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Since the dawn of technology, a fear has accompanied every new machine– the fear that it will take away jobs from humans. But each time we’ve seen that new technological creations actually create more jobs, albeit different ones. This is precisely what we will see in the new self-service industry; an industry that is booming as minimum wages rise and the fast food industry in particular veers towards automation and self-serve options.

The $200 Billion fast food industry is now looking to conduct large parts of their business both through in-store self service and through mobile (think: the Starbucks app). This move is unsurprising, as self service and mobile payment/ordering in general is on the rise. As we wrote about earlier this month, self service usage increased from 67% to 76% between 2012 and 2014, and today, three quarters of consumers think companies should make answers to all their common questions available via smartphones. Regardless of what industry you’re in, it’s time to let consumers help themselves– and their favorite place to do this is on their smartphones.

“We’re a far cry from humans becoming superfluous. But jobs are being replaced with apps and real-life self service, and that will certainly alter the makeup of our workforce.”

The marriage of self service and mobile means that product managers will have to determine a) the best way to create an app that improves users’ experiences, rather than forcing a steep learning curve on them, and b) how to onboard and assist users via a self-service product. In an autonomous world, PM’s must figure out how to stay relevant.

How To Make An App That Actually Helps

Think With Google wrote that the first step in creating a useful app is to consider not creating an app at all. It’s true: don’t create an app unless it adds very tangible value to the user. A fast food self service app, for instance, would need to significantly cut down the amount of time that a user spends ordering food and waiting in the drive-thru. It would also need to be usable while driving– which means looking ahead to systems like CarPlay (Siri for cars) and other IoT advancements. The trick, though, with looking to connected cars and enabling voice commands is to make sure that you are not just doing innovation for innovation’s sake– there must be a clear value and time saving feature to it all that goes beyond the cool factor.

1. Segment Your Users By Need

Identify your primary use cases (what your users need your product for, when, and why), and then design the app accordingly. The value should be incredibly specified to the use case– if you have a bottleneck at the register (as Starbucks did), figure out the most convenient way to marry payment with the mobile device– for Starbucks, this meant including mobile order and pay on their app, making it not only faster and easier to order, pay, and buy, but also to track loyalty points and free drinks. The pain point they solved was twofold: tracking loyalty (just think about how often you forget to pull out your punchcard), and cutting down on lines and the time spent on payment at the register. This worked for Starbucks; it might not work for fast food chains. To determine what will be successful, they will need to examine where their customers’ pain points are.

2. Onboard in under 30 seconds, with an option for more

I was recently talking with my co-worker about email; as a millennial, I was arguing that email is completely dead– I immediately swipe delete on over 70% of the emails I receive, and the only ones I don’t do that to are internal communication ones. He pointed out, though, that while I might be representative of people my age, people his age still use email to recieve content.

In Silicon Valley it’s easy to assume that everyone is smartphone savvy– but when you move to things like the fastfood industry, you must assume that your customers are hugely varied: some will be able to understand and use a UI friendly app within seconds; others will need video tutorials, screenshot explanations, and sometimes even live agent assistance. To get customers using your app, you must offer onboarding options that cater to both, and upfront offer the one that your user’s demographics indicate they will prefer.

3. Let Them Help Themselves

After onboarding, self-service apps should require no more than three clicks. Eatsa, for instance, the fully automated health fast-food restaurant, remembers clients’ orders, so that when they return they need only sign into a kiosk to get their regular order. However, Eatsa also has one attendant on-hand to help the technologically-challenged, so that the first visit is painless. But the point of these self-service technologies is that every return visit should be faster and more seamless than the last.

How To Hire In An Automated World

Following the McDonald’s announcement that they will be cutting their workforce, there’s been a lot of speculation as to how automated self-service will affect the job market. A recent Economist article addressed this issue nicely:

“Each time [Panics about “technological unemployment” have struck], in fact, technology ultimately created more jobs than it destroyed, as the automation of one chore increased demand for people to do the related tasks that were still beyond machines. Replacing some bank tellers with ATMs, for example, made it cheaper to open new branches, creating many more new jobs in sales and customer service. Similarly, e-commerce has increased overall employment in retailing. As with the introduction of computing into offices, AI will not so much replace workers directly as require them to gain new skills to complement it (see our special report in this issue). Although a much-cited paper suggests that up to 47% of American jobs face potential automation in the next decade or two, other studies estimate that less than 10% will actually go.”

The issue is not so much job elimination, but a redefining of what jobs in increasingly self-service industries will entail. In banking, for example, completely mobile banks have expanded their customer service departments. In fact, as the above-quote signals, automating jobs in favor of self-service will result in an increased emphasis on customer service. Product managers will focus on customer happiness analytics and surveys, working closely with customer service to determine how best to enable consumers to self-serve.

Where Mobile Product Management Is Heading

We’re a far cry from humans becoming superfluous. But jobs are being replaced with apps and real-life self service, and that will certainly alter the makeup of our workforce. Much like the “machinery question” of two centuries ago, we are faced with a divide between technological capabilities and the composition of our job infrastructure. As this divide narrows, workers and consumers alike will become more tech literate, and product managers will need to encourage this literacy through an emphasis on enabling self-service and supporting it through customer service.

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Published July 7, 2016
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