Business Question: Should Premium Services Be Automated?

November 14, 2017

How is automation shaping premium customer experience?

If you attended our conference Trending 2018, you may remember Joshua McBain, our Director of Consultancy, investigating how automation is a key driver of consumer behaviour in a Never Normal world. It is an indisputable force in a time where uncertainty is rife and it’s already in action, which is why this particular client question caught our eye: “What is the future of automation in premium services?”

We know that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact around 30% of jobs in the UK, most likely low-skilled and functional occupations, and 64% of people worldwide are feeling the uncertainty. However, although these are the types of roles that can be replaced by machines, when it comes to premium experiences, should they be?


Augmented, not replaced

Thanks to the expansion of the Internet of Things, Big Data could replace aspects of concierge services by giving smart devices the  ability to predict customer needs and even personalise them. This has been happening for a few years now, albeit in niche instances like the Hen-Na hotel in the Huis Ten Bosch amusement park in Nagasaki. The accommodation is staffed by ten humanoid robots that look like Japanese women and can mimic human behaviours, make eye contact and respond to tone of voice and body language – oh, and they are fluent in four languages. The key selling point to luxury travellers is novelty, just think of the sci-fi series Westworld in which society’s elite immerse themselves in a fictional narrative alongside robots. In the long term, as technology becomes more widely adopted and mainstream, the novelty factor will diminish as a selling factor and real human representatives are likely to be favoured by premium clients.


Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

McKinsey’s research shows that management positions and jobs requiring advanced decision making and creative work are the ones least threatened by automation. And it is these roles that require constant human interaction and a degree of emotional intelligence to run successfully.

McKinsey automation risk chart
Chart via McKinsey


Translated into the customer experience journey, we see that in roles where the emotional aspects are more important than the functional (such as speed and efficiency) automation is less likely to be well received. 77% of consumers prefer genuine human qualities when making a complaint and technology is not yet at the point of interpreting or displaying the nuances of empathy (think of Alexa’s new ‘skill’ that gives her the ability to change her tone). So when it comes to jobs like customer service, particularly for products with a high price tag, allowing data or AI to assist rather than replace human labour may be a stronger choice.


What can brands do?

When deciding what elements of the customer experience journey to automate, Foresight Factory’s research suggests considering three critical things:

  1. Does it provide a meaningful improvement to the customer journey and experience?
  2. Is there a clear improvement to business operational efficiency?
  3. Does it provide a reduction in the revenue costs required to deliver the service?


Interested in how AI will shape the future of Asia? Take a look at this article.


Written by Sebastian Jones

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