EQ in the AI age: Humans and machines must work together

It is no longer a question of whether humans and machine can or cannot work together; it’s a case of not having a choice.

People simply must be freed up from the highly repetitive and predictable work that is within the capacity of machines, so they can ‘stitch together’ the best customer experience, ensuring every touchpoint is relevant to customer needs.

This proliferation of AI and machine learning is not something we should legitimately fear. Humans and machines working side-by-side have created some of the best advancements in the human race.

  • It was humans and machines together that landed us on the moon.
  • It was humans and machines together that cracked the Enigma code during World War II.
  • It was a human and machine working together that allowed the great mind of Stephen Hawking to continue to share his brilliance with the world after developing motor neuron disease.

AI and machine learning can be our greatest marketing ally if used correctly. And while machines can never replace the uniquely human ability for brilliance, original thought, creativity and care, when it comes to marketing, AI can boost our analytical and decision-making abilities and ultimately heighten our creativity.

Cognitive technology, machine learning or artificial intelligence has always had a way of capturing our imaginations.  So much so that everybody with an algorithm will tell you they have AI technology. That’s not necessarily the case. And this culture of misinformation makes it hard to know what’s real and what’s not – there are different levels of AI and businesses must understand them when considering any solution.

Much like the industrial revolution before it, the digital revolution has changed our work from creating things to overseeing machines that create things for us. And now cognitive technology is poised to have us working alongside machines, not in competition with them, with “robots” massively extending our capabilities and results.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Ken Goldberg, professor of engineering at UC Berkeley, introduced the concept of ‘multiplicity’ to describe how AI will influence future workforces. He coined the term to encompass the reality of AI in a workforce, where the machine augments the efficiency of humans.  Multiplicity describes a hybrid workforce comprised of a diverse group of AI’s and humans working together to achieve superior results compared to what either group could accomplish working alone.

Despite a recent global study by PwC that found that an overwhelming majority of customers prefer human contact over automation, it doesn’t mean technology should play second fiddle in the customer experience dynamic. The complexity of managing customer experiences continues to grow alongside the increasing number of customer touchpoints within every business. As online channels continue to proliferate everyday life, most businesses these days not only have a website, email and phone number, they also have live chat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and any number of other channels where customers can reach them. It is beyond the capacity of humans alone to effectively manage so many disparate touchpoints effectively and efficiently.  

This is why businesses should view AI technology as an enabler of human interactions instead of a substitute for them. As customer experiences become a cornerstone of competitive advantage, many companies are automating their multiple touchpoints across the customer journey. However, the best customer experiences are those that balance machines and humans to support company strategy and market position building trust and loyalty with customers.

When it comes to customer experience, there is no doubt that machines have removed some of the menial tasks such as answering simple and repetitive, fact-based questions. What a machine can do beautifully is to free us from these menial, repetitive tasks, to instead provide a customer experience that people remember and talk about. But there are certain jobs machines simply cannot do at all, or as well as humans. 

At the Big Red Group (BRG) we have a large customer experience team who support customers for a number of brands including RedBalloon, Adrenaline and IfOnly.

One of our team members recently received an inbound customer call. The customer immediately asked for the call not to be recorded stating his enquiry was of a sensitive nature. The customer shared that he had been diagnosed with clinical depression a year ago and had been undergoing treatment. During this time, his family had gifted him something he has always wanted to do – a skydive experience. However, his voucher had expired and he didn’t want his family to feel as though they had thrown away their money. His plea to us was to extend his voucher to allow him to take-up the experience.

This customer request required probably the most human behaviour you can ask for… empathy. The customer experience representative made the call to honour this experience. This customer contacted us after his experience and told us his world had been changed. He explained that the skydive was the best thing he’s ever done, and to him it was a real turning point in his healing process.

This is just one example where humans have been able to employ their unique EQ to a situation and ensure a favourable outcome for the customer. Had a bot, a machine or a piece of AI technology been assigned the same task, the outcome would have been very different. 

Machines can only operate within the parameters of the rules and restrictions set for them by humans – they cannot employ common sense, emotional intelligence or empathy when dealing with a customer. 

And that is why there is a real need for machines and humans to work together to ensure business success and optimum customer experience. AI will take care of routine and repetitive optimisation tasks, freeing us humans to spend more time on providing understanding, warmth and compassion.