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Are Relocation Professionals Robot-Proof?

Ever wonder how artificial intelligence would affect the corporate relocation industry? Could robots ever take over?

Clearly, there is expanding reliance on technology applications, especially to track and report data and manage administration processes. But among the tech tools, many corporate programs feature personalized consultation that Relocation Management Company (RMC) counselors provide to assignees throughout the process. The counselor or consultant coordinates employer-provided services and facilitates the move to the new location. Besides relocation subject expertise and service delivery, counselor performance is assessed on various interpersonal skills, including knowledge and explanation of mobility policies, responsiveness to assignees’ needs and problem-solving ability.

The job of a corporate relocation counselor can be challenging for many reasons. First, each assignee’s situation tends to differ, so no two relocations are exactly alike. Also, counselors interact with individuals and families during a typically high-stress period—uprooting and moving one’s residence while starting a new job assignment. Counselors can handle 50 or more transfers at a time, although caseload depends on policy/program complexity and whether assignees are renters or homeowners. To succeed in this environment, counselors’ skillsets must include strong interpersonal and critical thinking skills.

While relocation department staff skill requirements are not identical, there is much similarity. In addition to local real estate expertise, relocation department staff must also possess the same high-service mentality and interpersonal qualities as RMC consultants. Other skills that similarly benefit both roles include critical thinking, discerning judgment and creativity—all needed to handle diverse situations arising during home marketing, negotiation and home search processes. These qualities and a desire to help assignees and families navigate the often-stressful relocation process are vital whether in a corporate or real estate brokerage setting.

So, could we ever see automated relocation professionals? Probably not soon. Research indicates it won’t be easy for artificial intelligence to duplicate jobs that depend on social and other ‘humanistic’ skills.

More Consultative – Less Robotic
One of five main themes about tech age job training according to “The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training” (Pew Research Center, 2017), is that “Learners must cultivate 21st century skills, capabilities and attributes” to protect their jobs from robots. The research further explains that “Tough-to-teach intangibles such as emotional intelligence, curiosity, creativity, adaptability, resilience and critical thinking will be most highly valued.” Add empathy, and these are many of the personal characteristics that RMC consultants and relocation department staff use daily to successfully interact with assignees on the phone and in the field.

Other research on this topic indicate similar findings. According to “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” a paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, University of Oxford, telemarketing jobs are most likely to be done by a robot. No surprise there. The study also found that mental health and social services jobs had much less chance of being automated, because they ranked high in “…cleverness, negotiation and helping others.”

Not surprisingly, the relocation industry draws many with backgrounds and work experience in education/teaching and the social sciences. Relocation department personnel having these backgrounds or interests could be in a sweet spot to consider other types of corporate mobility positions, as well.

Hone Humanistic Skills
Corporate clients expect assignees to have superior relocation experiences. In fact, most collect and review service satisfaction ratings of RMCs and often, other professionals that interact directly with assignees, including relocation department staff.

Employers’ policy assistance usually includes home finding and household goods transportation services and sometimes home marketing and home sale assistance. Most corporate transfer populations include various eligibility levels ranging from minimal guidance to highly customized, personal concierge services. Regardless of eligibility level, though, home marketing and destination service assignments usually present opportunities for relocation department staff to practice consultative skills.

Transformative technology surely is afoot in the relocation and real estate industries. But tech tools should reduce administrative tasks allowing time to refine advisory-based services.  You know—those “21st century capabilities and attributes” that may help robot-proof jobs.

Robots are a long way from being able to empathize while providing expert counsel for the myriad of challenges that can occur during a relocation. So, if you possess the right qualities and interests and decide corporate mobility is a good niche market, don’t worry—the robots will be a bit delayed in arriving.

Peg Guinta, CRP, is projects director for RIS Consulting Group. For questions, please email peg@rismedia.com.

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