Balancing act: Which of your jobs can be mechanized?

Balancing act: Which of your jobs can be mechanized?

With the prevalence of automated emails, pop-up ads that seem to read your mind and phone systems that interrogate you before your call gets through, you may sometimes feel like robots are running the marketing world.

Don’t believe it. Machines can save us time, money and energy, but they can’t always replace human beings, their capacity for emotional insight and their ability to connect the dots. The trick for many employers is recognizing which situations are best optimized via machinery and which call for the human touch.

“That reality illustrates a high-stakes decision that confronts managers in every industry: choosing which employees must be replaced by technology and which must not be,” notes Geoff Colvin in Fortune. “In many of those jobs, such as in factories, failing to replace people could doom a company through uncompetitive costs. Yet in other jobs machines can do well, such as giving financial advice, replacing too many humans could be a fatal error.”

Colvin argues human employees are crucial in at least three scenarios: When they must represent different factions for the whole to function, when they must be held accountable for decisions and when your customers simply prefer the human touch.

“Many decisions that in theory are calculable — where to invest, whether to sue, how to respond to a medical diagnosis — are in fact laden with emotion,” Colvin says. “If marketing can’t get along with sales, or management with labor, nothing good can happen. (And) so long as humans and not machines are in charge … societies will demand people be made to answer for decisions, even if technology recommends those decisions.”

In the marketing world, an example of a viable medium still highly dependent on human interaction is radio advertising. A Nielsen report last year found healthy ROI in four segments that rely heavily on radio: department stores (17:1), home improvement stores (16.37:1), mass merchandisers (9.48:1) and quick-service restaurants (3:1).

Some other business functions enabled by human insight include:

  1. Empathetic customer service. The term “relationship building” is so prevalent that an entire industry is growing around customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. And creating a loyal, long-term client base requires the nurturing of customers to gain their trust and respect. “Agents will increasingly exercise their human compassion, empathy, ability to work with the customer, for the customer — and make decisions based on brand values, with the support of smarter and more flexible care systems and tools,” predicts a recent WDS study.
  2. Data interpretation. Machines can generate copious data, but companies still need qualified analysts to identify patterns, sift demographics, compare ROI and make conclusions about the big picture. That’s partly why global demand is rising for statisticians; the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the profession to grow by 34 percent (10,100 jobs) between 2014 and 2024.
  3. Problem solving. While computers simulate the human thought process, they can only follow a particular algorithm or follow commands provided by humans, rather than processing what’s really going on. Simply put, they lack the ability to consider all the challenges a company faces and brainstorm creative solutions for addressing those issues.
  4. Effective client meetings. Experts say up to 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, and in-person business transactions often allow for nonverbal cues, create trust, facilitate “off-the-record” conversation, move the topics beyond small talk and foster the sense of a shared mission.

“A guiding principle: Just because technology can do a job brilliantly doesn’t mean that it should,” Colvin concludes.

Consult with RingSquared about how to balance automation and human interaction in your own marketing plans.