PSFK 2017 Speaker Interview: The Importance Of Human Touch In The IoT Age

PSFK 2017 Speaker Interview: The Importance Of Human Touch In The IoT Age
Design

Alfred co-founder and PSFK 2017 keynote speaker Marcela Sapone shares why the human element still matters at home

Matt Vitone
  • 18 may 2017

A home that knows what temperature your bedroom ought to be without you having to ask, that knows when the lights should come on at night, or when the radio should turn on in the morning. That’s the dream of an IoT-enabled home, which promises to make our lives less complicated and more enjoyable by taking care of the mundane tasks and duties we don’t have time to think about. But what about a home that knows our thoughts and emotions? AI has come a long way, but digital home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa still fall short of fulfilling these needs. That’s where Alfred, a home planning and management service, hopes to fill the gap.

Alfred’s Home Managers perform those boring, routine tasks for you, but also get to know you and your preferences in a way that’s deeper and more intuitive than a simple set of data points on a spreadsheet. In a chat with PSFK, Alfred co-founder and PSFK 2017 speaker Marcela Sapone discusses how her company sits at the corner of tech and service, and how she sees IoT playing out in the home.

Marcela will be getting to the heart of tech and home service at our PSFK 2017 conference on May 19. Get your tickets today before they sell out!

What will you be talking about at PSFK 2017?

I’ll speak about one of the most important spaces in our lives: our homes to show why they haven’t evolved at the pace of other technology, but why the interplay between technology and highly trained humans bridges the challenge to create something entirely new—a world where service is built into our everyday lives and space anticipates us proactively and practically to take care of us and invite us to concentrate and spend our time on the things that count. The goal is to share a picture of the future, inspire creativity about new possibilities and give people a few ways they can influence the outcome as consumers.

Alfred is really bringing back the human element in an increasingly technological world. Could you perhaps expand on this point and talk about why that’s so meaningful to Alfred customers, and what it means to the business?

Technical innovation is amazing and justly celebrated. But it doesn’t solve everything and has extreme limitations at times. In culture, tech can sometimes be seen as a panacea that will solve every modern problem of life. But the reality is, the core of what we do is hospitality. And hospitality requires the very human characteristics of intuition, of empathy, of anticipation, and also just the ability to care for someone else and be kind. These rituals, routines and sensibilities have been passed down for millennia and have a very profound and modern application. So, while we use tech, it is in service of these amazing human qualities. We also believe that people should have good jobs, they derive meaning from—and have the opportunity for great training and benefits—not just be looked at as a means to an end or a cell in a spreadsheet. I think that differentiates us from a lot of other players in the on-demand world.

One interesting tidbit from our last chat was that Alfred customers actually spend more money on products purchased through Alfred than Amazon. Why is that?

I think we have a real, trust-based relationship with people. Because of the human factor, there is a relationship, someone caring for you, looking out for you. This can transcend the idea of a website thinking they know you because they know your click or purchase history. That is often very imperfect information. We also make it very easy for people and remove friction: you can have a handyman come without having to be in the country, you can have those shoes grabbed from your closet and re-soled before your big event. People end up using us for more and more services.

Is IoT a threat to your business? Do you ever see a time when a computer/robot can do all the same things Alfred home assistants do now?

We think that the smart home has been over hyped. Sure, you can have your Philips Hue change colors when your team wins, but does that really add tangible value to your life? I don’t think so. A fridge telling you that it’s out of eggs is kinda interesting, but unless the eggs can appear in the fridge automatically then it’s just gimmicky and just is another way to put something on your to-do list. Our take is that when you combine tech and human hospitality, you can create an instinctual home. We want to leapfrog the smart home into something more powerful, integrated, and valuable.

Alfred has grown very quickly in a short space of time. Looking at some recent blunders in the service industry (Uber, United Airlines), what are some basic principles that have allowed Alfred to maintain growth while also respecting customers and employees alike?

First, we vet, hire and train exceptional people that love what they do. Then, our training standards are very, very refined down to the minute detail of what goes where and how to handle everything in a home. We are also very transparent in breaking down any problems, understanding the fundamental causes, and learning quickly from our mistakes. In any customer facing business, mistakes will happen—we are not perfect and are doing our jobs in a dynamic reality where service providers and partners aren’t going to always nail it. Imperfection is part of the human experience, and we embrace that because those moments are in fact where you build the most trust in a short period of time. But if you have a great relationship with a customer, and communicate transparently and effectively, you can solve problems and maintain goodwill.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Innovation with Purpose.” How do you find purpose in your work?

We are fortunate to have purpose built into the first thought of this company. We want to do a few things: 1. Create a service that adds value to people by giving them time back to live 2. Create good jobs for employees, treat them well, and give them the chance to grow 3. Support local communities and small business. We do and buy a lot of things for people in several cities and we want to recognize the great small businesses and entrepreneurs that strive to do well, day in and day out. There’s a lot to do, but I think the team is nicely united under this vision and that we are on the right track.

Alfred

Marcela will be getting to the heart of tech and home service at our PSFK 2017 conference on May 19. Get your tickets today before they sell out!

A home that knows what temperature your bedroom ought to be without you having to ask, that knows when the lights should come on at night, or when the radio should turn on in the morning. That’s the dream of an IoT-enabled home, which promises to make our lives less complicated and more enjoyable by taking care of the mundane tasks and duties we don’t have time to think about. But what about a home that knows our thoughts and emotions? AI has come a long way, but digital home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa still fall short of fulfilling these needs. That’s where Alfred, a home planning and management service, hopes to fill the gap.

+alfred
+Design
+home
+internet of things
+Interview
+IoT
+IoT
+marcela sapone
+psfk 2017
+Public

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