Liechtenstein’s diplomats faced similar challenges during the COVID-19 crisis as other businesses. Face-to-face interactions were restricted, and digital tools were the only way to communicate. Why diplomacy will never go completely digital, and what it has in common with private business.

The COVID-pandemic has accelerated digitalization in many ways, not only in the private sector but also in government. When human contact got restricted, government employees, public offices, and politicians had to minimize their interactions. That was also the case for Liechtenstein’s diplomatic representatives abroad.

Digital platforms facilitate conferences

Depending on where they are and what the COVID-situation is like, Liechtenstein’s diplomats had more or less trouble since the onset of the pandemic. While Liechtenstein’s representatives in Vienna could keep their offices open since the pandemic started, others had to shut their doors.

Maria-Pia Kothbauer, Liechtenstein‘s chief diplomat in Austria, says Austria has managed the crisis well. However, as many of the measurements taken in Austria have also impacted Liechtenstein, for example, border controls and testing or restrictions of cross-border movement, the diplomatic representatives had more work than usual.

Digital tools have also helped diplomats to keep up their good work during the crisis. “Physical meetings with the representatives of Austria or other embassies were restricted because of the legal regulations,” said Kothbauer in an interview with the local news page Vaterland.li.

Digital Platforms have established themselves as an alternative. Conferences are possible with simultaneous translations. Diplomats communicate via video chat. “I believe that’s also an opportunity, especially for Liechtenstein’s diplomatic service, which is well-equipped in terms of technologies.”

Face-to-face interaction remains key

Nevertheless, Diplomacy cannot be entirely digital, says Kothbauer, “It’s unlikely that there will be a digitalization of diplomacy in the future.” But she believes it will be interesting to see which formats diplomats will use in the future for conferences and events.

What’s true for diplomats is undoubtedly also true for private businesses. Digital platforms and tools will not replace face-to-face human intervention. Automation will replace manual processes and thus make back-office operations less dependent on humans. But in the front office, humans will still be needed.

All those human resources that will become available as they are not needed anymore for many processes will enable companies to put much more effort into their service quality. That’s also the case for digital businesses. Digital businesses make a mistake when thinking they wouldn’t need a customer service that is not at least as good as their analog counterparts. On the other hand, those businesses that can combine modern digital tools and high-quality human customer service are well-set for the future. In that regard, Liechtenstein’s Diplomacy and its private business landscape are not that different: Both need digital tools, but human interaction will remain a crucial part of their operations.

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