Can a business model have a human touch?

The human being is at the center of all our efforts. Everything we offer is intended to serve humans and should enhance humanity. But how can technology be human? How do we close the gap between man and machine?

Can a business model have a human touch?

The digitally engineered world is now present in almost all areas of life – and that's a good thing, because digitalization not only brings enormous technical advances and social changes, but also helps us as a society to deal with the major challenges of the future. Be it in climate protection, medicine, the mobility revolution or communication – everything is going digital. But when everything becomes digital, where is the human level? We know that people tend to transfer analog or human feelings to machines – digital cameras click like SLRs, robots are given cute faces in movies, and smartphones ring as analog as old stationary telephones. Optimizing communication between humans and machines will be one of the major tasks of the future. And there's a lot to think about here – what will the relationship between a chatbot and a human be like? Will the machine identify itself as such or will it try to disguise itself as a human? Will the machine be intelligent or will it just reproduce what someone has taught it? Can a machine have some kind of consciousness? And what about empathy – can a digital system represent such a complex behavior based on a mixture of perception, feeling, experience and sensibility at all, or just imitate it?

But first let's talk about the corporate strategy with regard to technology. Claudia Nemat, Board Member for Technology and Innovation, succinctly summed up Deutsche Telekom's corporate attitude: human-centered technology. What is behind this?

“Human-Centered Technology means above all that technology is not an end in itself. Everything we offer in terms of technical solutions is intended to serve people, to make people’s lives better, and people are always at the center of all our efforts. On the one hand, of course, it’s about making sure that we treat all our customers fairly, treat them transparently, make them great offers. But it’s also the attitude toward our employees, so in cooperation, the commitment to create a culture where we treat each other with respect. Being people-centered, after all, means that I treat every person exactly the way I would like to be treated.”

What Claudia Nemat states in the last sentence about getting along with each other is exactly what can be defined as ‘empathy’. But what expectations can you actually have of digital empathy? First of all, you have to define what kind of empathy there is in the first place – there is certainly no purely technical empathy to date. But as a developer of communicative corporate interfaces, you can certainly be empathic enough to communicate with the customer in exactly the way they consider appropriate. This means, for example, refraining from throwing a sales offer into the room at an inopportune moment or from deeply annoying a customer.

Empathy also includes knowing your counterpart, listening to them and understanding how they behave and what they like and don't like. This is not a particularly new insight – but when applied to digital systems, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

That is our task for the future. Under the title ‘One Conversation’, we will develop a system that ‘talks’ to customers in the same empathic way at all touchpoints. Behind this is a collective digital memory that remembers where a customer's preferences lie and when it is better to leave them alone. With the help of artificial intelligence and a lot of empathy, we want to massively improve communication with customers and achieve a better customer experience in the long term. In doing so, we will obviously handle our customers' data as sensitively as possible and in compliance with the strict General Data Protection Regulation. Just as you would expect from us. Claudia Nemat:

“We know that technology can certainly be used to concentrate power in the hands of a few at the expense of very many. And that is why I am deeply convinced that humanism and technology belong together. Technology should be used exclusively to solve relevant problems and for people. But what is important is that in the long term we try to find a good balance, indeed a good way, to basically bring these interests together.”

Empathy is really at the core of everything we do in product development and developing services and experiences for our customers.

Stay tuned.

Yours, Jan