Wanted: Soft Skills in a Technologically Advanced World

Younger generations are craving a more fulfilling connection than we know, but they need to be educated and inspired on how to do it.

I walk into an elevator at a hotel where I am training, and as the door starts to close, I see a hand slice through the air. As it springs back open, a young man of 25 walks into the small space we are about to share for 30 seconds. He immediately reaches for his phone to avoid looking at me, but I strike up a conversation.

“Just in time,” I smile.

He mumbles, “Yeah, I’m always rushing.”

I cheerfully ask, “What are you doing at the hotel?”

He responds in a disconnected tone, “Visiting my sister.”

I continue jubilantly, “That sounds fun. I’m excited because I’m here to train the hotel front desk staff on legendary customer service and sales.”

He looks up from his phone with curiosity as I continue. “Where you can make a difference just by smiling, talking/listening to guests, fulfilling needs and going the extra miles to touch people’s lives. I love it! When I walk out, they really feel like they’ve found purpose in their jobs.”

He perks up, “That’s cool. Soft skills are really missing in the world today, especially with the people of my age group.”

That struck a chord with me! Younger generations are craving a more fulfilling connection than we know, but they need to be educated and inspired on how to do it.

Human-to-Human Disconnect

With technology advancing at lightning speed, the opportunity for face-to-face engagement is decreasing quickly. How are companies going to compete when technology is advancing and loudly taking over consumer purchasing? Building their company Websites and ease of use can make sense, but that’s only half the equation. Having a workforce with exceptional soft skills is the other half. Studies show that people choose to buy from people and require exceptional customer service experiences, but will turn to technology for lower prices and avoidance of bad service. Technology has proven to be an effective way for information to travel fast to a worldwide audience, but it doesn’t always provide the lasting fulfillment people desire in their lives and in their jobs.

Because of technological advancements, the threat of disconnection on a human-to-human level is extreme, and employers have to do something now to stay competitive in the marketplace and help the world at large. Educating and motivating their employees on soft skills is an obvious remedy. It’s a challenging proposition but in order to stop technology from making all businesses merely a commodity, soft skills training will become even more relevant.

A study done a year ago by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in partnership with American Express (AXP), found that more than 60 percent of managers agree that soft skills are most important when evaluating an employee’s performance, followed by 32 percent citing hard skills, and only 7 percent citing social media skills. Face-to-face communication is lacking, because so much of an employee’s time is spent on devices, not interacting with other human beings.

Southwest Airlines invests heavily in its own “Southwest University,” where it trains on everything from customer service/support to leadership for flight attendants, pilots, and management. Why does Southwest invest so much in its people? Its answer, “Happy Employees make Happy Customers, resulting in bottom-line results.” The goal is to always support that mission.

Tips to Consider

What steps can employers take to move their employees’ focus away from screens and back to the customers (and coworkers)?

  • Awareness: A mindful society is becoming more and more important in this world of fast-moving, ever-changing technology. It’s important to monitor the internal and external soft skills of your workforce. Watch the level of communication and engagement. See if your employees are connecting to their co-workers, working as a collaborative team, and showing the respect your customers and their own co-workers deserve.
  • Redefine Your Mission: Ensure that the company is aligned with a work ethic that shows that each employee is important and instrumental to the company’s success. Demonstrate the willingness to invest in the betterment of your employees through training and education.
  • Motivate by Setting an Example: Are you acknowledging your employees, making the connection, communicating, and showing you care? Upper management needs to smile, say hello, and personally thank and reward employees for a job well done. Everything starts from the top. Training has taught me that the happiest employees are the ones who feel upper management cares about their well-being, which includes providing motivation and education.
  • Training: What employers can do to be ahead of the curve is provide a soft skills training program to create a foundation that will set the bar for what’s expected from their employees. The investment in face-to-face, interactive soft skills training is invaluable to any organization. Soft skills are essential on many different levels, not only for how we treat our clients, but how we communicate with each other every day.
  • Reinforcement: To provide training that sticks, it’s essential to have measurement and follow-up reinforcement training. Without the reminders and the practice, it’s difficult to continue the skills and behavior. Technology often becomes the default for communication at many levels throughout an organization, so we need to challenge ourselves to always be mindful if this is the best way to be servicing our clients in an exceptional way.

In a world that is moving so fast and with information at our fingertips 24/7, Millennials and Generation Zers could become afraid to make the necessary connections that will keep society and business thriving in a healthy, productive, meaningful way. As employers, we have an obligation to ensure our employees don’t miss out on these connections by helping them to step away from their devices and interact in the real world around them.

Alissa Friedman is a Training Account  manager at Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.

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