Business Monday

CEOs embrace tech, but human touch is best

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This week’s question to the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: How do you strike a balance between introducing new technology in your business and incorporating a human touch?

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We are increasingly living in a world of technology with people communicating via text over telephone calls, emails over letters, and shopping online over in-person. Call me “old school,” but I believe that I am in the “people” business. Commercial real estate decisions are often made months to years in advance, and the process does not happen overnight, so relationships are formed and maintained with clients. One of the primary points of contact with clients and our company is often over the telephone, so I am a big believer in having a person over a recording answer all calls. This is the first step in establishing authentic communication and efficiency. From there, emailing can be a very efficient way of communication, but there comes a time when the emails need to stop, and one needs to pick up the phone to speak with the individual, either for clarification purposes or apply a human connection. This is also relevant to interoffice communications. For all other non-client facing communication aspects of the business, I am very supportive of technology to further operation of the business and streamline the look and efficiencies of the office.

Donna Abood, principal and managing director, Avison Young

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I work in hospitality. At its core, we are in the business of serving others with high levels of kindness, humility, intelligence and genuine belief in your product. In my opinion, there is no way to create a balance between technology and human touch in our industry. The human touch is essential to the experience provided to a guest.

Adelee Cabrera, regional director, Starr Catering Group

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We are a network of business and professional women that grows and strives on building relationships and human interaction. Technology plays an important role in our organization — it frees us from repetitive tasks and allows us to keep in better touch with our members. However, the key is realizing those critical moments that demand a human connection and live support. We were never meant to live online. Connection happens best when real-life sharing occurs.

Laurie Kaye Davis, executive director, The Commonwealth Institute South Florida

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At Bilzin Sumberg, we are always looking for new ways that technology can help increase efficiencies for our clients. For example, the firm has been able to optimize efficiency through various investments in knowledge management and legal project management technology and training. That said, our business is relationship-driven, and no amount of technology can supplant the personal interaction and real time communication we have with our clients.

Albert E. Dotson Jr., partner, Bilzin Sumberg

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Technology is the future, and there is no reason why one cannot complement the other. One of my five initiatives is centered on technology and its use to enhance the consumer experience. In delivering the consumer experience is where we must always incorporate the human touch. Technology can help us provide convenience to our patients and consumers, but it is the human touch that heals.

Aurelio M. Fernandez, III, president and CEO, Memorial Healthcare System

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Introducing and balancing new technology is a function of resources and expertise. Leaders of an organization, along with staff, need to be aware of the potential benefits of utilizing a new technology. They all need the training, and access to the technology to maximize its effectiveness for the organization. Speaking from experience, there is no replacement for the "human" touch, for growing the relationship between and among people, if an organization is to be successful. While technology can enhance awareness and productivity, there is no replacement for an effective employee. Building a culture of excellence, and motivating staff to implement the mission of the organization with integrity and credibility is best accomplished on a face-to-face basis. At the Council for Educational Change, the relationships between business and school leaders have resulted in enhanced student performance, community outreach, and enduring CEO/school principal partnerships.

Elaine Liftin, president and executive director, Council for Educational Change

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In hospitality, it is incredibly important to strike a balance between technology and human interaction to truly elevate the guest experience. Today’s hotel guests embrace tech, and want to customize their own travels at every stage, from searching for the right destination, to the best hotel for their needs, all the way to the property experience. Case in point, our Virgin Hotel in Chicago offers guests an app to control everything from room temperature adjustment, changing media channels, and allows guests to check-in without stopping at the front desk. When certain basic functions, like check-ins, are streamlined, our hotel team can place even more focus on service and exceptional hospitality, and cater to the guests’ needs and wants. Technology also improves customer service by allowing us to learn more about the guest to personalize their experience in real time and focus on their next stay with us. So, for the hotel business, technology opens new opportunities for human connection when done properly. This will continue to heavily evolve with the advent of AI and other technologies in the near future. Hospitality companies that don’t embrace this will be akin to being dinosaurs and will invariably become extinct.

Diego Lowenstein, CEO, Lionstone Development

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Both are essential. Technology has allowed us to grow by leaps and bounds, especially on social media. But we are a very close team who values each client and we know they’re hiring us as people first, then the ability to over deliver our scope, so the human interaction is a huge priority for us.

Suzan McDowell, president and CEO, Circle of One Marketing

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New technology is critical to our industry both from a security and a service perspective. Technology serves us in very specific ways, such as streamlining automated functions, protecting data and facilitating access to information. Done well, technology can even surprise and delight its users. This is something we’ve worked toward by introducing an innovative eye print security feature in our mobile app. But technology will never replace the ability of a smart, experienced and empathic banker who is focused on helping a client reach their unique financial goals. In the banking game, the numbers give you a lot of the picture — and technology is good at interpreting the numbers — but you’ll never get the full picture of someone’s intelligence, drive and character from a software program. And that human level is where real community banking actually occurs.

Jay Pelham, president, Total Bank

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In higher education, it is very important to be aware of technology trends in order to prepare students to meet the demands of a progressive business world. We have been able to introduce new technology, remaining current on trends and provide adequate training for our faculty who are using these new technologies. So, while technology provides more timeliness, access and innovation in completing tasks, it does not change the need for our students to be engaged by people, whether it is their professors, coaches, and staff members.

Dr. Larry Rice, president, Johnson & Wales University North Miami Campus

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While there is no doubt that technology will continue to play a huge role within the millennial generation, the pretense that technology will replace people is false, especially in hospitality industry. The bottom line is that consumers visit restaurants to have an experience of communication with people, and you can’t automate a drive-thru, so you’re always going to have employees taking care of guests. The fight to gain customer share is going to be done based on how employees treat customers, not technology. In hospitality, people will always be number one.

Eddie Rodriguez, CEO, JAE Restaurant Group

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The only way I know how to do this is to first look at the human side. How does technology impact our client’s experience? Does it make them still feel appreciated? Then I look at the impact on the business. Is it more efficient? Does it allow for employees to work on other tasks? Ultimately technology has to improve the client experience as well as employee output.

Alex Rodriguez-Roig, president, Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade

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We don’t introduce new technology for technology sake. We underwrite business needs and utilize technology where it makes sense. As an example, at Brightline, we are developing a mobile app to create a seamless and efficient experience for our guests, but are also going to train our employees to provide exceptional customer care at every touch point, thus augmenting what the technology delivers.

Vincent Signorello, president and chief executive officer, Florida East Coast Industries

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New technology allows us to do our jobs more efficiently but the human contact is irreplaceable. In our business, as a member-based organization, it’s those individual conversations and meetings that mean the most to our member businesses and staff.

John Tanzella, president and CEO, International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association

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We have spent quite a bit of time working with consultants to decide what types — and how much — technology to incorporate into our business practices. Most first generation clients want a high degree of personal interaction with their adviser. But in recent years we've begun working with second-generation clients, as well as the children of our original clients, and they want a high-tech, less personal, face-to-face contact approach. It is a constant balance, but we strive to embrace solutions that fit for both generations and keep everyone happy. Additionally, while many in the industry have moved to a ‘Robo’ adviser model (where algorithms make all of the investment decisions), we have not, as we strongly believe that our expertise is our best asset.

Faith Read Xenos, co-founding partner, Singer Xenos

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The Miami Herald CEO Roundtable is a weekly feature that appears in Business Monday of the Miami Herald. Recent questions have included:

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