Employee engagement in the third phase of digital

In the face of digital transformation, the role of HR and mobility teams has never been so crucial. We spoke to digital expert Steven Van Belleghem about the evolution of customer experience in a high-speed digital world.

Two business people using a futuristic user display
This article is taken from a series surrounding Relocate’s Festival of Global Mobility Thinking on 11 May 2018. The highly successful, interactive event included speakers such as Prof Dr Dimitry Kochenov, author of the Henley & Partners Quality of Nationality Index (QNI); and Dr Linda Holbeche, author of The Agile Organization. For more information and to find out how you can get involved in this unique event next year, contact: events@relocatemagazine.com 

How will digital transformation change the way HR engages with its employees?

If you look at customers, in this case the employee, whatever the country, industry or location they all share a scarce resource and that is time. Any digital transformation is not really about technology, it’s about how you can deliver benefits to your customer and ultimately save them time.We’re moving into the third phase of digital. From a mobile first to an AI first world and if you look at the possibilities of that, there are three tier benefits that we can work on as companies to improve the lives of our employees. The first one is a faster than real time service, learning how to anticipate and solve problems before your employee realises anything has occurred. The second, is hyper personalisation – making it easier for people to choose, match and use your product or service. The third benefit is an effortless interface – making it easier and frictionless to work within a company. There is a very strong correlation between businesses that make employees happy and companies that make their customers happy. I speak to a lot of HR teams and if your remove customer and replace it with the word employee that is truly the way forward.
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Steven Van Belleghem

What does an AI first world mean for businesses? 

AI is about the augmentation of processes, so tasks that are now being done by humans will be automated and done in a faster way with less errors and the crucial ingredient to that is data. Every company in any sector is now a data driven industry.The circle of life for AI is that if you have a great product or service that has users, those users generate data which allows businesses to improve their service. Data is not really a direct way to make money but an indirect way for companies to improve services and customer experience. If a company is good at that, it makes more money.On an organisational or operational level AI is being used to enhance efficiency in many areas, from managing and tracking food production and waste to healthcare and talent management.

How integral is HR to the customer experience?  

Human resources are the most crucial segment of a business because they create context and shape mind sets. They recruit people that make customers happy and build a culture. I think HR teams are often too operational, they need to now play a leading role. During digital and cognitive transformation, humans will be the differentiator and HR should lead that change with empathy, creativity and passion.

You have written widely on how businesses can win Customers the Day After Tomorrow. What are the core ingredients for quality customer management in an automated age?

If you want to excel in customer service today, you need the right processes for your customers. You need to be able to measure the customer experience and invest in company culture – that’s probably the most important one.We found that if you ask companies what differentiates them from another firm about 89 per cent would say customer experience but if you check that back with customers, it falls to around 8 per cent. So, there is clearly a gap between what customers think and what people confined to their boardrooms think. 
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There is an urgent need for an extreme transformation of the customer relationship. Customers live in a world of self-service, big data, customer automation and integration. Failing to implement a digital relationship puts your company’s future on the line. A successful digital transformation is key, but it will not be enough. This third phase of digital does not mean the end of humans, it will make humans more important than ever in adding value to the customer experience. 

Do HR and global mobility teams need training to facilitate an AI first world?  

Some companies are guilty of jumping on a machine learning or AI bandwagon without understanding its capability or impact to their business. I don’t think HR and mobility leaders need to be technical specialists but there is still a worrying lack of understanding of what is happening and what is coming. The first question should be, what is the ultimate employee experience we want to create? Then you can build a technology strategy around that.

How can global mobility professionals boost the intelligence of their teams?

Augmented intelligence is being used in many ways. There is a great example from accommodation platform Airbnb who were frustrated by their innovation process so they tried to motivate their employees to come up with new concepts every day to improve their business. Each employee concept would be developed and assessed but the development phase took too long.They created their own AI which can look at a sketch produced by their creative team and instantly program and put it online in seconds, so they could start testing their ideas within the hour. That’s a real example of intelligence augmented, in the sense that it can help boost the creative and productive power of teams. When you test more and faster than other companies, then you really start to win. Interestingly, Airbnb have also launched internal university-style programmes for their employees to become more data literate.Dutch airline KLM is another example. They are now using a software called DigitalGenius which looks at customer service data over the last few years and translates that into algebra. When a customer question comes in, it is translated into algebra and the computer matches those two datasets and generates an answer automatically for the customer. If the probability is high enough that that answer is correct it shifts automatically, if not, a human will intercept and has the option to modify or personalise it. That system gives KLM the scalability and ability to answer more customer questions per hour than any other airline in a personalised way.

Some would argue that interface is no substitute for a face. How can technology be integrated in a way that is efficient yet subtle and intuitive?

Digital is really good for convenience and rationality but it can’t achieve the emotional parts of doing business. Businesses need to motivate their people to develop their emotional values more than ever to provide that differentiation. If you look at any technological system, it is pretty straight forward and will nearly always deliver what it promises but humans are more variable. Humans can pull a process down or pull it up in just one interaction. If you look at any customer experience you have ever had – good or bad – the chances are it was with a human and companies underestimate the impact of that.But I wholeheartedly believe it is much harder to perfect customer experience as a human than it is with technology. Very few companies get it right because it is hard to maintain such a high level of consistency and energy.For related news and features, visit our Technology section. Find out more about our Relocate AwardsRelocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory 

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