Utilise people as well as hyperconnectivity

Harnessing hyperconnectivity is all well and good, says Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of Time Etc, but what really matters is the people behind it all…

I’m a techie, a coder, a dev. I built a computer when I was 17, started making websites for bands, then built a web hosting business that I sold aged 24.

After exiting that business, I’d already had the idea for the next one, which would virtually connect experienced personal assistants working from our office with time-poor entrepreneurs who could pay for their time by the hour.

The business almost failed. It took me two years of burnout and mental self-flagellation before I worked out what was wrong. In short, I was a tech person, trying to run a people business. Square peg, round hole.

We started over again, this time building from scratch a technology platform that would host and support our virtual assistants from wherever in the world they wanted to work. The new model worked because the business became scalable and, by automating tasks and reducing room for human error, we could be more efficient.

But it is still real people – our virtual assistants and our customer service team – who are clearly the beating heart of the business. Every day, they keep our customers loyal.

LinkedIn is a good example of a tech business that relies heavily on humans to increase customer spend and keep its business users loyal. Its advertising platform, Campaign Manager, is self-service, until you start spending cash. Then, you’re assigned an account manager to help you spend more wisely and maximise the return. You receive invitations to useful webcasts and onsite masterclasses hosted by real humans.

It might seem odd – even contradictory – that any technology company would, essentially, reserve human interaction for its premium service, but most people would rather deal with a human, especially when a) their job requires an element of creativity e.g. content marketing, and b) when they’ve tried and failed to troubleshoot a problem themselves.

Also, we have to remember that technology is imperfect. Users encounter glitches, bugs and hurdles caused by inexperience or underdeveloped user functions. And, usually after trying to work through the problem by Googling the issue, visiting user forums and FAQ pages to find a DIY fix, we just want to speak to a person, on live chat or on the phone.

The obvious way to reduce that human need is to prioritise innovating the digital user experience. At Apple’s 1997 World Wide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs said: “You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around.”

Why? Because technology is only ever built to fulfil human wants and demands. No one will use your tech if the experience won’t let them. At that point, your customers will walk away or, if you’re lucky, reach for a human to help them.

Read: Why we should celebrate the robot takeover

Humans complement even the most seamless customer experience delivered by technology because they possess something that computers don’t - empathy - which is especially needed when something has gone wrong.

This is why talk of robots taking over is only a partial truth. Automation is finite because computers don't do empathy, or creativity.

You can negate the need for human interaction by innovating and iterating your technology, but there’s still no such thing as perfect. And that's why every great tech business needs humans at its heart.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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