This post is inspired by a Jonathan Low Linkedin Blog: There are many tasks humans perform better than machines. Helping organizations figure that out, is a significant challenge.
Jonathan raises the very interesting question on where we should draw the line between people and technology. Like him, I fully appreciate the awkwardness of going through a self checkout at the grocery store , home improvement/building center and even my local drug store.
In my contribution to his Blog issue I suggested that how we use technology is everything. Consider how we have adapted to the use of ATMs for our straight forward banking needs. Yet when I go to my local cinema I am singularly unimpressed by how I can buy tickets through their ATM like machines. Then again it might just be about me.
Yet I have had a marvellous purchase and checkout experience. At my local Apple store I made a purchase, completed the purchase transaction, and walked out the store all without the help of an Apple Associate(?). I used my cell phone to make the transaction. What enabled this use of technology? I installed the applicable App. Could I have used an Associate? Of course, and I would have if I was not sure what exactly I wanted from their selection of offerings.
So what are the talent management (TM) implications? Where we place our people in the retail process and what we have them focus on doing. Where I am clear what needs to be done and how – I welcome the use of technology to help take care of these steps for me. The surprising benefit? These tasks are much more delightful to accomplish (but only if the technology is done right). As Jonathan noted going through the grocery self-checkout is not so delightful or even convenient.
For retail, the cost of people is a significant expense burden. So there is an incentive to look for ways find ways to pare this burden back. Yet, how we do it can have significant unintended consequences for the customer and the store. I often visit with my wife to a local national department store outlet to accompany her buying clothes. What do I typically notice:
- self serve everywhere
- unclear where to find what you want let alone need without roaming
- floor staff spending their time moving “tried on” merchandise back to the correct racks
- because of the above point, racks often do not have every size on display (interestingly, often seems to be her size)
- usually the racks and shelf displays are messy with merchandise out of order and often soiled
- finding someone to help can be very frustrating
- paying often is a time waster
The use of technology? Security, with the attached plastic fobs (?) that sometimes do not even come off properly.
The clothing retail is ripe for the clever use of technology that would accomplish the following:
- help me find what I want “now”
- help me determine if the desired size is in stock (at all, not maybe somewhere)
- help keep merchandise properly displayed and clean
- help me pay and get the “hell” out of there
So where is the TM issue/opportunity? Have the staff who are busy restocking and tidying up actually help customers with what they need, want and even provide useful accessorizing possibilities. The point here is to help the customer use their time usefully and wisely.
Human to human connections are wonderful where they matter and are most helpful. Using technology to focus your staff/associates/whatever enables them to make the most profitable contributions.