Is automation here to stay?

A few years ago I took a short flight from Atlanta, GA to KC. I bought the ticket online, and was dropped off at the airport. I had an interesting thought, and decided to try an experiment. I wanted to see if I could go from Atlanta to Kansas City and not speak to anybody, not have any human interaction. Now, I am by nature a friendly person and I hate the idea of being rude, so I set a couple of rules. First of all, I couldn’t be rude. If someone spoke to me, I had to respond. Secondly, I had to act normal. In other words, I had to be in the crowd. I couldn’t isolate myself. Basically I wanted to see if I could be alone in a group of people.

Well, I got to the airport, and scanned my credit card. My boarding pass printed, I went to my gate, got up when my section was called, nodded to the attendant when my ticket was scanned, and got on the plane. The flight took off. The only time I spoke with anyone was when I answered that I wanted a Coke to drink, and (remember my rule about being rude), I said “Thank you”. That’s it. The plane landed, and I left the airport without speaking a word to anyone.

It seems like transactions without human interaction are becoming commonplace. I can go to Wal-mart and go through the self checkout lane. It is faster, more convenient, and I don’t have to wait in line. I can essentially visit the store without talking to a single person.

There is one exception however. I like to shop at Trader Joes. Not just because of their products, but because I am a person there. If I look the least bit confused, an employee is asking if they can help. As I stand looking at the wine selection, an employee will start a conversation with me, tell me what wines they enjoy, find out my tastes and make suggestions. If I ask if a particular food is good, they will tear the package open and let me try a bite. Not only that, they will remember the next time I visit and ask how I or my guests liked the item. I know several of the folks at Trader Joes, and they ask how I am doing each time I go in. I look forward to checking out at Trader Joes. The cashier will genuinely ask me how I am doing, make a comment on my purchases, telling me how much they enjoy a particular item, or asking me about it so they can try it. They ask if am ready for the weekend, and how my day is going. They are seem truly interested in me. They are passionate about their job, but more importantly, they are passionate about people.

And, you know what? Even if Trader Joes had a self check option, I wouldn’t choose it. I would go through the checkout line and talk to a real person, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Plus, I don’t think I am alone. I think that’s true for a lot of folks.

You see, Automation may be able to do a lot of things more quickly, more efficiently, and maybe, in the long run, more inexpensively. However, automation cannot give me a human being who is truly interested in me, and is passionate about what they do.

There are a lot of conversations going on about what automation will do, what jobs will be affected, who will lose their jobs. And, fact is, automation is coming and is growing. However, I don’t think automation will ever replace those employees who make themselves valuable, who care deeply about their job, who work passionately, who are truly interested in those around them, and who want to do a good job and be skilled at what they do.

In my opinion, that kind of employee will ALWAYS be more valuable than any automation!!!!

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