One of the more popular, most-read posts I have written on this blog is Dehumanized — A Cause for Alarm in Education, and in the World of Business Books. It was prompted by, and quoted from, a terrific, thought-provoking, confrontational article by Mark Slouka in the September issue of Harper’s: Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school. (Note: subscription required for access to full article). This piece was about the ascendancy of “mathandscience” and the decline of the humanities, in education, and, in my view, in the world of business.
My brother, Mike Mayeux, CEO of Novotus, read the title, and jumped to his own conclusions about the subject of the article before he read it. He thought that “Dehumanized” was referring to a world with less and less actual human contact, replaced by human-less technological contact. So – he wrote a lengthy comment. It is provocative, and I decided to make it a separate post – a “guest post.”
Mike’s observation reminded me of the John Naisbitt High Tech/High Touch theme first appearing in Megatrends (1982). Naisbitt warned that the more technology takes over, the harder we have to work at keeping and nurturing a genuine human connection.
Mike Mayeux read the word “dehumanized,” and thought about the ways we are removing the “human” from business. Here are Mike’s thoughts:
Dehumanizing The Consumer and Job Seeker
The internet and other technologies have increased the cadence in American business that has led to the dehumanization of Consumers and Job Seekers.
Remember when your bank had a “retail banking” division, but when you went to the bank they remembered you by name and were glad to see you. Today it is called “consumer banking” and they greet you like a stranger and only know who you are once you swipe your card and your account comes up and they then ask with a pasted on smile. “Yes, Mr. MayYucks (my name is pronounced MY-You) how can I help you today.” They changed the name when retail customers became familiar with the difference between retail and wholesale, and about that same time technology was getting better and there where new supply chain and transaction ideas coming online. While there has never been wholesale banking, with the advent of wholesale warehouses, and simply as this word crept into our vernacular, retail became a dirty word. It messaged high prices in exchange for some kind of service. We, retail customers, traded convenience for better prices in some categories and the word slipped away.
Ironically, I recently met a banker who wanted to get my business account at Novotus, and he asked me where I did my personal banking and asked me if I had a personal banker. I learned then that banks are offering “Personal Bankers” to wealthier customers and using personal service as an inducement to garner these big depositors. Upon hearing all that a personal banker did, I said “This is fantastic, can I get this for my employees”? He then explained that my employees would have to go through their – wait for it – Consumer (not retail) banking service and have to swipe away.
The business scenario in this example above is simple. Companies understand they can lower the price of a good or service if they lower the expectations of the consumer and increase volume. They AMP up the volume and sell more units (Walmart) and lastly they streamline both the delivery of that product as well as the transaction cost/friction (Technology use – Supply Chain Management and Transaction Automation – Customer Self Service). The negative is that the Customer becomes faceless.
I run the largest recruiting operation (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) in Austin, TX. I am familiar with the game described above because we facilitated the hiring of over 1200 people last year with about 15 recruiters and 10 support staff. We have hundreds of thousands of Candidate Customers and hundreds of Hiring Manager Customers. We facilitate hiring relationships between these two huge ecosystems through highly refined procedures, powerful technologies and super smart and committed people. All of these things allow us to do three important things: increase quality, increase volume, and the best part is that we charge 60-70% less than the typical external recruiting agency. We fight a daily battle to make this a more intimate and personal experience. Hank Stringer and Rusty Rueff explain this struggle in recruiting best in their book Talent Force. In their book they describe the process of nurturing your talent community so that you might increase your companies Talent Brand. This is incredibly important, as next to banking, healthcare, and several other intimate transactions, changing jobs is one of the most stressful and important transactions in a person’s life.
So it’s a new ballgame out there and we are all being affected by it. There are so many wonderful advantages to our highly enabled business world. We need to continue to push these methods and technologies, as there is so much good that can be had. What we need to do also is to continue to find ways to automate with a mindset of doing business with one person at a time.
Don’t get me wrong, I want a great deal when I am buying the family pooch another 50 lbs of dog food, and I will carry it 200 yards in the rain to my car to save that money. I just think that we have to continue to realize that the PEOPLE (Mothers, Daughters, Sons, Fathers, Grand Parents, etc…) matter as much as these new processes.
I think Mike is right. One way we are becoming “dehumanized,” less than human, is that speed and technology are slowly eroding the human connections that make us, well, human.