On average, you can get a new job making eye contact. That’s because the new technology just can’t get this right. While you brace yourself for massive technological disruption, new business models are emerging where your hands and your heart will guide you through the next era of technology and employment.
Dustin McKissen of McKissen + Company wrote an intriguing article in July 2017 about non-degreed workers displaced by technology. The article is blunt: My Father-In-Law Won’t Become a Coder, No Matter What Economists Say. It’s a great critique, because it gets into the problem that technological change is supposed to be good for us “on average,” a concept that only makes sense to economists. If one million old jobs are eliminated, and a million-plus-one new jobs are created, an economist would talk in terms of a net gain of one job. Yay! However, the one million people who lost their jobs don’t see this change as positive, and they are perfectly entitled to speak as humans who have a voice, a home, a family, and a vote.
I endorse McKissen’s view that this human resources topic is highly political. What does the fast-changing world mean to those who are displaced? While the father-in-law is currently fine for work, the company is encouraging sales staff to get their customers to place orders online. Will that man have the same job, or any job, ten years from now? You see, if there is political blowback from those who are adversely affected by this net-positive change, the voice coming from the dis-employed may affect the viability of our economic and political system. McKissen calls for a new ideology, a new “ism,” that bypasses the politics of left vs. right.
Customer Engagement is Connected to Employee Engagement
I personally think the new ideology is starting to become evident. The idea is that business performance is hyper-sensitive to the work of engaged employees delivering meaningful experiences to engaged customers. For lack of a better word, let’s call it “double-engagement.”
Technology is just something that ramps-up productivity of those who advance the double-engagement experience. The use of wearable technology, hand-held computer devices, and links to large databases and artificial intelligence simply empower the front-line worker. The workers do what the technology cannot: make eye contact with customers, express empathy, display a sense of service, and show responsibility for getting the goods into the client or customer’s hands. Profits, investments, and public policy are just along for the ride, and people who are big in those areas need to stop pretending they’re the boss. This new model can be found in other articles, such as here and here.
It’s noteworthy that McKissen’s father-in-law works in the sale of food. Whole Foods was recently bought-out by Amazon; what does that mean for the future of food shopping? It is increasingly apparent that the retail sector is at risk of being savaged by online shopping. Sure, we’ll still be buying food a decade from now. But how will the food get from online order to a front-door delivery?
The Workplace Culture of Customer Engagements
In an article from the New York Times, there was an eye-opening exposé of the life of those who deliver food after the online order. It turns out that new technology is only efficient until the requested groceries make it to the last mile. In “the last mile problem,” tactile and emotional challenges emerge in a very human way.
The bananas must not be refrigerated, almost everything else must be kept cool, there is more than one optimal temperature for cooling, the milk must be stored upright, and apples must not be stored in a confined area with lettuce. Each hour of delay in getting the groceries to the customer eliminates one day of shelf life. The traffic is unpredictable, the parking rules are unpredictable, and there is physical effort to getting the containers from car to front door.
And the carton of eggs must be presented and inspected by the customer. Apparently intact eggs have a do-or-die influence on customer satisfaction. So this satisfaction is micro-managed by a devoted delivery person, in a face-to-face conversation. Double engagement.
The wages are modest, but the tips can be good. Why would someone provide a tip to someone delivering groceries from an online order? Because a worker put some enthusiasm and promptness into helping the customer get what they really wanted. How could you not tip this kind of service? As a customer, the cash rightfully belongs in your own hand, or the person who helped you. Why would your money go to anyone else?