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Why technology enhances personal service, rather than replace it

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Everyone from lawyers to bricklayers would be made redundant, Peter Snow promised, by Jetsons-style automatons who could do our job twice as fast and for half the cost.

Thankfully for the skilled workers of the world those predictions never came true. Instead, software and online services are evolving to enhance, not take over, service delivery – making them more efficient and cost effective than ever before. What was initially predicted to be armageddon for the white collar classes seems instead to be a renaissance.

Have you taken a taxi anywhere recently? You probably either called ahead to book it, or ran down the street waving your arms and howling like a banshee to hail one. Upon arrival at your destination, you fumbled with notes and coins to pay for your ride, and then bid your driver adieu, probably never to see them again.

If you were in London, you could have instead used recently-launched car service Uber which, through clever use of technology, removes the hassle and indignity of traditional taxi wrangling.

A prospective rider simply hits a button in the Uber mobile app and a car is dispatched to pick them up (your smartphone always knows your location, remember). Upon arrival at your destination the cost, plus a tip, is automatically billed to your credit card – so no dropping coins all over the floor of the car.

This in itself is a great example of a forward-thinking, modern service, but Uber’s innovations are personal as well as technological. Riders can rate drivers and vice versa, so if you didn’t get on with your chatterbox chauffeur you can rate them one star, and next time the Uber software will try to find another driver to pick you up.

With intelligent software doing the dispatching, Uber has reduced their overheads and can offer swanky town cars usually used by private-hire limo services for only slightly more than a London cab.

Far from replacing the services of a human, Uber is using mobile apps and the web to put human relationships at the centre of their entire offering. The service is high-quality and personal, but the surrounding annoyances are removed through the use of technology.

There are plenty more examples of this “Humans and Software” approach being put to good use. Clothing company Grannies Inc. allows retirees with a penchant for knitting to be commissioned for bespoke knitwear projects through their website. The company’s backend software takes care of ordering, payment and fulfillment duties while the Grannies concentrate on the knitting.

The efficiencies and automations achieved by these hybrid services often allow them to beat their traditional, people-powered counterparts on price, service, and sometimes both.

As the demand for high quality on-demand products and service increases further these hybrid businesses, with the touchy-feely personal service of a Savile Row tailor backed by the ruthless efficacy that only software can provide, show every sign of winning out over their bloated ancestors.

Jon Norris is a writer, tech enthusiast and web editor at online accountancy firm Crunch.

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