Explosive technology advancements since the 1990s have created radical shifts in the way we do business today. Robotics and software innovations along with automation have revolutionized task oriented job functions. Integrating systems and the “big data” they generate has ushered in a new wave of productivity and profitability, especially in the eCommerce space. Many companies now enjoy lower labor costs, greater customer satisfaction, and more efficient employees, to name a few benefits. It is a big win for the company. But what about the long-term effect on the workforce? Will technology ultimately make employees obsolete?
Automation is on the Rise
eCommerce integration is just one small piece of the greater impact automation is making on today’s workforce. Automation and the jobs it eliminates isn’t a new issue. Worker’s jobs have been replaced since the Luddites in the First Industrial Revolution during the early 19th century. What has changed is the rapid pace of technological advancements. We now have self-driving cars, 3-D printers, drone delivery systems and robots in hospital operating rooms.
Not only are repetitive, manual jobs being supplanted by automation, but many routine cognitive tasks are being replaced as well. According to the 2016 Economic Report of the President, there is an 83% chance that a $20 an hour or less job will be replaced by automation in the future. But those who are in the $20-$40 an hour range are also vulnerable, with a 31% chance of having their job eliminated due to new technology.
Whenever new business software is implemented and integrated, especially in the eCommerce sector, the business areas that may see the biggest change are data entry roles, sales, and customer service. With today’s integrated systems, data is seamlessly exchanged, reducing the need for dedicated data entry specialists. The impact on sales and customer service may be less obvious. Integrated systems can make customers self-reliant and could mean that smaller sales and customer service teams are needed. thinkJar’s annual survey reports that 78% of customers surveyed expect to get an answer from self-service.
Automation Causes Workers to Learn New Skills
While one of the main benefits of e-commerce integration is to eliminate manual tasks, it is not to eliminate people. Automating certain tasks so that they can be faster and cheaper increases the demand for workers to do the other tasks surrounding it that have not been automated. Rather than eliminating jobs, it changes the mix of work away from routine tasks toward things that are not cost-effective for a machine to do. There are still tasks that are much better done by humans than machines such as those jobs that require empathy or social interaction. For example, the inability to get a human when contacting a customer service department, after failed attempts to find their answer via self-service, is one of the greatest sources of frustration to customers.
In fact, automation creates an opportunity to enable employees to take on bigger challenges and have a greater impact than they did before. However, data entry employees may need to switch from their routine, unskilled job to a non-routine, skilled job. To overcome this skills gap, it is more important than ever to help workers attain new proficiencies quickly. When hiring, it is critical to employ those who can adapt to change easily since technology will continue to advance.
E-Commerce Integration and Automation Enables the Customer Experience Model
Another important statistic from thinkJar’s survey is that 84% of organizations are now embracing the customer experience model. The CEO of thinkJar, Esteban Kolsky likens a “company-centric experience design to a sledgehammer and a customer-centric experience design to a magnet – the power of pull is greater than the power of push.” Even when employees are retained after e-commerce integration, companies should expect to see an increase in profitability. Why? Because opening up new sales channels, increasing market presence, and improving the customer experience drives growth. Companies that move to internet sales and online self-service portals are seeing greater revenue increases than those who remain in traditional channels and use a traditional sales force. This revenue growth comes from expansion into new markets, but also because accurate recommendations and an easier shopping process encourage people to buy more. E-commerce integration enables greater revenue at a lower cost.
Repurposing and Equipping Sales
Those companies selling a simple product with short sales cycles may replace their sales teams with e-commerce. Buyers increasingly use the web to evaluate their purchase options and to place orders. But in many industries, buyers still rely on salespeople to help them through the buying journey. Potential customers can reference websites, whitepapers, blogs, and social media to understand and compare products. While the traditional sales person is no longer the sole source of information about a product or service, it does not mean they are no longer necessary. Their role must shift to help buyers navigate the unknown. While some buying steps may be completed online, in more complex sales cycles, buyers can still have uncertainties. Innovative products may require sales representatives to suggest uses that are not apparent to buyers. Having a knowledgeable sales person available can make the crucial difference that closes the sale.
Preparing to integrate an e-commerce management system with your various software (ERP, CRM, website shopping cart) is a worthwhile undertaking. Done right, your company will certainly enjoy increased sales productivity and effectiveness as a result of having better, real-time data at your team’s fingertips. But be sure to plan to help your team members advance their skills so your workforce can keep pace with these rapidly changing times.
About the Author
Ruth Richter is the Customer Experience Director for ROI Consulting, Inc, the market’s leading Sage 100 integration specialist, maximizing Sage 100 customer’s technology investment through integration and customization since 1997. Learn more at Blytheco.com/Sage100/InSynch.asp.
Article reprinted from the Spring 2017 issue of Bellwether.
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