Utilizing AI and other automation tools to enhance the delivery of human services can make exclusive services like career coaching available to more people. But for this to happen, the human and tech aspects of a service must be balanced.
My study of 65+ startups operating as tech-enhanced human services (TEHS) suggests that while companies should be ambitious about what tech can do for scaling a human service, they should also ensure that the human component of the service is not compromised.
The rise of tech-enhanced human services
Many startups are automating parts of tasks historically performed by people while holding on to the human quotient for the parts that provide the best outcomes for clients.
This is based on the premise that because certain services, like concierges, require people as part of the solution, fully automated apps are not enough. But, human time is often expensive and limited.
By integrating technology with human expertise, companies can render their services more affordable and accessible.
TEHS companies can be found in numerous industries — I’ve identified 66 such companies, of which 19 are unicorns operating in over 10 verticals. These companies all use various technologies to streamline parts of their service that require the time of a human expert.
For example, Wishi connects people with experts who help them shop for clothing and other personal items online. It uses surveys and algorithms to match clients’ preferences to clothing inventory. This is further curated down to a final product list by style experts who chat with clients about individual needs, including specific attire for events or incorporating the requirements of a medical condition.
By reducing the time a stylist needs to spend on the process, Wishi is able to charge $40 to $90 per client. The company’s co-founder, Clea O’Hana, says partners like Farfetch and Saks Fifth Avenue who use Wishi have seen a sharp increase in transactions.
“[That’s] thanks to the more granular data we capture from clients and the relation of trust they have with their stylist,” says O’Hana.
Is my service “tech-enhanceable”?
Three conditions appear necessary for a company to enhance their service with tech.