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Credit by Craig Donaldson

Organisations need to put employees first – and not the consumer – in order to improve the customer experience, drive innovation and deliver better business results, according to an expert in the area.

Employees which are customer-facing play a critical role in brand and the customer experience, said former VP of innovation and creativity at Disney, Duncan Wardle, who explained that HR plays a critical role in this process.

“Take the hospitality industry, for example, in which waiters and waitresses are put on the minimum wage,” he said.

“You should stop that, because they’re in touch with your guests, every hour of every single day.”

These employees have more impact on the customer experience as well as brand and quarterly results than any other part of an organisation – “yet, we insist on paying them the minimum wage,” he said.

Wardle, who recently spoke at the Indeed Interactive conference, gave the example of putting the employee first on Disney cruise ships in order to deliver a better a better customer experience.

Disney conducted a program in which it asked its stateroom hosts to take an hour off in their normal 8-hour shift to talk and engage with guests directly, instead of cleaning cabins and performing their normal duties.

“We said ‘We’re going to give you a free hour during your shift to just talk with our guests.’

“We wanted to make their jobs more fun and less labour intensive, and also provide guests with a more personable experience,” said Wardle.

This program subsequently increased intent to return and intent to recommend higher and faster than any capital investment ever made onboard Disney ships.

Rethinking brand experience and value

To learn more about the company and its customers, he went to a DIY store and observed how customers – and in particular younger people – interacted with and purchased their products.

“This is the problem with companies that are maniacally focused on their quarterly results – they are iterating and not innovating”

“I went back to the world’s leading brand in tools and said, ‘Look, not only do Generation Z not care about your brand: they’ve never heard of your brand.

“’They’re not interested in your products, your hammers, your chisels, or your saws, and they’re not even talking about the price point.

“’What they are interested in is what’s very important to them, and that is building their dream bathroom, or dream living room, or their dream house.’”

Wardle explained to the company’s leadership team that it needed to rethink its customer experience and broader purpose and said that this extended beyond simply making tools.

“If you’re the brand that helps people build their dreams, what else could you want?

“Think about the other lines of business or other industries could you get into – you could get into finance, theme parks, education or other lines of business that haven’t even been considered.

“And they looked at me as if to say, ‘Well, how’s that going to drive our quarterly results?’

“This is the problem with companies that are maniacally focused on their quarterly results – they are iterating and not innovating.”

The company’s plans for innovation and expansion involved moving into Mexican and Indian markets because of growing middle classes and a perceived need for more tools to construct buildings.

However, Wardle said this was likely to fail as customers in the future would likely bypass such tools because of the rise of 3D printing.

“Today, we’re using 3D printers to build houses Houston, Texas, and we’re printing hearts in Hyderabad, India today for a surgeon to model and to look at before they go in and operate.”

Wardle said that 3D printing is set to revolutionise business and predicted that a good 30 per cent of what consumers buy on Amazon today will be printed at home between now and the next 15 years.

“Why? Because Amazon will save billions of dollars on shipping, production and storage, so it’s in their interest that we print in 3D, so it is going to revolutionise the way we buy products and services.

“So, if I could print that chair, table or bookshelf 10 to 15 years from today, what would I be making them with?

“I think it will be the most exciting – and frightening – decade of my life because of the level of change”

“A hammer, a chisel or a saw? No, I won’t be using those, because they’ll be in a museum.

“Because companies are maniacally focused on their quarterly results and not on their purpose, they can’t see the bigger opportunity, and in this case the bigger opportunity for them is survival,” he said.

The 4 critical skills of the future

Wardle also commented on the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and observed that there are a number of innate skills that will give people a competitive edge in the future.

Over the past decades, the left-hand side of the brain dominated, with skills in strategy, critical thinking, planning, finance and legal dominating business.

This model has worked well for the past hundred years, according to Wardle, who warned that it will likely not work for the next 10 years.

“The level of disruption that’s coming over the next decade is very significant,” he said.

“I think it will be the most exciting – and frightening – decade of my life because of the level of change,” said Wardle, who explained that several factors are converging on business including artificial intelligence, which is predicted to be thousands of times faster in thinking than humans by 2030.

“Yet we are all born with four very significant traits,” he said.

“Thinking about the next decade and AI, I believe the foremost employable skill sets we should be looking for are the ones we are born with: creativity, imagination, intuition, and curiosity.

“Why do I fervently believe in that? You can’t program creativity. You can’t program intuition. You can’t program curiosity and you can’t program imagination.”

Wardle explained that it is possible to program robots to paint the Mona Lisa better than Leonardo da Vinci, but robots don’t know what to paint unless they are programmed.

“Now at some point in the next several decades, can those traits be programmed?

“The honest answer is I don’t think any of us know, but certainly in the next decade, I believe those four traits were are actually born with will become the most employable – because they can’t be replicated by AI,” said Wardle.

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