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During a recent forum at Microsoft’s Vancouver office, I participated in a panel discussion regarding the evolution of customer and talent engagement in this new world of work.

In a nutshell: It was evident that relationships are the new currency.

Typically, when I ask professional audiences about the “new world of work,” concepts such as “digitization”, “automation”, “technology”, “remote workforce” and the like weigh heavily on their minds. Essentially, the sentiment is that automation is making our world less personal or less “human”: It is harming our relationships.

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For example, workers send instant messages to each other’s computer screens instead of walking 10 paces to have a face-to-face conversation. Similarly, as B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) customers, we are bombarded with impersonal e-mails selling us the latest mousetrap from vendors who seemingly don’t understand or care about our needs. Both as workers and as customers, too much automation leaves us craving the good old days when human interaction was our only option.

The good news is there is a happy middle ground: If we prioritize customer need, we will quickly figure out how to use technology and data to augment our relationships, rather than to dehumanize them.

Customer relationships are king

According to the CEB 2018 CEO Pulse report, chief executive officers and chief human resources officers believe that the trend most disrupting their organizations is changing customer expectations. Enabled by technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, wearable devices (such as virtual reality goggles and monitors) and others, customers have grown to expect immediate and even predictive service and delivery.

Positive customer experiences result from a thoughtful and seamless mix of technology and human touch. Companies that get this mix right delight their customers and develop deep relationships and a loyal customer base. Get this mix wrong, and you risk destroying your customer relationships permanently.

As Jaxson Khan, head of marketing at said in our panel discussion, “Customer relationships are the differentiator: A common refrain in our company is ‘people come for your product but stay for your people’. Also, we have reached the point of over-indexing on ‘sales hustle’: more e-mails, calls, and voicemails. However, buyers – people – are tuning out as there is too much clutter. But the quality of conversations and relationships that you have with your customers can change the game.”

Thanks to tools that work with customer-relationship management (CRM) data, organizations can more easily track, develop, grow, maintain and reignite customer relationships. For example, Intercom or Drift: Conversational Marketing can be used to initiate more customer conversations, to analyze sales conversations, to measure and grow the strength of your relationships.

Talent relationships are king

Organizations are facing a workforce that has different expectations, values and motivators than the workforce of 10 years ago: remote working, regular and transparent feedback, impactful work, relevant rewards and customized and tailored experiences. In addition, gig workers, who are expected to comprise 50 per cent of the workforce by 2020, are motivated by different factors than permanent employees.

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These realities require organizations to get creative about managing relationships with their talent (both permanent and gig workers) – there is no one-size-fits-all program that will adequately engage and retain top talent. The talent experience needs to feel hyper-personalized to create deep bonds and loyalty, but this is impossible to accomplish without great leadership (a.k.a. the human touch), combined with HR analytics and technology.

First, get to know your talent, including performance, potential, level of engagement and what motivates them, through conversations and technology solutions (e.g., for engagement, for predicting potential, HR management systems like Cornerstone for talent and performance management, etc.). Then, capture, refresh and leverage this data to not only engage and motivate talent but to deepen relationships and loyalty by demonstrating that you get what makes them tick. Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams can also be very effective in deepening talent relationships, by building constant flow and connection among teams, regardless of physical location.

If we think about technology’s ability to augment our jobs, rather than replace them, “taking the robot out of the human” leaves us to our human superpowers: influencing, judgment, self-awareness, interpersonal skills… all core human skills that move us up the value chain. We are in fact enabled to build closer, more intimate relationships, both with our talent and with our customers.

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