Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay
May 4, 2021

Humanise your automation to ensure a positive employee experience

By Annette Franz

So many data or analytics leaders are focused on automation but are you considering how to humanise your automation?

Given the focus on deploying machine learning to automate your business and drive cost savings, it can be easy to lose sight of the people involved. Whether it’s a need to consider customer or employee experience this matters. Robotic process automation and other models for improved efficiency only tell part of the story. CX professionals have known for years that you also need to learn what the experience was like for the people involved.

So, to help us consider the human elements of successful automation, I am delighted to welcome back Annette Franz. An internationally recognized CX author, speaker and coach to Customer Experience leaders, Annette has plenty of experience to share on this topic. She has blogged here before on themes including Vision, Customer Journey Mapping, Values and Execution. This time Annette turns her focus to humanising your automation…

Humanising automation helps employees work smarter not harder

Back in late 2015, I wrote an article titled Work Harder or Smarter? in which I offered up some ways to help employees work more efficiently. Ultimately, how to work smarter. The last item on that list was automation. Fast forward five-plus years and automation is likely at the top of the list now for a lot of companies! But for many, the term “automation” brings chills, with visions of job losses and customer frustration.

Clearly, this is an important consideration when you start thinking about automation. In 2018, PwC discovered that 75% of consumers want more human interaction in the future, not less. The more technologically-advanced brands become, the more people crave human interaction. But two-thirds (64%) feel that brands have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience. (Confusing findings, for sure.)

As for employees, the fear of job loss is a bit over-hyped, according to 60% of job seekers in research conducted by ZipRecruiter. But, at the same time, 70% who have heard of automation are actively looking for jobs that are less likely to be automated. They also found that two-thirds (64%) believe employees in most industries will be replaced by computers or robots at some point in their lives.

Automating people or automating processes?

Here’s the thing. Companies aren’t looking to automate people right now; they’re looking to automate processes. There’s a big difference. Automating processes is about taking the menial, mundane, repetitive tasks and procedures off employees’ plates so that employees can focus on doing more mission-critical and value-add tasks. Work like building customer relationships, innovating and creating for the customer’s benefit. Handling more difficult projects that require human thought and decision making. Think about the productivity levels of your customer success and customer experience professionals Think of the impact that productivity has on the business. Automation can have a huge ROI.

Employees are critical to automating processes because they’ve got the skills and the knowledge needed to:

  1. identify those repetitive tasks
  2. teach robots how to do them

On the flip side, automating people is exactly what you think: replacing people with robots. This may have happened in some assembly lines or warehouses, but again, that leaves the human to do mission-critical work. To ensure that the outputs are of superior quality and meet customer expectations.

The continued demand for a human experience

Let’s go back to the PwC finding, that consumers feel that brands have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience. Moving automation to a priority list for most organizations seems counter to this finding. Trust me, the experience is and will always be human. But there are ways that automation can be humanized and personalized.

Here’s a great example of a humanized video (which would have been even more powerful had it been personalized) from a customer experience perspective. I ordered some furniture online for my office a couple of days ago. I’ve never purchased from this furniture store before – in person or online. They sent me a video to help me prep for what’s ahead. I suppose they could’ve just emailed me these details, but the video adds that human touch, more so than words in an email would:

On a personalized level, I recently added a phone line to my Verizon bill. A week later, I received a personalized video from them. The video, which I won’t share because it contains my personal account information, starts with, “Hi Annette… ” and proceeds to outline the changes in my bill as a result of adding the new line, one-time charges I can expect, and what my monthly bill will be after that. It certainly adds to the experience that I’ve had with Verizon, which has been great for this particular transaction. And, of course, they didn’t waste the opportunity to ask for feedback about the video and about my experience. Great use of personalization.

Think about humanising for employees not just customers

I have a great example from an employee experience perspective, but also for the customer experience. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about some of the different customer [insert term here] terminology that we associate with the various disciplines focused on customers. In that post, I introduced the concept of digital customer success. Including how you can use apps like Cast to automate, visualize, and personalize your content to inform and inspire customers to take action. Take a look at the work that customer success professionals do with their customers: onboarding; ensuring product adoption and usage; identifying new opportunities, and more. You can probably quickly uncover repetitive tasks that, if taken out of their workstreams, would give them more time to focus on customer conversations. To focus on the value-add work.

Here’s the example. Cast works with Yelp to help their customer success team onboard more than 6,000 new restaurants per year by using each restaurant’s data to create personalized content. This includes key metrics related to their first 30 days on Yelp software. The content created for each restaurant comes in the form of a cast (visualized audio content). It includes recommendations and actions restaurants can take, such as buying Yelp ads or making Yelp posts, to best utilize the Yelp product. Here’s how that works:


A video we created just for you. Make your own at

This content gets sent to restaurants at a preset interval. It not only saves the customer success team time (and the business money) by not having to do these readouts manually for 6,000 different restaurants. It also allows them to address either more high-value customers and their concerns or focus on developing initiatives to help their customers drive more business and realize the value they expected.

What from your workload ought to be automated?

Given this is the second time I’ve mentioned Cast in a post, I should note that I am an advisor for the company. But I’m also working with a couple of clients in the automation space. I’ve interviewed their customers about how they use robots and other automation tools to make the inefficient efficient. That is ultimately the goal. They want employees to think differently and to do things differently. The only way they can do that is to remove menial tasks that should really be automated. Did you know that accounts receivable representatives have about 500 tasks they do daily? Daily! Those are mundane and could be automated for both accuracy and sanity.

If you’re a customer success professional, think about the things you do every day that could be automated. Do your customers ask for the same kinds of data or information? Do they do so at regular intervals? Are you pulling this data manually for them? I know that self-service options like knowledge bases and chatbots are ways to remove some of the less-critical customer issues from your workstream. Look to simplify problem resolution for your customers. But, what else would you automate?

You’ve got to consider the following if you want to automate processes:

  • Is the task time consuming or labour-intensive?
  • Does the task require human input or decision making?
  • Importantly, is the data available and easily accessible to automate?

Sadly, many times we uncover that tasks that should be automated but are not because employees spend a lot of time finding and centralizing the data first. (Paul: Note to data leaders, this is why you want to be in regular conversation with CX & marketing leaders to help spot this early & collaborate to avoid this.)

Connect with your why and your customer

Obviously, you can’t ask yourself these questions in a vacuum. You’ve really got to think about the impact on the customer, as well. In many cases, you’re saving time for the customer because you’re providing information they want/need before they ask for it. Proactive is always a good thing!

As with anything else you do, if you’re going to automate your customer success tasks or customer service tasks, think about the objectives and the desired outcomes. Get clear on goals for the business, the employee, and the customer. Spell these out with some success metrics. For example:

  • increased productivity and efficiencies;  
  • reduced fraud risk, and omissions (forgot to do something);
  • cost and time savings;
  • employee satisfaction;
  • and customer satisfaction.

In 2019, I wrote:

I like the idea of reducing employee and customer effort through automation. But before you can do that, you should really try to understand where that effort is happening. Don’t waste time reducing effort in one part of the experience if it’s way more of a deal-breaker in another part of the experience. Yes, reduce effort everywhere, but you can’t do it all at once, so you’ve got to prioritize. How? Start with mapping the customer experience, followed by creating the corresponding service blueprint, which will identify the people, tools, systems, processes, and policies causing pain for the customer experience – and for the employee experience. These two combined will be a huge eye-opener! And, yes, map the employee experience, too.

Annette Franz, CX Journey blog

It’s time to embrace automation as one lever to improve the employee experience and the customer experience. I believe the experience will always be human; the human touch is not going away. But if we’ve got the tools to simplify, let’s use them!

There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.

Peter Drucker

What are you missing that should be automated?

Thanks to Annette for sharing that important and relevant challenge from a CX leader perspective. You can read more of her thinking in her recent book Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business). I hope data leaders can see the relevance for them too. Not only does the mindset that Annette advocates highlight the need for data leaders to be part of that thinking, but there are also opportunities closer to home.

How many data science and analytics teams fail to automate their own repetitive tasks? It’s often like the phenomenon of mechanics having cars in poor repair or builders living in never finished homes. Analytics leaders should encourage their teams to see the value of greater automation and visualisation of regular questions. This is not only in order to deploy self-service analytics in a business. Often even larger gains can be achieved by automating most of the work needed within the analytics team, whilst also providing a platform to empower deeper questions.

What do you think? What do you see as the most important overlooked opportunities for automation in your business? What are you going to do about that?