It's a serious question posed at newly formed CCA HR and Development Forum where as usual the agenda was bigger than the time available. It's tempting to answer a resounding "YES" to what seems to be a pretty rhetorical question- how on earth could it be otherwise? 

Dig a little deeper however, and there are many reasons to argue the opposite case. One of these is our premature belief in the rhetoric that everyone is self serving and we simply don't need anyone to speak to anyone anymore.  

Boards globally are scratching their heads to understand why they are not seeing vast honey pots of savings promised in seductive business cases; it all seems so simple when investment in social media channels, web chat and automation in general, will result in a quiet Nirvana without troublesome call centres, those dreaded recruitment and attrition problems and big cheques for new technology. 

Sound familiar? I've had several conversations recently with CFOs and CIOs about the omni-channel phenomenon and how investment decisions are taken to please most of the people most of the time. What is encouraging is the number of organisations who are investing time in deeply analysing customer journeys, regardless of the way the customer presents their issue and taking account of as many barriers to success as possible. 

I've been really impressed by developments in this area by technology companies Cisco, Oracle and Verint who recognise the need to present a more 'human face' in their services in order that technology is an enabler to the human experience rather than an end in and of itself. They now offer sophisticated customer journey mapping services which are based on varied experiences with lots of organisations. In taking the time to do this exercise, organisations can begin to create their own recipe for communication channels which meet the needs of customers in a variety of situations. These decisions aren't easy, understanding the difference between transactional, functional and emotional customer demands is complicated and isn't always obvious.  

Like most parents of teenagers, I'm used being rationed in conversation for most of the time; but also aware that when something is required (a lift in the middle of the night when a wallet is lost!) then you need to be available for the call. In other words, you don't lose the responsibility even if you are not always needed. In some senses organisations have this relationship with customers, in offering a service they need to be ready to fulfil their side of the bargain. Having the agility to do this effectively and critically within budget depends on continued and careful analysis, so that the whole organisation learns and adapts to the footprints of customers and starts to walk in those steps. It's only by analysing and acknowledging the extent of complex interactions that we can provide the training and coaching to colleagues who can feel overwhelmed in the absence of such support.   

So people really do still matter, more so than ever before. Dispelling the myths that customers all present with mundane and simple issues is really important. Few things are rarely sorted with shiny new toys in isolation, and understanding and meeting customer demands is no exception. It takes a lot of hard work and is an ongoing process rather than a 'once and done' programme. And of course, if we get it right we can finally consign the 'man versus machine' debate firmly to the dustbin and co-exist in symbiotic harmony. 

Join us in Glasgow on 26 November to debate this and more at CCA Convention 2015.  Contact us for more info.