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Real World Examples Of How Psychology Could Improve Machine Operations

In my last blog, “Make the most of your people and you’ll make the most of your machines” I proposed a thesis that machine owners and service providers could increase the useful working life of machinery and equipment and save significant cost by using simple human psychology. In this blog, I’m going use four examples of how others have appealed to different aspects of the human psyche, and how we can learn from their success.

The first is the humanisation of machines. Ever since I was a small boy, it has been well accepted that the family car not only gets a name, but that it has a personality of its own and is an essential part of family adventures. The Tamagotchi craze got hold of this concept, and by 1996, the owners of over 80 million handheld virtual pets were nurturing and caring for, well, an electronic dongle.

When you think about it, this obsession may seem irrational and crazy. Yet, Tamagotchi harnessed the ability to make consumers develop a personal attachment through the humanization of machines; resulting in intensely rewarding results, both for users and suppliers. I’m sure that we haven’t heard the last of them. 

The next idea is the notion of the quantified self. Appification has transformed our sense of self by providing an effortless, simple to access data feedback loop. The most obvious example is the current phenomenon of fitness watches – a whole industry which has been driven by a seemingly arbitrary goal of walking 10,000 steps every day.

Around 3 million wearable fitness devices were shipped to the UK in 2015 alone. By giving users statistics about their steps per day, heart rate and sleep pattern, to name a few, it encourages self-improvement. In light of this, interweaving this concept of self-knowledge and self-improvement into machine existence can help to achieve systematic improvement.

This brings us on nicely to my third example; reward and recognition. Forgive me for generalizing, but people get a kick out of hitting personal goals and receiving recognition through points or badges. This is a far better stimulus than the carrot and stick approach. If you are a Fitbit user, you will know only too well the joy of hitting every goal for the day and turning your phone screen green. Reward and recognition not only taps into the human psychology of collecting, but also stimulates positive behavioural conditioning.

For those not health obsessed, consider the reward system embedded in TripAdvisor. Contributing to the website by writing reviews for other travellers builds your profile, enhancing your perceived authority by awarding recognition badges. With 115 new contributions per minute, and over 300 million users, it’s clear that their system works. 

Finally, let’s consider self-diagnostics. This concept has been well adopted by the makers of today’s printers, which automatically tell us when there’s a paper jam, if hoppers are low or when a cartridge is in need of replacement. Mine even tells me which e-tailers have stock of the part, together with prices. With the rise of Internet of Things technology, our washing machines, fridges, and ovens can tell us how to improve their well-being (or make sure they are well stocked).

So here’s the question, how do we introduce this into the world of telematics?

If, e.g., we link the notion self-diagnostics with the idea of quantified self, it’s possible to create a data portrait of the goings on inside any machine. From there we can develop a simple approach to nudge or prompt users to change behaviour by showing the consequences of their actions, or non-actions, as well as the path to improved outcomes.

But more than that, the gamification of machine operations can not only mean a more engaged operator, but also enable managers to track user status and progress, as well as prompting improvements in real time. This can be the basis for reward, not to mention the more valuable conferring of bragging rights.

These ideas come down to the reality that people form relationships with machines. We know from our own face-to face research that machine operators take a great deal of pride in what they do and the way they achieve it. There is also professional rivalry when it comes to the ability to work and look after a machine. Positive behaviours can be harnessed and propagated when we make it easy to measure, compare, and incentivize using smartphones and gamified approaches.

The potential results should be attractive to any business - machine life extended by 40%, repair and services cost reduced by a fifth, improved uptime and increased residual values.

Saving costs, together with the other outcome - improved operator care - is something which should be high on the agenda of the professional construction company.

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