I was taking a class in Master of Technology in Digital Leadership at the National University of Singapore (NUS) today, the professor gave a prediction of the future and a picture of technology ten years from now. This leads me to reflect on the future of work. How work is going to change and how should we better prepare ourselves to avoid being redundant? What will be the impact on society and should we worry about the advance of technology, like artificial intelligence?
I think we do not need to worry if we put the focus on the customer instead of technology. Yes, technology continues to change, but customer needs did not. Tooling and equipment changes, but the fundamental demands of humans persist. Business model changes, but the reason for business exist remains the same. Despite all the technological inventions of Industry 4.0, we are in some ways further from providing the best customer experience than ever.
A decade ago, I remember it was very frustrating to do phone banking. I got a simple question, dial into the customer centre, and a recording played instead of human touch. I press one to check my balance, press two to check credit limits, and press three to repeat the recording again, but none of the above options gave me the satisfactory answer that I want. A decade later, the same frustration using advanced technology, which is now called a chatbot. Still, ask it a simple question and it can just reply, “sorry I cannot understand”. Yet, I cannot reach a real person to speak with as the lines are always busy. Terrible banking experience.
Banks spent a lot of money on digital transformation, but they waste a lot, too. They spent hours every day posting on social media to reach customers that will be forgotten in minutes. They create subscription models for customers to use the platform later, but customers rarely find the time to revisit them again. They create digital documents, emails and files, which all too often are lost somewhere in the cloud instead of using them to serve the customers better.
I believe that we have reached a point where technology has become sufficiently advanced and user-friendly that we can integrate it to better serve our customers. Not only to be more productive but to lead to more fulfilling customer engagement. Otherwise, if the way banks work stays the same and stops improving the customer experience, then they are forever doomed to mediocrity, no matter what may be the new financial product it is selling. The way to success is the way of continuous pursuit of customer obsession.
It is a myth that digital is about technology. In reality, it is about the customer. We often think that digital transformation is primarily about technology change. Of course, technological change is involved, but I also realise that transformation is about better serving customer needs, whether through more-effective operations, mass customisation, or new offers.
ATMs were thought to eliminate bank teller positions. They did not. No new technology can transform an industry unless a business model can link it to an emerging market. Oddly enough, the technology that can drive the explosive growth of a digital company is not even all that sophisticated. To bring about dramatic changes, technology does not need to be like the stuff in science fiction, you only need a computer system to be able to perform tasks traditionally handled by people, and do it more efficiently.
On a societal level, investment in new technology, equipment and software is an essential ingredient for growth. A continuous revolution of technology will increase the capacity of the economy to produce goods and services in a more efficient way. Simply put, if we are provided with more and better technology innovations to use, we should be able to produce more output than we could with the legacy system.
Human productivity is the most important force in causing the world’s total wealth, power, and living standards to rise over time in society. Productivity - i.e. the output per person, driven by learning, building and inventiveness in technology has steadily improved over time.
In the banking industry I am working in, technology would remain a driving force behind economic growth in the fourth industrial revolution. The markets for financial products and services are highly competitive. There is the rapid adoption of technological advancements by competitors. Our ability to compete successfully depends heavily on ensuring the continuing and timely introduction of innovative new products, services and technologies to the market.
In summary, we should be aware of how customers and society benefit from the continuous revolution of technology. We should get better at spotting the true value of new technologies, seek to master ourselves using technology, outperform our peers with a better customer experience and make ourselves more productive.