The latest on the human vs. robot showdown of the century reveals that, by the end of the 2020s, automation may eliminate 20-25 percent of current jobs. Interestingly, employees aren’t all that worried about being replaced by robots. According to a new survey by The Workforce Institute, the majority of workers (64 percent) would welcome artificial intelligence (AI) if it simplified or automated time-consuming operational tasks, or at least helped to balance their workloads.

What workers are worried about is their employers’ lack of transparency, with 61 percent of respondents in the Workforce Institute survey saying they’d feel more comfortable if employers were more transparent about what the future may hold. Perhaps most troublesome for American workers is that US companies are also the most secretive, with 67 percent of survey respondents reporting they have no knowledge of their organization’s plans for AI.

When it comes to workplace automation — something that 74 percent of CEOs expect to invest in within the next three years — executives should not overlook the value of their human employees and the potential impact these employees could have on driving their companies’ digital transformations forward. The caveat for brands is that they need to invest in AI-oriented training and development for their workers if they want to maintain relevance in the digital age.

Here are three things brands should keep in mind when it comes to skilling up their workers to succeed alongside workplace automation:

1. Adopt a Culture of Innovative Adaptability

By “innovative adaptability” I mean the forward-thinking perspective that recognizes automation is not synonymous with “job displacement.” Brands have the ability to leverage the unique talents of their human workforces, and the fact is it would be in their best interests to do so. Just think about the numerous ways customer service agents connect and engage with your core customer groups every single day. Now imagine if those agents had the technical skill sets to improve the virtual reality capabilities on your shopping app. Your agents could, in this scenario, help users virtually try on clothes from the privacy and convenience of their homes based on the feedback they receive firsthand from the consumers with whom they interact.

A 2017 report by McKinsey shows that jobs related to the development of new technologies are expected to grow in the coming years, leading to the creation of 20-30 million jobs by 2030. This could be a massive opportunity for job creation and economic growth if brands were to help employees level up their skill sets accordingly.

Rethinking job creation needs to be a primary focus for brands in 2018, especially those that seek to invest in automated technologies this year. Doing so will not only lead to the accelerated adoption of next-generation tools like AI, but it will also foster the loyalty that brands need from employees and customers alike in order to scale.

2. Diversify Your Training Toolkit

In this age of mobile, social, and instant, your employees seek information the same way your customers do, whether that means commenting on Facebook community groups, scrolling through online company reviews, or watching YouTube videos. Providing an array of training tools across multiple devices and platforms will enable and empower your employees to master new skills.

phoneWhen it comes to recruiting, onboarding, and training new talent, brands need to keep in mind that younger employees — namely millennials, who are expected to overtake baby boomers in the population by 2019 — expect more from the companies that hire them. These higher expectations include next-generation training tools and overall career growth. Brands may want to consider adopting such cutting-edge technologies like omni-channel learning environments in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs) specific to each employee’s position, or social media hubs that promote open communication between new hires and company veterans.

Additionally, millennials value flexibility and tools that enable them to self-start — e.g., fluid work hours and the ability to train before they even start a new job. Work-from-home options are growing increasingly popular across industries and skill levels. This should signal to brands that agile training methods delivered via remote systems are a surefire way to win and retain the top talent that will drive digital transformation.

3. Leverage the Best of Both Worlds

What many brands fail to realize is that the employees driving day-to-day operations — such as contact-center agents and sales associates — are the people who know their customers best. What’s more, these employees are able to quickly identify the pitfalls in your customer experience strategy and the shortcomings in the digital services you offer. What if you gave them the tools they needed to fix these flaws while responding live to customer issues? What if automation supplemented employees’ abilities to do their jobs better?
Here is one potential scenario:

A customer posts a tweet complaining about your mobile application’s timeouts during the purchasing process. A chatbots can immediately respond to your customer’s tweet, letting them know the problem is being handled while simultaneously sending a message to a customer service agent, whose technical training allows them to fix the issue and — with a touch of human empathy that technology has yet to emulate — apply a discount to your customer’s order. Once the problem is resolved, AI can step in again to send a private message to you customer, notifying them of the update, their order confirmation, and the complimentary discount.

It is time for brands to recognize that employees are more than placeholders for the automated systems a company has yet to fully integrate. Rather, employees are your brand’s strongest ambassadors and your front-line defense in this competitive age of digital adoption. The brands that invest in their employees’ learning and development will not benefit from new and loyal armies of technical workers. Moreover, these brands will also be able to tap employees’ knowledge in order to better understand customers’ most critical needs, the gaps in operational processes, and how employees’ own capabilities can better solve these challenges.

Philippe Riveron is chief venture officer of Sitel Group and CEO of Learning Tribes.

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