As automation increases, people hungry for more personal and authentic experiences begin to put a premium on advice, services, and interaction involving actual humans and showing more authenticity and imperfection. (2018)
In Scotland, grocery retailer Tesco wants to slow things down on purpose. While self-checkouts have been embraced as the future of the grocery store experience, and patience among consumers seems to be at an all-time low, some customers still prefer the older, slower way.
The elderly or those suffering from physical ailments or mental illnesses often find these speed-centric checkout lines frustrating and stressful. To tackle this problem, Tesco piloted a “relaxed checkout” for customers who preferred regular checkout lines manned by humans. The effort, backed by Alzheimer Scotland, garnered worldwide media attention when it was first launched in January of 2017.
For years it has seemed like automation would phase out the need for humans completely in some jobs. When Amazon launched their first retail store, people predicted it would be operated entirely without human workers. (That hasn’t turned out to be the case.) ATMs introduced in the 1970s were predicted to make the human bank teller obsolete, but since the year 2000, the number of jobs for bank tellers has actually increased.
Humans, in other words, stubbornly seem to prefer other humans.
This fact has been on display routinely through years of predictions, published as part of the Non-Obvious Trend Report. One year we wrote about "Lovable Un-perfection" describing how people's love for products and even other people to be flawed because they seem more authentic and real. Another year, we wrote about “Human Banking.” This theme of humanity and why it matters is a powerful idea because it speaks to the idea of trust and what it takes to build it.
As more automation surrounds us and technology becomes better at anticipating our every need, a countertrend that we see coming is people seeking help through more human experiences rather than via efficient machines.
In many industries, cost cutting and a strategic overreliance on automation have removed the most memorable aspects from an experience and this will lead consumers to return to what they once had. To some degree, this was the idea that inspired our popular "strategic downgrading" trend from the 2016 report. Sometimes we just prefer the older and less techie version because it was easier, kinder and more familiar.
As this preference grows, so too will a consumer’s willingness to pay a premium to interact with a real, compassionate, and skilled human. This represents a significant opportunity for all types of businesses. Are you ready to create a human mode for your products and services? In the coming year, more companies will face this question and the ones who can reinforce their brand values and find the right balance to bring back the human side of what they do will be the biggest winners.