AI technology needs a dose of empathy

As AI becomes interwoven into our lives through smart speakers or IoT devices, the potential to gauge customer sentiments and emotional signals from the emerging data is an untapped opportunity

Updated: Nov 4, 2019 05:26:56 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

In Star Wars, C-3PO, a humanoid, is devastated to hear the news of the ‘death’ of R2-D2, its fellow humanoid comrade. As R2 is taken away to be repaired, C-3PO exclaims, “You've got to come back. You wouldn't want my life to be boring, would you?”

It’s notable that in the year 1977, director George Lucas envisioned artificial intelligence with a high emotional quotient. Today, we are still pondering the prospect of “machines with emotions”. Can technology evolve to catalyse human agency with automated decisions that are warmer and “empathetic”?

Today, we are more 'connected' than ever and have an array of channels to communicate. However, there is still a void. The ever-evolving technology around us doesn’t exhibit any emotional traits. After all, the software follows instructions, even if it means bombarding your phone repeatedly with notifications.

Is Artificial Intelligence cold and impersonal?
As businesses grapple with customer service issues, they are turning to AI to rebuild trust with their customers. But not all customers are necessarily ready for this shift. A study by Pegasystems and Savanta reports that only 30 percent of consumers were comfortable with businesses using AI to interact with them, while 70 percent still prefer speaking to a human at the other end of the line.

Although we have seen intermittent progress to enable human-like qualities in technology, such as Duplex mimicking human conversations, we have just started this journey. As AI becomes interwoven into our lives through smart speakers or IoT devices, the potential to gauge customer sentiments and emotional signals from the emerging data is an untapped opportunity. Data analysis and AI application can help make interactions compassionate—for example, only sending offers that the customer might want and is able to afford. AI will guide enterprises towards the next best action in every customer situation, which sometimes might actually be not taking any action at all.

Orchestrating empathy at scale
Humans are capable of empathy. However, they might not be able to exhibit it aptly everytime. Given human agents at contact centers deal with hundreds of customers, it is not humanly possible to retain all the information they would need to contextualise behavioural signals and patterns to act accordingly. This is where intelligent systems can augment human interactions with customers. It can analyse petabytes of data by applying machine learning and natural language processing to understand a customer’s emotional state, and analyse these contextual signals and can suggests a range of actions in real time. This serves as a guide for agents to choose the most appropriate action, building customer trust and loyalty. Some automated systems can even handle customer conversations without human intervention by infusing empathy through chatbots, voice assistants or voice response channels like IVRS.

Apart from customer service, marketing and sales functions can also benefit from intelligent empathy. Through AI technology that seamlessly connects these functions, organisations can now operationalise empathy at scale. This can be done by categorising various elements of empathy into customer objects and business objectives towards ensuring a mutually beneficial relationship between the two sides:

  1. Customer objectives:
    1. Intent: Have we considered all the reasons behind a customer’s request?
    2. Mood: Is the current customer’s frame of mind ideal for selling?
    3. Context: Can historic data or current environment signals show us how to improve the conversation?
  1. Business objectives:
    1. Relevance: Does the offer match the customer’s current interests?
    2. Suitability: Is the offer appropriate for the customer, including their current financial situation?
    3. Value: Can it drive value for the customer and benefit the business as well?
    4. Risk: Are the recommended offers compliant with existing regulations & ethics?

Rebuilding trust in tech
The new normal today is how humane organisations can become. Customers expect brands to be authentic and transparent, not inconsiderate or indifferent. The path companies choose can turn their customers into brand loyalists or brand slayers. The bigger picture lies in retooling the technological architecture for customers to regain trust in it, given many organisations today are looked at with disdain when it comes to how and why they use technology.

Getting to the customer’s heart
A marketing axiom, based on findings that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer vis-à-vis retaining an existing customer, holds true in today’s hyper-competitive age. Empathetic AI can prevent organisations indulging in overly pushy sales and marketing, which may only generate short-term sales at the expense of long-term value. Instead, they should focus on deeply understanding customer journeys and being sensitive to the true motivations that drive a person’s actions and needs.

Customers must be assured that organisations aren’t trading purpose for profit. These are testing times for the business world, and it’s time AI innovation fights back to win customer’s hearts again.

The writer is MD of Pegasystems India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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