If there’s a “tech-lash” underway, it’s businesses that embrace their humanity who will end up on top – and that’s great news for SMEs.
Recently, Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote an opinion piece crystalising a myriad of thoughts that had been floating around the discussion of tech companies’ role in society as a whole.
Chiefly, that big tech companies are about to undergo the same sort of backlash felt by the big finance and oil industries in the past.
The reasons for this are many and varied, but Smith makes the point that tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, and Google are about to feel the force of the tech-lash in the form of increased regulation.
While these companies make products and offer services that have become integral parts of our lives, they also feel a touch impersonal – no matter how much good work their UI designers do or how convincing their chatbots are.
It all fits into a rich tapestry of things that have combined to add to this perception which filters from the tech giants to the startups of this world.
For example, the role of tech in automation is read in large part as a byword for job losses – although it’s more than likely to merely change jobs.
Of course it doesn’t help that Elon Musk is talking openly about artificial intelligence as an “existential threat”.
In Australia, Facebook and Google are being blamed for the decline of local news outlets by taking away advertising dollars on the back of content produced by those very same outlets.
Meanwhile, startups often get in trouble for a lack of human understanding and tone-deafness – take Bodega for instance.
The thing is that tech, whether from a titan or scrappy startup, is going to play an increasing part in our lives.
If they are seen as impersonal, then there could be a potential competitive advantage to doubling down on good old-fashioned customer service – which is great news for small businesses.
The human touch
Tech has undoubtedly changed the way we interact with business providers and will continue to do so, but the innate need for human interaction has been with us since the dawn of time and probably isn’t going anywhere soon.
When we chat with people via text message, we’re still interacting with a human at the other end of the phone. The best chatbots are deemed the best because they seem the most like an actual human.
The human experience is one, by their very nature, small businesses provide every day.
MYOB has previously commissioned research on the future of work, and found that the future of work is, you guessed it, very much human.
“Regardless of the developments in areas like AI and robotics, we are building a future people will inhabit – and developers ignore at their peril the very human side of business and technology,” said then-MYOB Chief Technical Adviser and futurist Simon Raik-Allen.
“It doesn’t matter how advanced our technology becomes, in the end, it will come down to people and values.
“People will always be at the centre of the business, and their experience will be more valued than ever.”
It’s why, even though the accounting industry is going to go through profound technological change humans will remain at the centre of the connected practice.
So how can your business capitalise on the need for a human experience?
How to provide a human service
Luckily the human experience is one that small businesses, by their very nature, provide every day.
Think about your morning coffee – does your barista know you by name? Does your butcher or greengrocer have a fair idea of what you’re going to buy on the weekend?
A website may remember previous orders, but that’s because of an algorithm rather than a human interaction.
What makes small businesses great is that they play an integral role in their communities.
While the concept of community continues to shift and change, largely thanks to tech, the local small business offers a true, local point of difference.
Emphasising your humanity can be done in any number of ways, from good-old customer service with a smile, right through to making sure you have a phone number for people to call.
Email’s great and all, but sometimes you really just want to call somebody up to help with service difficulties or if you had a question about a product.
Business owners may consider providing support for a local grassroots sporting team or organisation – nothing says that your business is part of a community than providing support to that community.
If tech is continually cast as a large and impersonal thing, it’s the companies who both provide a great service and do so in a human way that will win.