Customer service trumps employee wellbeing


Customers’ priority is customer service. The wellbeing of employees comes a weak second

We all know that the world of business is becoming digitized and this is having a revolutionary impact on the services we can buy and the nature of the work we do. Many of us welcome the convenience – and cheapness – of online shopping or the ability to find a cab via Uber, but are uneasily aware that this may come at a price. Digital giants like Amazon or Uber tend to be allergic to paying what much of the public would consider to be those companies’ fair share of taxes. And the pay and working conditions of the people working in these ‘disrupted’ industries tends to get worse. Who would prefer to work in an Amazon warehouse to a traditional bookshop? In London, taxi drivers are likely to end up working longer hours for less. We are also vaguely aware that this phenomenon is moving up the skills chain – it is no longer manual or clerical jobs that are affected, but highly skilled and knowledge based roles such as lawyers and doctors. We are guiltily aware that at some point our jobs may be next on the list. We all have ‘skin in the game’.

Steven Van Belleghem in When Digital Becomes Human provides a concise and readable overview of the key technological and commercial trends and their implications. His main premise is that, in order to survive, most businesses will become fully digital by using technology to provide better and much cheaper services through automation, new business models and the clever use of data. This is because, despite what we might say in the pub, we customers have a clear hierarchy of priority:  customer service first, the wellbeing of employees a weak second, and wider society a very poor last. But when customer services are largely automated – paradoxically the things that cannot be found in a computer will become more valuable: creativity, empathy and passion. This is about building an emotional relationship between the business and its customers. Some of this is about customer service, but other elements may be more important – such as crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, crowd service (getting your customers to serve each other) and crowd commerce (creating a market for your customers to sell to each other).

The author provides some interesting pointers and examples of how this will be applied in practice, but is noticeably shorter on detail. The upshot is that unless you are strong on ‘human skills’ you may struggle in this brave new world. You may not be completely convinced by the conclusions in this book, but you will be provoked to think about the direction we are going in.

When Digital Becomes Human: The Transformation of Customer Relationships, Steven Van Belleghem, Kogan Page, 2015. It is shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute Management Book of the Year.

Piers Cain is head of stakeholder relations at the Chartered Management Institute