Bring back the people, we need more than technology

In: BlogDate: Jan 07, 2013By: Henry Stewart

This festive period I was avoiding Amazon (because of their UK tax avoidance) and found myself in a real bookshop. And what a delight. I could have spent hours there. I know, it is sad that this is rare experience for me.


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What struck me was not just the pleasure of so many real books, but how much easier it was to discover new titles than it was online. I had previously scoured Amazon to find books to put on my Channukah/Christmas present list. I found one. But an hour in Waterstones and, based on what was displayed and what was recommended by staff, I found a dozen books I’d love to read.

Amazon of course provides personal recommendations and “people who bought this book also bought…”, but am I alone in finding these fairly useless? It always seems heavily influenced by my most recent purchases, which were often for friends, rather than the history of what I’m interested in. Currently the recommendations are focused on peanut butter products, WII games, nail paint and books on Katy Perry – none of which I have any interest in.

So it wasn’t just that Waterstones had a real person eager to help me. But the entirely un-personalised “our staff recommend” sections produced far more books I’d like to buy than the personalisation and clever algorithms of Amazon. It seems real people do make a difference after all.

Lessons for Learning

So how does this apply to my business, that of learning? Well e-learning has been hyped many times as the future and once again we are in a phase of organisations (and especially central government) closing their classrooms. Yet it is hard to find people who actually enjoy and look forward to using formal e-learning. (As compared to the 97% who agree they had an enjoyable experience learning software in our classrooms.)

The big growth at the moment is in Live Online Learning. Here you learn at your desk, using virtual classroom technology, but there is a real tutor. And our aim is to keep class sizes to six to eight people, so you still get the personal attention. It is certainly more convenient for our clients and many report it is as enjoyable as the classroom. Though they do say they miss the afternoon ice cream!

So keep the people at the centre is my learning point. Perhaps if Amazon had some real people to talk to …. and paid their taxes …..

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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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