time thinking about being creative to maximize customer value and strive to understand and gain mastery over machines whenever possible. How about you?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} Service Delivered: Timeless Change

Service Delivered: Timeless Change!

In the small town of my youth, Drs. John Bugelwicz and Peter Gamache did house calls. What an antiquated concept – physicians who would bring their healing arts right into your living room.

If that isn’t peculiar enough, in that bygone era John Fox of Fox Rexall Drug would run a prescription by our house after his pharmacy closed. We could also rely on Bob Fritz to deliver a part for our Ford truck if he had what we needed in his store at Western Auto Supply.

Those were the good old days when I “went to school without shoes uphill both ways in the snow…”

Alas, the world has changed so much!

Now, when it comes to customer service, home delivery (in keeping with the lyrics of a Peter Allen song) represents something “old,” which has been repurposed through digital technology, “to be new again.”

While online ordering and mobile technology afford us the ability to not only buy with a voice command or the movement of a finger, these tools also allow us to have products brought to us with unprecedented speed and convenience. In an article titled, “There’s a delivery service for that,” Crain’s highlights how home delivery continues to meet timeless and fundamental needs:

Consumers are buying not just a meal kit, but potentially a little more time in their day, a little more privacy, or in the case of subscription boxes, simply a little more whimsy.”

So if my childhood had medical service, pharmaceutical, and auto parts delivery, what’s in store for consumers today?

Let’s just look at a few examples from the panoply:

Indianapolis and Bloomington Indiana have ClusterTruck which essentially is a food truck that makes food to order as they bring it to your door. On their website, they refer to this as, “A revolution in food delivery…Nothin’ soggy. Nothin’ cold.”

While we are on food delivery, how about the market niche carved out by October Kitchen in Manchester, Connecticut? According to Crain’s Connecticut, “senior citizens and baby boomers are the…bread and butter” of October Kitchen LLC, the Manchester-based food home delivery business that Paul Finney started 17 years ago. In contrast to more recent startups in the meal delivery space, which tend to market themselves more toward millennials…his target demographic is seniors.

Indirectly related to the “munchies” is the delivery of medical marijuana in California. San Francisco-based Eaze has been referred to as the “Uber of the cannabis industry.” A 2016 article for Techcrunch noted that Eaze launched in 2014 allowing patients to order on demand cannabis and quickly enabled “people to get a medical weed card in the state of California over the phone in under 10 minutes. The startup now claims availability in nearly 100 cities in California and says it has delivered marijuana to more than 200,000 people.”

Founded in 2012, Drizly has expanded to 40 markets in states like Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and Florida which is well beyond their founding location in Boston. As per their website, Drizly is “driven by the noblest mission of them all — to make sure cups, fridges, and coolers are never empty again.” As such Drizly works with “local stores so you can shop their shelves using your smartphone or computer to order beer, wine, and liquor at the touch of a button. You still have to drink it the old fashioned way, though.”

I have been sharing examples of this trend toward effortless home delivery with keynote audiences for years now, highlighting brief puppy visits, on-demand gasoline fueling, and subscription services that will curate, surprise, and delight consumers with virtually every imaginable form of merchandise. An example is, Loot Crate which purportedly has about 700,000 subscribers all of whom receive, on average, $40 worth of merchandise at a time in the form of “geek subscription boxes for gamers and nerds.”

Even Walmart is “all-in” with the home delivery movement. Currently, they are test marketing an option that they hope will help the big-box merchandiser compete more effectively with Amazon.com. According to a Fashion Network article, Walmart is exploring “a program that allows store workers to deliver packages ordered on the store’s website after they finish their shifts… the step will cut shipping costs, speed the delivery of packages and allow workers to earn additional compensation.”

The big idea from this blog is that every business owner or leader should strive to create options to deliver products/services to customers’ doors whenever possible with as much ease and speed as the business owner or leader can muster.

Based on my reflection of my childhood and the target market for October Kitchen, I’ll take the liberty to modify a 1979 commercial tagline which suggested orange juice is not just for breakfast anymore and instead suggest, “Home delivery is not just for Millennials anymore.”

That tagline, like digitally enhanced home delivery, truly does prove that “the more things change the more they stay the same.”

Lessons from a Young Leader

I’ve been a life-long student of leadership! Fortunately, I have worked with CEOs from some of the world’s most amazing companies – Mercedes-Benz, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Zappos, and Starbucks just to name a few.

One of the things I’ve learned about leaders is that they come in all shapes and sizes – which prompts me to introduce you to the blog journal of the daughter of a man with whom I’ve worked closely and for whom I have great respect – Harry Hynekamp, the General Manager of Customer Experience at Mercedes-Benz USA. But this isn’t about Harry (except for the influence that he and his wife, Flo, have had as parents); instead, it is about his daughter, Katie.

As you will see from her initial blog post below and the installments that follow, this amazing high school sophomore has a lot to teach us all about leading through challenges with authenticity, positivity, and grace. I am honored to introduce you to one of my newest leadership teachers – Katie Hynekamp…

First Time for Everything

{Infographic} Looking beyond the obvious: spotting customer experience subtleties

Looking Beyond the OBVIOUS: Spotting Customer Experience SUBTLETIES

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify the obvious trend away from brick and mortar in favor of online purchasing.

Store closings, layoffs, and predictions of doom haunt many traditional retailers such as the Sears Holding Corporation (parent entity for both Sears and Kmart and an employer of 140,000 people).

In a recent SEC filing the Sears Holding Company noted that it is selling property (e.g. in March 2017, they sold the Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker) and engaging new creditors all in an effort to stave off continued revenue challenges like the $2.2 billion they lost last year alone. The filing also suggested, to no one’s surprise, that:

The retail industry is changing rapidly. The progression of the Internet, mobile technology, social networking and social media is fundamentally reshaping the way we interact with our core customers and members. As a result, we are transitioning to a member-centric company.”

According to that filing, likely success of that transition (which has been slow) at Sears is perilous:

“We must anticipate and meet our members’ and customers’ evolving expectations, while counteracting developments by our competitors and striving to deliver a seamless experience across all of our sales channels. We may need to adjust our strategic initiatives depending on our members’ and customers’ reactions to and level of engagement with our initiatives. Failure to execute these initiatives or provide our members with positive experiences may result in a loss of active members, failure to attract new members and lower than anticipated sales. There is no assurance that our initiatives and strategies will improve our operating results.”

If the business environment isn’t hostile enough for Sears, BusinessInsider.com recently noted what might be described as “adding insult to injury.” In an article titled, Sears has a bigger problem than plunging sales Hayley Peterson observes:

“Companies that supply Sears with the TVs, toys, and clothing for sale in its stores are growing increasingly concerned about the retailer’s ability to pay its bills, and some are cutting back on shipments to stores as a result. That means Sears and Kmart stores are receiving less merchandise to sell, which is a grave problem for a company that’s trying to avoid a possible bankruptcy by reversing years of sales declines.”

So while the trend toward online is OBVIOUS, there are some SUBTLE signs that suggest that well-positioned retail stores will not go the way of the dinosaur or the dodo bird. One such subtle indicator comes from the most unlikely place – “retail slayer” Amazon!

If you were to take the market value of Sears and add it to the value of Macy’s, plus Kohl’s, plus JCPenney, plus Best Buy, plus Nordstrom, plus Dillard’s, plus Barnes & Noble, plus Target, and plus Gap, you would hit a valuation just under $95 billion. That cumulative total would be about ¼ of Amazon’s market value which is in excess of $370 billion. You are probably saying that is one more proof point for the obvious trend, now where is the subtlety?

Here it is – Amazon is tactically opening brick and mortar stores – be it Amazon Books (now in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon) or other retail concepts like Amazon Go (1,800 square feet of retail space showcasing breakthrough “Grab & Go” technology). These physical store openings hint that the sky is not falling on all retail.

In truth, there is a contraction for retailers who thought they could simply warehouse products for consumers – given that those same products can now be purchased with ease and convenience online. At the same time, powerful online brands like Amazon realize there will always be a need for humans to have a “place to go” where they can delight in sensory experiences like thumbing through books, sampling food items, trying on clothing, and feeling the cool, smooth metal of a bracelet as it is placed on your wrist by a caring & knowledgeable sales associate.

Like most choices in business and in life, sales decisions for the future won’t be whether to engage customers online vs. offline. Those choices will involve how much to engage them in each and how to create a differentiated and craveable offline experience that supports and enhances your online product or service delivery.

Solving for those challenges will require an eye for both the OBVIOUS and the SUBTLE!

{Infographic} Once Upon a Time People Assisted One Another…

Once Upon a Time People Assisted One Another…

It seems like every week I read something like:

UiPath, a robotic process automation (RPA) startup that’s setting out to help companies automate repetitive tasks, has raised $30 million in a Series A round of funding. UiPath <is>…bringing automation to the ‘intelligent enterprise.’ It specializes in building what it calls ‘intelligent software robots’ that help businesses complete laborious and repetitive processes through computer vision technology and rule-based processes.”

Or…

Servion predicts that, by 2025, Artificial Intelligence will power 95% of all customer interactions, including live telephone and online conversations that will leave customers unable to ‘spot the bot’”.

Technology investments and futuristic predictions of a world where virtually all service is done by undetectable robots are both intriguing and daunting. But how did we get here? And will we reach a point where humans won’t provide any service to one another?

The path to our present-day obsession with machine-aided service is clear. It involves a perfect storm of at least these three major contributing factors:

  • Increased salary pressure. Fueled by lower unemployment in many parts of the world, as well as increased costs for finding qualified staff members, and fierce competition for talent, spending for automation has become an attractive investment.
  • Ubiquity of mobile technology. Global demand among consumers for instant and effortless service at their fingertips has fueled self-service opportunities across digital platforms.
  • Unprecedented breakthroughs in AI, Machine Learning, and Visual Technologies. Whether it is augmented reality, virtual reality, holograms, voice activated devices, or artificial intelligence platforms, machines are engaging with people to help us work faster and smarter than ever before.

But what about the future? If the predictions are correct, 95% of interactions will be “powered” by AI. Will there still be a place for human service delivery?

I am convinced the answer is yes. Here’s my thinking

  • Lower skilled jobs are and will continue to be replaced by automation. Who wants to call a brand to have their address updated – when such a transaction can be handled through an app, a text bot, or an online link?
  • For the foreseeable future, as Artificial Intelligent machines continue to learn to navigate the ambiguities and nuances of complex social interaction, humans will have a place delivering complicated tasks that rely on experience and abstraction.
  • In the distant future, highly skilled service professionals will provide rare and desired experiences for people who will want to “opt-in” to humans – as a contrast to a world of bots and machines. Those professionals will likely be aided by machines, but customer-facing interactions will be delivered with authentic warmth, interest, and compassion beyond the reach of the smartest technology.

So, what’s your prediction and where will you make your bets? Are you “all in for AI”? Or will you hold some of your chips back to assure that a part of your future service has a human touch?

For now (and I hope forever) human service providers will need to learn to play nice with machines. Let’s hope the machines will play nice too!

{Infographic} Transforming Optimism on Transformation