With automation becoming more and more sought after, what common tasks should remain sacred?

Automation has, for years, been the ‘holy grail’ of business – helping businesses to drive efficiency, lower costs, increase productivity.

Who can even remember calling a bank, a telco or a utility provider and speaking to a human? We go to fast food restaurants and place our own orders on a screen. Manufacturers have long used robots rather than people. Artificial Intelligence means that tasks that were seen as only possible for humans are now commonly carried out by machines. Machines beat humans at chess, diagnose illness and even make life and death driving decisions. Jobs that were once done by people are increasingly being done by automatons, and the trend is increasing: a study by the McKinsey Global Institute predicted that, by 2025, robots could jeopardise between 40m and 75m jobs worldwide.

So, in this world of increasing automation – are there any business tasks that remain sacrosanct for humans? Are there any ‘no go’ areas for robots? What are the roles that we flesh and blood people need to hold onto, no matter what?

In the Forbes Magazine article, ’10 things robots can’t do better than humans’ customer experience futurist Blake Morgan suggests this list:

  • Look you in the eye
  • Consider the feelings of the other person
  • Make a person feel seen or heard
  • Feel empathy
  • Feel sympathy
  • Make a person feel taken care of
  • Understand comedy
  • Establish trust
  • Be a critical and creative thinker
  • Deliver bad news well

Based Morgan’s assessment of the limitations of robots, there are some common business tasks that clearly are best left in the hands of people:


‘People buy robots’ – said nobody, ever. We know that good customer relationships and sales are based on personal interaction. The ability to understand a client’s environment and their needs, stated and unstated, draws on many of the skills that robots simply don’t have. You’d never buy from someone who didn’t make eye contact, nor from someone who didn’t make you feel heard and understood. Trust is essential, often helped along by a measure of humour, and finding the right solution to a client’s requirements needs critical and creative thinking.

Customer communication

There is, arguably, a place for automation in communication, with tools like Mailchimp allowing mass emails to be sent. But, these are usually used for people you don’t (yet) know – the clue is in the name; ‘mass marketing’. But once someone has become a valued customer, known to you, then human forms of communication – by phone, meetings and personal emails – are going to be far more effective.

Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice and director of Retail Zoo, tells the story of calling at one of her offices to find no receptionist. She was told the role had been deemed unnecessary because they now had an automated phone system. Allis immediately reversed that decision, because she felt passionately that she wanted her customers to be greeted by a person.

Network building

Relationships with business partners, sponsors, influencers, recommenders, advocates and stakeholders are as important as those with clients. Again, there may be tools that help, such as LinkedIn, and some great networking has started using them, but ultimately there is no substitute for the human voice, handshake and eye contact that a robot cannot come anywhere close to emulating.


“You’re fired” is the brutal message on The Apprentice. But even there, though it is brief and harsh, the message is delivered by a human. Imagine receiving that message via an automated message. Delivering bad news well, as identified by Morgan in her article, is a valuable skill and one which robots do not have in their armoury. Combine this with considering feelings, making people feel heard and eye contact and you have very strong reasons why this should never be automated.


If there is a single role that requires all of the 10 qualities lacking in a robot, then it’s leadership. No-one wants to follow an automaton – they want to be inspired by a leader’s thinking and warmed by their empathy and sympathy. They want to feel loyalty to the person who listens to them, looks at them and considers their feelings. They want to share good times with humour and respect someone who delivers bad news well.

So next time you’re talking to that robot at the bank, or ordering from a screen, don’t fear that automation is taking over the world. Smart though they may be, robots can’t do it all and there are plenty of tasks that are still firmly in the hands of the humans.

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