Have some of the retail giants gone off their trolley, or do they unwittingly reveal counter trends which can benefit businesses across the board? The shift in our supermarkets towards self-service counters has become impossible to ignore. Almost overnight in the UK, or in London at least, even before Covid 19 appeared on the global radar, there was a steep reduction in cashier operated checkouts and an unheralded shift towards self-service options.

There were fewer friendly faces to be found available to assist people with the burden of pricing, paying and packing groceries. Instead, we were abruptly faced with a cacophony of humanoid, computerized utterances ordering us about, with human engagement in the everyday process of grocery shopping rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Our Current Covidian Reality

It has now become normal to have to proactively assert a preference to be served in person, as fewer and fewer checkout counters offer this choice. Thanks to the emergence of our current covidian reality, this has become easily justifiable as human interactions are perceived to be potentially weaponised threats to our wellbeing and to our very survival. Thank God, these new human- less checkouts can be relied upon to erroneously blip and beep at some point during the checkout process, necessitating human interaction to rescue us and reprogram their systems.

The Mournful Shift from People to Machines

Observing this shift from human to machine, I mourn the loss of people from customer service interactions, be it person to person IRL, online or in telephone communication. Initially, customer service availability in business was delegated to global outposts, as outsourcing became the primary choice for cost effectiveness. In any customer care quest, we toured the globe from the comfort of our living rooms, swapping stories of Life in far distant lands.

When speaking with foreign customer service agents as they resolved our complaints and queries, we at least enjoyed the warmth of human interaction. Now, in customer care, machines are directing human compliance in a soulless engagement entirely on their terms, as we press numbers, take instructions, and obey incessant commands in the increasingly challenging and vague hope of ever reaching a human being with the capability of responding to, and dare I say, resolving our grievances or issues.

Re-Prioritising Service Over Systems

An entirely new world of consumer hell has arisen, where at any point in these laborious interactions, phone lines can be dropped, computer systems blamed, and communication errors reliably occur. All can be attributed to the domination of these heartless machines, leaving us with no human accountability or easy recourse to resolution.

Our punishment lies in having to start again from scratch, venting our frustration and vitriol at anyone in our vicinity who will listen, as the army of roboticized, humanoid interlopers, hopelessly fail to serve. Our culture has profoundly shifted to prioritise systems over service. This however, presents a tantalising new opportunity for any business which values the quaintly old -fashioned idea of people over profits, to deliver a superior service, and in doing so to corner an expanding market of disgruntled customers. 

Consider the 6M’s of Business Management

Management professionals can and should play a constructive role in societal, national and global development. The erosion of human values is the main cause of the loss of integrity and righteousness of many statutory and corporate organisations. The 6M’s of Business Management are Man, Money, Materials, Machines, Methods and Markets. Man, meaning human beings are the most important factor, and the maintenance and fostering of human resources of any organisation determines the optimal utilisation of the other factors.

I predict that value centric leadership restoring spirituality to the workplace, will be the new paradigm for success. This includes the development of a business culture which includes addressing the human needs of every single worker and the alignment of a vision for superior service from the top down.

The Opportunity for Conscious Leadership & Human Values

In every field in society today, rapid money making appears to have become the norm as the main objective, and thus could be attributed to a far -reaching decline in Human values. The importance of valuing the dignity and unique contribution of every person in every organisation needs to be recognised and safe guarded. All people should be given an opportunity to achieve their best and benefit from a leadership of integrity, conscious purpose and right human values.

The human challenge in future leadership will be to embody these values and to reflect their significance in prioritising the needs and preferences of its customers and staff alike. This is the opportunity tomorrow presents all entrepreneurs today and this self-selection will determine the visionary leaders of our shared future.