It has been three and a half years since IBM’s multi-billion dollar Watson, an array of supercomputing power, won the US television show Jeapordy. Despite some really funny errors, it did manage the very clever response to the answer: “A long, tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping.” Its question, which it was the first to give, is now famous: “What is meringue-harangue?” Well before Watson we began to see contextual, semantic search improve, and rapid information tagging and retrieval. and new big-data approaches, we began to automate. But with Google’s Spanner RDBMS, Snappy, BigTable, and other tools dribbling down into commercial applications, the world of self service will explode.
Everyone has a million personal examples of why most human jobs have to go. In the 1990’s world of call center outsourcing, we used to tell clients that this was an interesting intermediate step, but the true end point for most interactions was self-service. Outsourcing was simply whistling past the graveyard and buying time. On Sunday I was in an office supply superstore, because it was the last minute and I needed many things for one of my children who is soon to leave for school, and, of course, I needed them right away. Who goes in these stores otherwise, unless you are caught in the rain or overheated? I had been sent an in-store promotion that gave me a very nice discount. The marketing image was cute: “fill this bag and get an x-percent discount on everything!”
Well, as the offer was sitting on my iPhone and was to be scanned at the counter, why worry about the silly bag? To the store we went, filled the shopping baskets, and got to the register. There we met Keith. Keith, it would appear, is a stoner. Or pretends to be. Yet here we are with Keith, in seeming slow-motion, scanning each and every item. And we are not talking about listening to The Band playing for Max Fischer and Miss Cross at the end of Rushmore. Then again, CIOs should listen to the words: “I wish I knew then what I know now.” And then at the end I present my coupon from my iPhone and Keith looks up. “I’m sorry sir, but we are all out of those bags, so we can’t honor the discount.”
My daughter, suddenly enlightened as to the meaning of my Zen koan “Stay in school!” is baffled and can’t help blurting out, “Keith, dude, it’s a metaphor, its symbolic, its just an idea – we don’t actually NEED the bag. We don’t want a bag, only a discount.”
“Michelle, can you come help me at the front,” Keith speaks into the mouthpiece around his neck.
“What is it, Keith?” And he blithely relates our story about the bag for the promotion.
“Keith, they don’t actually need the bag, just give them the promotion.”
More of this unfolded, but I will save you, except the final crescendo: Keith is out of cash-register paper. The receipt won’t print. I tell him it is OK, it comes directly to me by email. What he says next now sets us into uncontrolled laughter, though he was not joking. When he realizes he is out of paper, but feels he MUST print the receipt, he stops dead in his already-glacial tracks and says, “I am out of paper. I am not physically or emotionally prepared to go through this.”
So here is the deal: let us scan it. Let us pay for it. Let us find the items with a kiosk. Let’s talk about uptime: your old landline was available 99.999%. Cloud apps are usually available 99.9+%. Robots are available all but 4000+ hours per year. Human are unavailable 6,880 hours of every 8,760 hours. And some work 20 years and then collect pensions for another 30+ years or more. And we like computers, and kiosks, and Google+ and search, and swiping, gesturing, and all around being in charge.
So, yes, we have made a good start at transitioning from carbon-based (humans) to silicon-based (computers), yet there is still 75% of the savings and improvements ahead of us. Are you inventorying everything that you can digitize? Move to the Cloud? Move to self service? Are you measuring the benefit versus the threat? Are you sharing it from the CEO and board all of the way to your line-workers? Automation will happen at a faster pace, and you don’t want pie in your face when you are questioned about how you have readied the enterprise.
As always, share your examples. We love the examples of self service and automation that you have sent over the past two years.
By the way, if you are trying to engineer the next generation Customer Service Center, I just published (for Gartner clients) the “Gartner Customer Engagement Center RFP Toolkit” to make it easy for you to find the right tools and vendors. (if you are a client, it is here: http://www.gartner.com/document/2822321 )
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