In a world where COVID-19, Coronavirus, “Social Distancing", and toilet paper now rule over all else, our world as we know it has changed. The financial losses are only just starting to be felt, and how it changes our way of life is yet to be fully comprehended and determined.
What has become clear, however, is that humans have been asked/told to refrain from physical contact with each other and have no social interaction. While only at the very start of this isolation, the stresses of this directive are already being felt. Bars, restaurants, theatres, sporting events, concerts have all been shut down, and even simple things like a shopping trip are fraught with worry and caution. What is to come, very few, if anyone, can predict. What is evident, however, is that humans are social beings, and have a need for interaction, and even dependence, on one another.
Which brings us to the point of balancing technology with the human element in our business and social interactions. The pace of technological change has been frenzied over the past decade, and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Hotel, Taxi, Travel and Photography industries have been turned upside down by the advent of technology. The Encyclopedia Britannica and others disappeared because of technology. The way and what we drive is being altered, affecting both auto and oil industries. The retail sector is in complete disarray as technology has completely changed how we order goods and services.
But through it all, and perhaps where it doesn’t even make sense, technology has not always taken over, but has enhanced the human experience. When videos and streaming services came out, it was thought to signify the end of movie theatres. Instead, movie theatres have flourished with greater seating and sound and picture qualities, and have not gone away. Similarly, travel agents and agencies were to be extinct by now, and yet they continue to exist and service their clientele, enhanced by technology. And while smart phones have taken over the photography sector, camera manufacturing continues and is not quite dead. Not even close!
It really comes down to humans adopting certain technologies for their benefit, but also choosing to interact with other humans, and combining the two where appropriate and beneficial. The worlds of medicine, insurance and real estate, have all been impacted by technology and how we get our information, but have gradually settled into a pattern where we, as consumers, do our research but then rely on the expertise of the professionals to see things through.
The Relocation Industry, with all its offerings for expats and relocating employees, should treat technology in the same way. While seen by many in the industry as disruptors, there is also an opportunity for the industry to embrace what makes the client experience a superior one. RMCs, Movers, Corporate Housing providers, and DSPs, have all seen varied technology enhancements and challenges to the status quo. For DSPs, where human touch is such a vital part of the service delivery and customer experience, do-it-yourself tools have definitely caused angst. Expats now have significant online tools at their fingertips that can help them tour a city, find rental housing, etc. But the prevailing question is and remains, how effective are these tools in replacing the human element? Can they do the job of effectively relocating a corporate employee, or are they simple tools that are perhaps more suitable to a different type of client?
As corporations are challenged by cost-containment and other business realities, they sometimes offer lump-sum packages to their employees and leave the relocating logistics to the employees and their families. This can be detrimental to the success of the relocation, as it puts even more stresses on employees and their families.
The cost of moving talent is not cheap, and the cost of a failed relocation is just that much higher. Employees that are left to their own devices and forced to find their own way around unfamiliar surroundings and often find the experience to be very problematic and strewn with pitfalls. Technology alone is not enough to get them acclimated and successfully settled in a new locale. They need it to be tempered with the human touch. They need the local expertise and perspective provided by seasoned professionals who can share their experiences and impart knowledge that technology alone cannot provide.
What effective providers must do and are being forced to do (and are doing) is to develop or adopt technologies that can help complement the human touch. Companies have developed informational and online tools to help expats through the process of relocating. Tools that help with administration, market information, housing availabilities, corporate housing bookings, and mover estimates are just some of the technologies available. These technologies and development are not cheap and often strain already tight margins. However, they are necessary in order to stay competitive, and also to enhance the customer experience.
RMCs and providers alike agree that not all technology is universally embraced by clients and expats. Often the utilization ratios are quite low, but, like everything, needs to be made available to relocating employees so as to enhance their xperience. It is a knock against it to not offer up technological solutions to clients, but also no guaranty that they will use it.
The relocation industry is also under a greater pressure to provide our clients with Duty of Care, and that is where the human element has to be promoted. Expats in foreign and unfamiliar areas, with only technology to guide them, are at risk. This is not an alarmist view, but a reality. Corporations should never allow their employees to be in harm’s way, but that is what can occur when a singular approach to relocation is adopted. Yes, providing them with a simple allowance that forces them to conduct their own relocation may be seen as cost effective, but it can also put them at risk and can result in a failed relocation. Not to mention, the strains on spouses and family members should they be part of the family dynamic, all of whom are left to fend for themselves.
The relocation industry has already adopted technologies that enhance the customer experience, be it communication tools or informational tools. CRMs and platforms like Skype (and a myriad of other similar apps), texting, and industry specific apps, all provide significantly improved communication and updates for our clients. As more tools come on the market, we have to determine their effectiveness, and whether or not they are truly “disruptive” or can enhance the customer experience when combined with the human touch. By doing so, the industry and all its players become more effective in embracing the technologies that are available and present a more complete and high-touch service offering to our clients.
The music industry, for one, went through a tremendous change when music sharing completely turned that world upside down. With time, and intellect, they figured out how they were going to make the new reality work, and once again the music business is thriving and robust. And wealthy! They realized what they needed to do and how to do it, and prevailed.
The relocation industry is no different! If this COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that humans need humans, and humans like to interact with humans. We need each other’s help and expertise, and appreciate when it is well presented and with all the tools, whether it be local knowledge and expertise, or technology, at our collective disposal. This industry is positioned perfectly for taking advantage of technology and marrying it to high-touch and human centered service delivery.
About the author: Nitin Badhwar, Vice President, Welcomehome Relocations, and his team contributed this article. Welchomehome Relocations is Bristol’s valued partner for destination services across Canada.