In a world of self-drive cars, self-check-out kiosks and unmanned drone planes what role does the human being play in the digital world of the future? Let’s not forget that this replacement of workers by robots is not just a recent subject. Throughout the 19th Century human power was gradually replaced by motorised engines and manufacturing soon favoured robotised automation for its low running costs and consistent reliability. Humans have had to adapt to these changes over time and create new roles for themselves in the industry they work.

smileLet’s take leisure centres as an example. The traditional receptionist (or basket room attendant if you can remember that far back) would answer the phone, deal with enquiries, greet customers, handle cash through the till, etc. Nowadays, we see fast-track kiosks, info on websites, booking apps, online joining, automated telephone messages, all attempting to replace the reception role. Or are they? Whilst leisure operators may be under pressure to find savings a lot of these decisions are not made in the hope of making the reception role redundant. They are to meet the growing demands of a savvy, time-poor, technology-rich customer base with ever higher expectations.

I can’t remember the last time a human being served me in a supermarket. I get my big shop online and in store always use the self-serve kiosks. Now I like good customer service and enjoy the experience of a member of staff making me feel welcome in their business, but if I’m just popping in for some milk and bread at Tesco then efficiency is my priority. Take another example, I recent bought a smartwatch (to replace my Fitbit which I found frustratingly useless) so I went online to compare different models and check out reviews. I even went into PC World to see them in the metal and check the sizes. Eventually I went back on line compared the lowest prices and bought a Sony Smartwatch 3 for £10 cheaper than PC World were selling it for. Did I speak to any human beings? No. Did that affect my decision? No. However, I would say I am gadget-geek. I understand (most) of the jargon and therefore can make an informed decision. Others would rely on the expertise and recommendations of the electronic store staff.

So let’s go back to the leisure centre. Yes savvy prospective customers who have used your centre before might not want to have a showround or be taken through all the membership options. They want to sign up and work out, simple. However, some of your customers need the support of human being. They know the prices, know how to quickstart a treadmill, know which are the best trainers thanks to the review websites, but can they set themselves a workout routine that achieves their goals? This is where your experienced fitness team outdo the robot every time. I know they could go online and download a routine based on their general goal but we are all so individual that each customer will be slightly different. So the fitness staff keep their jobs in a digital world because human interaction on the gym floor is so important to some customer’s success (and to your bottom line through lower attrition rates!)

But is the receptionist still vulnerable. Again, it depends on your customer. We all know friends or family that can talk the hind legs off a donkey and the receptionist, to this person, is important for social value in your club. And alternatively there are your customers who walk-in with the earphones already in, don’t make eye contact, get on with it and then leave, happy. We have to accommodate both types or we shrink our potential audience.

bankWe have seen this change happen in high street banks over the last few years. Tellers have come from behind their screens and desks and now greet you as you walk-in. Need to pay a cheque in? Then they’ll talk you through the self-serve paying in machine. Want to chat? Then they’ll happily do so whilst multi-tasking with other customer’s queries. Efficiency for all their customers.

So what’s the point to all this? Well it’s to deliver a message that whatever role you play in your organisation then you have to be prepared to evolve. The modern day leisure centre receptionist understands the importance of their interaction with every customer, responds to social media enquiries as well as telephone calls, looks for sales opportunities to meet the targets of the business, signposts customers to quicker booking methods or check-in options, and does so whilst chatting to those who just need a pair of ears to listen to them.

When you start to look at evolving roles rather than replacing roles you start to see how technology and digitalisation can benefit your business and your customers. Whether it’s embracing social media to improve customer interaction or educating your gym team on fitness apps, there is a technology that can help all roles in leisure.

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”
Steve Jobs

John Leaver Head of Alliance Digital As Head of Alliance Digital, John is the go-to expert for all things digital and marketing.  With a passion for technology, gadgets and marketing John delivers exceptional insight into a quickly-changing and often confusing world of digital media channels. @JohnLeaver M: 07909988532