Human Beings Must Remain at the Heart of the Service Sector Revolution

Published on October 18, 2017

Opening Speech by Michel Landel, Sodexo CEO

A people-centric approach to performance has defined Sodexo’s mission for more than 50 years, and will continue to do so in the digital age. In his opening speech for the second Quality of Life Conference in London, Michel Landel noted that Sodexo founder Pierre Bellon saw well-being as a driver of progress for individuals and organizations as far back as 1966. The ongoing importance of quality of life was proven by the range of people who gathered, representing companies, universities, NGOs, hospitals, governments and 30-plus nationalities.

The Service Sector Creates Human-centric Growth

The Quality of Life Conference is a forum for exchanging practical initiatives and innovative solutions, and Landel shared some of his own observations after 30 years in the service industry.

He began by saying that the rapid expansion of the service sector has made a positive impact on a variety of economies. Services create stable employment in roles that are not easily delocalized. This is true in both developed and emerging economies, where service jobs can help reduce poverty and boost the level of education.

As consumers’ lifestyles grow increasingly similar, wherever they live in the world, services are being standardized to adapt to their demands anytime and anywhere. Benefits of this standardization range from seamless consumer experiences to safety.

A service relationship is above all a human relationship.

Digital Technology for Personalized Services

But while services are being standardized, they are increasingly personalized, too. Landel said that businesses must use data and digital technologies to adapt their offerings to the needs of individuals — whether customers, employees or patients.

Digital technology creates an instant dialogue with customers, allowing for customized services and immediate results. Data analysis provides a deeper understanding of individual habits and needs.

It is crucial to find a way to safeguard the intelligence of humans and integrate it along with that of machines.

Landel said that artificial intelligence is also revolutionizing services. Algorithms decide which services we're offered. We talk to “chatbots,” sometimes without even knowing it.

The possibilities of this revolution are vast. For example, an estimated 60% of the world’s hospitals will be equipped with artificial intelligence by the year 2025, providing higher-quality, less expensive healthcare.

Keeping People at the Heart of Our Thinking

However, Landel warned, for this new era to bring about progress, people must remain at the heart of our thinking. Automation has led to dire predictions for the job market, but he remains optimistic, noting a study showing that in the past 140 years new technologies have created more jobs than they have eliminated — including for low-skilled labor.

Landel said that businesses have two main responsibilities. First, they must take the lead in creating products and services that add value and jobs for the future. Second, they have to help employees navigate through this transformation so that they can benefit from the changes.

Humans have always drawn strength from collective intelligence to overcome the challenges they face.

In the service sector, new technologies allow companies to refocus the skill sets of their employees towards the core business of managing relationships. A machine can simulate feelings, but it can’t replace true empathy or dialogue.

“It is crucial to find a way to safeguard the intelligence of humans and integrate it along with that of machines,” Landel said. “The human ability to have a meaningful dialogue, understand social interactions and adapt to new situations will remain key to the service relationship.”

He also underlined the importance of collective human intelligence, saying that artificial and robotic intelligence must serve its development. “Humans have always drawn strength from collective intelligence to overcome the challenges they face.”