"Ninety-eight percent of everything's going great -- people are having the right experiences," said Amazon HR leader Ofori Agboka.
That sounds amazing. A lot of us would be thrilled to have 98 percent of things going great in our lives, but when it comes from Amazon, a company with 1.3 million people, that means it's not going well for 26,000 people.
The New York Times discussed the troubles of employees at a large warehouse on Staten Island called JFK8. With Covid shutting down brick-and-mortar stores, work went up at Amazon. Growth is difficult for any company, and with such a large number of employees, it makes sense that Amazon automated as much as possible.
I love automation and self-service. It makes a lot of sense. In fact, I spent much of my early career automating processes and reports so they could be had at the push of a button instead of through days of tedious information gathering.
But it's that 2 percent of people where things are not going great that causes problems. A phone tree can answer many questions, but to do that, the programmers must anticipate the questions. With Covid-19, everything became new.
There wasn't a good option for Ann Castillo, whose Amazon employee husband, Alberto, had suffered brain damage from Covid-19. Phone trees wouldn't work for her questions.
And this is where companies really need to remember the human side of things.
It's just one task on HR's checklist, but your employee's whole life
When we use data and metrics, we can pat ourselves on the back when 98 percent goes according to plan. But that 2 percent have real problems that need to be a priority.
For a company like Amazon, which must process employee leave requests in the thousands, one person whose paperwork is incorrect seems like a small error and not a big deal, but to the employee and their family, that's how they pay the rent and eat dinner. So it's a big deal.
You need to plan for the unexpected
No one saw Covid-19 coming, and the changes have been constant and unpredictable. Chatbots and phone trees are for the constant and predictable. You need humans to handle the unexpected.
A human brain can process what a chatbot cannot do. A human can think of out-of-the-box solutions. A chatbot cannot do that. It is only as good as its programming. When governments couldn't even get their policies together, you can't expect a chatbot to be updated in real time.
Humans may not have the answer right away either, but they can work on finding one or at least come up with a temporary solution. So you not only need humans doing HR work, but humans with enough power and authority to solve unexpected problems.
Human interaction is still important
A chatbot can give you a message that says your request is noted in the system. Great. But sometimes a human interaction offers a lot more. The information may be the same, but a human can make it better.
Human connection can ease worries and help assure an employee that a solution exists, even if it is not available right now. For example, you can ask a person questions and have them rephrase the answers if it's not clear. It can make a world of difference to an employee who is struggling.
Automate all you want, but make sure that your employees can still reach a human in the human resources department. Everyone deserves that.