Why Automation is Taking Your Job

Robot Worker

Do you do know the difference between administrative work and gruntwork? Administrative work primarily consists of entering data and maintaining records, a task that doesn’t require decision making as much as it does following directions. Gruntwork is often tedious, repetitive, and lacks glamour, but still requires at least a small amount of skill or decision-making ability. Computers can only successfully replace one type of worker we just mentioned, which means if you work an administrative job, prepare for unemployment.

The Problem with Admin Work

DMV Logo

I admit my recent interaction at the California DMV inspired this post. I’m not writing this to pick on the DMV; it was just the perfect catalyst to begin a discussion about the impact of automation in the workforce.  My particular experience happens to be the perfect example of problems plaguing administrative work, and are the driving forces behind corporations pushing out more employees in favor of artificial intelligence and automated kiosks.

Humans tend to be okay with a lack of perfection, and when it comes to administrative work, that’s a problem. When someone calls someone else a “perfectionist,” it usually carries a negative connotation with it, implying a certain amount of annoyance with their inability to let things slide between the cracks. When your job primarily consists of maintaining and updating of records, which administration jobs do, organizations strive for perfection; something humans can’t deliver.

While computers will refuse to move to the next step of a process without proper verification, humans tend to find ways to complete processes that they shouldn’t always complete. In my case, I wanted to change the address on a drivers license that I had recently lost. A process that started smoothly, but went south because of a common problem when dealing with humans – Improper Verification

Improper Verification

Checklist

The first step in all administrative work is verification for eligibility. Whether you’re ordering food, calling into customer service, or applying for a car loan, there’s always some form of verification. McDonald’s takes your payment before preparing your food, agents verify your identity before discussing confidential information, and financiers run your credit before giving you a loan. All of the previously mentioned actions serve as verification of eligibility. The DMV is no different.

As a patron of the DMV, I had followed all the verification steps required to speak to a window agent.

– I checked in at the front desk.

– I completed the form to get my confirmation number.

– I returned to the front to get my service number.

– I waited patiently for my number to be called.

When they called my number, I approached the counter, the agent asked for my printed paperwork and began processing the request without asking any questions.

Everything appeared to be going smoothly as the final paperwork began printing, and after confirming its accuracy, I signed it. Then the agent finally asks, “what were you changing on your license?” “My address,” I replied. After quickly checking the address on my previous license, she explains it’s impossible to change my address to without a piece of mail displaying my new address.

I wondered how this could happen. There were plenty of opportunities for someone to catch a mistake in the verification process.

– There was a human at the door, who I explained to in detail the purpose of my visit. They handed me a form with checkboxes that could verify the documentation requirements, but didn’t ask about or mention that I needed any of them.

– There was another person at the testing center who I specifically called over to my kiosk to ask about my situation. They explained the need for me to select “replacement” from the drop-down menu to address the situation accurately, generated my confirmation number, and moved me along.

– Then there was the window agent, who didn’t ask any questions until the final step of the interaction. Upon realizing the error, I was sure I would be handed back my paperwork and told to return when I had the proper documentation. Instead, they reverted the information on the form to my old address and completed the request. There’s only one way this could happen – Inadequate Training

Inadequate Training

If I were on a computer, this would have never happened. A web designer would have placed a checkbox next to the change of address field that would have required me to upload the required number of documents (PDF or JPEG) to the website before continuing to the next step. Instead, a government employee just agreed to send my government ID to an outdated address, with obsolete information, well-knowing the requirements for this kind of document. I had just completed a process in a way that was detrimental to myself and the State of California. How?

As with all large organizations, a lack of a scalable training solution is most likely the culprit. Properly training employees is an expensive endeavor that doesn’t produce an objective return on investment dollars, and it is impossible to scale without serious investment. Taking the previous factors into consideration, it’s easy to see why organizations consider replacing employees with machines. They have a fixed cost of operation, accurately perform their tasks regardless of emotional factors, and have a positive effect on the company’s bottom line.

As someone who works at a company that specializes in digital learning solutions for situations like these, I was interested in seeing how poorly the system was constructed. The easiest way to confirm a lack of employee training is with the third problem that arises from humans performing administrative work –  Dissemination of Misinformation

Dissemination of Misinformation

To rectify the situation, I went home and did some research on the California DMV’s website, which wasn’t overly specific about the process, but provided me with most of what I needed. I knew I needed address verification documents, and since I was told that a leasing agreement would work, I made the poor assumption one document would do the trick. I then jumped by back in my car to do the unthinkable, make a second trip to the DMV in a single day. This time I was going with the intention of understanding what methods are available to fix this situation.

Upon arrival, I stopped at the same checkpoint designed to provide the first line of verification. After explaining my situation in detail again, the employee did a very noble thing, admitted they didn’t know the answer but committed to finding one for me. Great. They left for about five minutes, and while still in view, I saw them have a lengthy conversation with a person who seemed like they were very knowledgeable. They returned with a particular set of instructions:

– Return to the specific window where you were helped [because they had previously taken my money]

– Have them void the application

– Resubmit the application

I was surprised by the confidence in the solution, and I walked right over to window 27 to have it done. When I reached the window, it was a different story. I handed the agent the instructions, and they immediately seemed frustrated. They asked aloud, “Why would they send you back here when they know I’ll need their codes to do this?” I thought to myself; at least it can be done.

The agent disappeared for a couple of minutes and returned with bad news; I need two pieces of mail to complete the process. Considering they were the person that told me a single document, the leasing agreement, would suffice, I thought the newfound reasoning was strange. When I explained my concern, the agent left again for about five minutes, this time returning with a different answer. The number of documents was no longer the issue, I had to wait until I received the card before I can change the address. Again, strange considering their website displays a specific note that reads:

“If you have applied for a REAL ID Compliant driver license or identification card and not received your card, you must visit a DMV field office, complete a Change of Address (DMV 14) form, and present proof of residency to change your address.”

I’m just a simple man that follows directions, which I was doing, so I was beginning to get frustrated. The situation seemed to be turning towards one where I perceived my request was too inconvenient, and no one wanted to provide the level of “customer service” required to resolve the situation. Which brings us to the heart of the problem -Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service Rep

What we all perceive as customer services is a series of steps designed to resolve human errors that arise from improper verification steps, inadequate training, and misinformation. Somewhere along the way, a mistake was made. It might be on the customer’s side or the vendor’s side.  Either way, how disputes are resolved determines how people view your brand. More importantly, they determine the value we place on the people responsible for interacting on an organization’s behalf.

When people perceive their time or money is being wasted, they’re unlikely to place a high value on the people with whom they interact, or on the services, they provide. When this happens, people are no longer an asset for an organization and become a detractor. When enough people are viewed as detractors, organizations have to decide if human interactions are worth the time and money they consume.

Ultimately, we question the value of humans every time they don’t tell us we’ve signed up for a trial service, or are getting an introductory price. We want better technology every time we lose our phones, and the person at the store won’t transfer our contacts because we aren’t buying anything. We want people fired when they open fake accounts to hit management quotas. Every time an employee does what’s easy, instead of what’s right, they are one step closer to losing their job to a machine.

How Violence in Digital Media Causes Mass Shootings

Police Response

A New Normal

In an unfortunate turn of events, the US experienced two mass shootings within 24 hours, which some politicians will undoubtedly use as an excuse to reignite the debate on violence in digital media. Before I add fuel to the fire, let’s state the obvious. My heart goes out to those affected by the events that transpired in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. Although, I’m sure those affected by the events that occurred are tired of “hearts and condolences” sound bites, and instead, would like to see action taken. Believe it or not, that’s something with which I can help.

Gun Pointed

The object of this post is not to argue the finer points of scientific studies on the correlations between violent media and society. Instead, I think we can all agree; there’s no perfect amount of violence for any media platform; it will always be a matter of taste, and “there’s no accounting for taste.” The objective of this post is relay information on actionable items we can undertake to end this part of the gun violence debate.

While the tech industry hasn’t recently done much to swing public opinion in their favor, when it comes to content control, they got it right. As someone without kids, I’ve always had a strangely keen interest in the subject of parental controls. I always find myself having emotional conversations with parents who claim we haven’t done enough to help them limit what their kids watch. On the other hand, history documents overwhelming responses whenever outsiders criticize the industry on the subject.

Industry Accommodations

Fortnite Player

Since there seems to be such low awareness regarding the amount of control modern devices enable over content, let’s discuss some of the industry’s key elements.

– Parental Controls – limit the type of content that users can access on digital devices. It’s become a generic term to describe the limitations imposed through a variety of applications and systems. You can find control settings in the Play Store, App Store, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Playstation 3, Apple TV, and Roku, to name a few.

– V-chip – is a system designed to limit the type of content viewers can watch on television based on its content rating. The chip has been mandatory in all television sets since 2000 and remains one of the most underutilized features of all time.

– Content Rating Systems – “rate the suitability of tv, broadcasts, movies, comic books, or video games to its audience.” When used in conjunction with parental control systems, they effectively block audiences from viewing content which may not be suitable for them.

In summary, the tech sector has delivered all the components necessary for completing a functioning system, enabling individuals to make informed decisions about the content they access. I admit, they could step up their training and outreach programs about the availability of these features, but one thing they can’t control is participation.

Ultimately, it will be up to us to take the time out of our busy days to learn how to implement these controls on our devices. That accountability always lies with us; there is no one to point fingers at regarding our own responsibilities.

The Content Control Challenge (CCC)

We’re at the part where we attempt to start positive change. Instead of correlating some random act with a good cause, I’m going to try to create a challenge where the actions taken during the challenge have a direct effect on the problem. The challenge is called the Content Control Challenge, it’s on our Facebook page right now, and it requires everyone to set up content controls on at least one of their digital devices. Here’s how to participate.

– Take a photo or screenshot of parental controls screen on the device you’re setting it up.

– Post the picture to Facebook and mention the name of the device

– Tag 5 people you know to take the challenge and raise awareness around content control.

We’ll start…

Top Ten Tips: SEO Edition #4

SEO Tip 4

Over the years, there have been a lot of fancy SEO tools emerging in the marketplace. As part of the effort to make SEO more accessible to non-developers, the first principle is disappearing in the shuffle – keyword management. The core premise of SEO involves making sure the links that appear on search engine results pages (SERPs) are closely related to the words that users type in the search bar, and for that to happen, multiple data points have to converge. As it so happens, all these data points rely on keyword associations.

Keywords are a bit complicated, as most people only understand them from a single perspective. Searchers view them as the words entered into the search bar. Advertisers see them as words that trigger ads. Lastly, developers view them as copy on a website. So which one are they? They’re all of the above, and the synchronization of all of these elements is what produces real SEO results, so I can’t overstate how important it is that you manage your keywords at all times.

Think Like a Customer

Online Purchase

The best advice I ever received from a fellow SEO expert was, “think like a customer and everything else will follow.” Much to his credit, he understood something I didn’t know about internet users, they don’t know the rules of running queries, and keeping that in mind can make all the difference. Typical users input broadly-worded terms as if they are infants learning a language through word association, entering things like, “running shoes,” or “Selma Hayek,” hoping the search engine rewards them by presenting the appropriate object in the same way a parent does when their child learns the word “bottle.”

In contrast to those actions, search engines perform best when users ask proper questions that start with who, what, when, where, and how. Imagine how much better those queries results would be with context like, “Where can I buy running shoes,” or “who do I need to eliminate to date Selma Hayek?” Details like this are essential to consider when working on SEO from the advertising or web development perspectives because we’ll never be able to control the words users enter into search bars.

To give this part of the post some context, we want you to know the top search terms of 2019 through April (https://ahrefs.com/blog/top-google-searches/). You should take note of the quantity, context, and specificity of the words on this list. Most of the world’s queries are singular, service oriented, and brand specific. If your company is on that list, you can probably skip the next section as most of your traffic flows to your website organically, but As for the rest of us, we have to take the intermediate step of paid advertising.

Be the Advertiser

Person pointing to chart

Once you get a clear idea of how people search for things on the internet, you’ll be better equipped to create keywords for your advertising campaigns. Keywords for advertisers serve as the link between what terms online users enter in the search bar, and the products and services a company offers. Precisely picking which words and associations to use is a skill set in and of itself, and we don’t have time to cover that in this post.

If you have ever set up a search advertising campaign through Google, Yahoo, or Bing, you’re probably aware the keywords associated with an ad are manually entered, and it’s entirely up to the advertisers to play the word association game all on their own. If you have the right mindset, one where you’re thinking like your potential customers, then selecting which words to use as triggers for your advertisements comes a bit more naturally than those who are still struggling to remove industry buzzwords from their vocabulary.

Even when you’ve figured out the best words to trigger your ads, you’ll still have to connect the last data point before your website’s SEO really starts to take off. Because most advertisements are designed to be visually appealing, and they don’t include much text, search engines have to gauge the effectiveness of your advertising keywords by how visitors behave when they reach your website. If your ads aren’t producing clicks, or leading visitors to pages that contain any of the keywords associated with the ad, search engines will punish you by lowering the chances your ads appear.

Keywords Count

The easiest way to make sure your ads continue to appear when users enter matching terms in a search bar, and maybe even make it to the 1st page, is by making sure the landing page contains the keywords in the web page’s text. The web page needs to include the words in repetition, and in such a way where it seems natural and doesn’t give search engines the impression you’re “keyword stuffing.” Because the focus of modern websites is often visual, much like advertising, this process sounds a lot easier than it is.

In an earlier post, we warned everybody about the overuse of pictures when designing a website, and this is the moment that advice comes full circle. In that post we noted that search engines couldn’t decipher the content of images, so to figure out what a page is about, they count the number of times words appear on a page and assign those as keywords. Even if you’ve had great success with aligning your keywords up to this point, without matching the actual words on the page to the user’s previous associations, not only will all of your hard work unravel, it will reverse course.

If a search engine observes negative behaviors when users land on a page, like hitting the back button or quickly closing the browser window, search engines determine the final destination was not useful for a particular set of keywords. The search engine responds by lowering the page’s relevance score, making it even tougher for your ads, and website, to appear in association with those keywords. Considering the brutality of the punishment for delivering irrelevant content, I’m always surprised how many businesses don’t know their keywords or haven’t taken any steps to figure them out.

An Easy Fix

We’re pretty far along in our sequence of SEO tips, and if you’re still able to execute this advice on your own, good for you. If you’re not in that boat, but your business heavily relies on internet traffic, it’s time to reach out to an expert. RTR Digital provides a variety of SEO related services, and you can have someone contact you by filling out a short form located here.

How The Model 3 is Destroying Tesla

Tesla Model 3

If the story of Tesla was somehow a metaphor for stories from the Bible, then the Model 3 is Judas making sure everyone at Tesla is on their way to the last supper, assuring their shepherd is approaching his final resting place (that cross is for you Elon). Maybe it was always Tesla’s destiny to be a sacrificial lamb of sorts, ending up in the same situation as many other pioneering companies, often not lasting long enough to see the technology they introduce make it to mainstream profitability. Ultimately, the Model 3 will bring forth a real test of faith in electric car kingdom that Tesla built.

You see, the Model 3 betrays everything consumers love about Tesla, and at the same time reveals those in charge of the company don’t understand their clientele at all. As it turns out, car companies in America only operate in two models, high volume or high margin, and with each comes a specific set of expectations that have to be met if you want to continue in that space. Tesla was the latter, high margin, but the Model 3 changed everything.

Exclusivity

The first expectation of running a high margin, or premium brand, is exclusivity, which when speaking plainly, means these brands produce a low volume of products. Premium brands often justify their product scarcity by including extravagant materials or assembly methods as a part of their production process, enabling product owners to reference things like hand-stitched leather, individually assembled, or first of its kind, when talking to others about their new toys.

Model X with Falcon Doors Open
Photo courtesy of Mashable.com

In Tesla’s case, it’s Falcon Wing doors on the Model X, Ludicrous mode on the Model S, and street legal lithium batteries on the Roadster, that check all the appropriate branding boxes for a premium brand. These features, combined with lower product availability, meant consumers looked forward to random encounters with the vehicles in real life, hoping to catch a glimpse of how a Tesla embodies the concept of cool. Then came the Model 3.

The Model 3 is a contradiction in how premium brands operate, and when Tesla announced it at a $35K price point with the specific goal of being a mass-market vehicle, I could almost hear the other Tesla owners cringing. In the minds of premium brand owners, the proliferation of the Tesla badge to everybody and their mother would seemingly make the symbol on their vehicle less valuable, as if they were mathematically averaging the prices of the cars together. American’s don’t tolerate this kind of behavior. You can’t use the same branding for bargain vehicles as you do for premium ones.

Tesla’s could have easily avoided this mistake by using the same branding strategy as every other car manufacturer in America. In “Merica,” car companies use different brands to divide their consumer base between their operating models, one brand for volume, and another one for margin. That’s why there’s a GM and Cadillac, Infinite and Nissan, Ford and Lincoln, etc.

This two prong approach has enabled U.S. car manufacturers to maintain a certain amount of exclusivity on some brands, while simultaneously achieving the cost efficiencies of scale with another. More importantly, the dual branding strategy protects another expectation of premium brands – cost.

The Cost Correlation

Time to Cost Correlation

When there’s a limited supply of anything, most of the time, the cost of that product naturally increases, delivering a price point that inherently leads to more margin. Premium brands use this natural correlation of exclusivity and cost to perpetuate their brands further, promoting an emotional response that evokes admiration and envy. The combination of these two emotions is what brand experts like to refer to as aspirational, and Ferrari is a perfect example of an aspirational brand.

Do you know why I don’t drive a Ferrari? I can’t afford one, and for the people that can, that is part of the allure of owning one. For everyone with the same budgetary constraints as myself, the astronomical price tag associated with a Ferrari isn’t off-putting, it provides an immediate understanding that a person driving one must be doing pretty well for themselves and makes us wonder how we can achieve the same thing.

Tesla’s vehicles used to inspire the same type of awe as a Ferrari when they pulled into a parking lot, but the release of a reasonably priced version calls everything we know about the brand into question. A Tesla never had the practicality of a Nissan Leaf or the design of a Toyota Prius, and surely didn’t carry a similar price tag. A Tesla was always expensive, exclusive, and impractical, just like an aspirational car brand should be. All of that went out of the window with the Model 3.

Before the Model 3, when people asked me about owning a Tesla, my answer was the same as it is concerning a Ferrari, “I can’t afford one.” Since the release of the Model 3, it’s different, when people ask me why I don’t drive a Tesla, I have to consider if I really want one. Being able to afford one has forced me to consider the features of a Tesla, like reliability, charging time, and driving distance. I had to ask myself, is this the best car for me at 35K? For a lot of consumers, the answer to that question is no, which proposes some harsh realities for Tesla, and the future of electric cars.

Tesla’s Red Pill

Red Pill and Blue Pill

The reason the Model 3 ruined everything about Tesla is that it snapped everyone back to reality, not just consumers, but Tesla was well. Besides exposing previously oblivious consumers to serious considerations about owning an electric vehicle, it also presented questions about Tesla as a car company. The effort to reach critical mass has surfaced several issues about various aspects of Tesla, making everyone consider if they have the production capacity, infrastructure, and sales tools of a high volume brand.

In the end, the production Model 3 broke the rules of a premium brand and made us all lose faith in the dream that made Tesla great. All we’re left with is the harsh reality of having taken the red pill rather than the blue one. I should have heeded the advice of Cypher in the Matrix and realized “ignorance is bliss.”

Feel free to leave comments, questions, or concerns about this article below.