This article was originally published in Forbes.
As Artificial Intelligence systems have gained steam in 2023, so too have business efforts to implement them into their day-to-day operations.
Many companies are feeling pressure to adapt as the integration of AI into operations has been extremely fast in many industries. If a business doesn’t embrace the new technology soon, they will be behind the competition, right?
In general, yes. Every business should be actively exploring how AI will change the way they do business. But when dealing with such transformational advances in technology, the best course of action is more nuanced. The accelerated pace of innovation in AI means today’s best of breed solutions may be surpassed within weeks or months, making a commitment to any given solution high risk. Second, the accelerated pace of AI adoption means that the technology will quickly move from a differentiator to standard practice.
That means it is important to implement carefully, with ample thought given to the impact integration will have on employees and customers. A rushed implementation could turn out to decrease the quality of customer service and be a blow to employee satisfaction if the focus is on a fast rollout.
It is better to give thought to the internal and external impact at the onset of the project to ensure that AI integration is a net benefit – this ensures that the differentiator is ‘using AI effectively’ rather than just ‘using AI’. Down the road when competitors are scrambling to recover customer satisfaction due to rushed AI implementation, a business that was thoughtful about the investment will be comfortably ahead of the curve.
Employee satisfaction suffers when AI takes over the ‘little wins’
Consider this case in the logistics industry: Before introducing AI, most of an operator’s day would consist of standard day-to-day activities like updating customers on freight deliveries, tracking freight, entering system data, etc. These are relatively easy tasks – or ‘little wins’ –that usually go according to plan and provide opportunities for positive interactions with customers.
A smaller portion of an operator’s day is spent problem-solving issues like rescheduling missed pickups or deliveries, fixing data errors, and informing customers of problems. These tasks are more stressful but generally make up a smaller amount of the day than the ‘little wins’ and therefore have less of a negative impact on employee satisfaction.
In this case, if AI is implemented as the main point of contact between a business and its customers, it has a negative impact on the operators. If a chatbot is taking over standard updates and leaving complicated problem-solving to the operators, the ratio of time spent on ‘little wins’ versus problem-solving will flip, meaning operators will spend a much larger chunk of their days completing more strenuous, stressful tasks. This could quickly lead to employees becoming unhappy if they are constantly dealing with issues and only contacting customers to have difficult conversations.
Brand loyalty suffers when human relationships take a back seat
AI integration has massive potential to streamline processes and take over many instances of customer service. However, if a customer is mostly in contact with a bot rather than a human being, many of the perks of direct customer service become lost. No matter how human a chatbot can appear, it can’t replicate interpersonal relationships that develop naturally when a customer works with the same operator daily.
These relationships are extremely important as customers evaluate their service partnerships. Partners who have cultivated relationships through collaborative problem solving, daily small talk, and ‘little win’ conversations are generally trusted far more than transactional partners.
If a chatbot takes over all ‘little win’ conversations, the customer and human service representative lose their “partners in success” relationship. The customer will begin to see their service rep as a bearer of bad news and their perception of the service received will suffer.
According to Salesforce in this report, 88% of B2B customers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its services or products. The same percentage of customers report that trust becomes more important during times of change. What does this mean? Customers only tend to maintain partnerships if the relationship, trust, and service are all high-quality.
So, how can you take advantage of the benefits of AI integration while avoiding the pitfalls?
It is important to know the relationship dynamic between your customers and the operators within your business. Replacing all customer interactions with AI chatbots or complete automation can be a serious problem for both your own employees and your customers.
Keeping this in mind, it is crucial to introduce AI gradually and without intent to replace specialized human positions. This allows for an adjustment period in which your operators and customers can learn the tool and adjust to it. Employee facing tools and resources can provide staff with a wealth of information to enhance the number of ‘little wins’ and strengthen the human customer relationship—and in turn, brand loyalty.
AI is not a replacement for human understanding in customer relationships. Empathy, emotion, and a deep understanding of each customer’s human needs is what builds trust and loyalty. Your employees become aware of the needs of your clients through their interactions with them: picking up subtle clues on how they feel through their speaking tone, pain points they’ve shared, and wins they see as valuable. AI, however advanced, is not capable of these subtleties.
Maintaining the balance of human-bot interaction is crucial to successfully transforming your business with AI. Provide automated solutions to customers where efficiency makes sense and empower your employees with tools and resources when communication and clarity is key.
AI is a rapidly developing technology and businesses that are too rushed or reactive with their plans run the risk of sacrificing trust and loyalty with customers and falling behind competitors. Those that are willing to make changes, analyze results, and continue to adapt will come out on top.
After AI is saturated through industries, it will no longer be a differentiator. The customer experience will come full circle, back to human relationships and trust taking center stage in a business relationship. Don’t lose focus on relationships rushing into new technology.
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