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Artificial Intelligence

The Machine Inside

Does it matter that there’s no human on the other end of the line?

By Aaron Lazenby

Spring 2018

What does it mean to develop a relationship with a nonhuman entity? Maybe not a deep, meaningful, emotionally fulfilling relationship—at least not yet. But a casual, pragmatic, satisfying relationship. A cordial relationship. A perfectly effective, transactional relationship. Does it matter that there’s no human on the other end of the line? Do you care if there’s a machine inside your interactions?

These are the questions that guided the spring 2018 issue of Profit. You can easily tell that the line-of-business focus here is the customer experience (CX). But I thought that business practice was the most appropriate lens through which to consider these issues, especially since CX stands to benefit most immediately from the adoption of machine interaction. In fact, IDC found that 40% of retailers expect to employ AI in their CX design by the end of next year.

And customers are ready for the change. Pew Research recently reported two mind-blowing facts: 65% of Americans expect most retail interactions to be fully automated within 20 years, and the same amount see robots and drones making most city deliveries within the same time frame. And according to research from Facebook IQ, human conversations about chatbots have increased fivefold on the social media giant’s platform since 2017. So people are obviously thinking about the intelligent machines that are increasingly standing in for our human interactions.

With these numbers in mind, the Profit team started talking with internal and external sources about the role machines will play (or in some cases, are playing) in the customer experience of the future. Alex Dombroski, CX strategist and principal sales consultant at Oracle, works to allay concerns about removing the human touch from service interactions with his column, When Life Imitates Art, writing “Recent studies even suggest humans can express empathy for robots despite our rational brain telling us that machines don’t truly feel anything.”

So how do you create an AI or chatbot that effectively induces empathy for the customer on the other side of the screen? How to Train Your Chatbot includes a fact that underscores the importance of cracking the empathy code: 67% of respondents reported using a chatbot for customer service.

And in Lighting the Path, we found that India-based manufacturer Bajaj Electricals plans to shift 20,000 monthly customer queries to a conversational AI. Sinha Rajnish, chief digital officer at Bajaj Electricals, is bullish on the potential for a chatbot to learn empathy on the job. “The bot can understand and solve the problems by interacting with customers directly,” he says.

The machine inside of our lives takes forms other than chatbots—whether it's the analytics that companies’ track in their marketing and product development efforts or the feedback they are getting as consumers adopt new search experiences such as voice search.”

But the machine inside of our lives takes forms other than chatbots—whether it’s the analytics that companies’ track in their marketing (Open Road) and product development (Data-Driven Music) efforts or the feedback they are getting as consumers adopt new search experiences such as voice search (Raise Your Voice).

The reality is that the machines are here to stay. The machines will help you solve more (and more-complex) human problems. You might already be having conversations with machines—and you might not even be able to tell the difference between a human interaction and a machine interaction. What will that do to our relationships, our business models, and our workforce? That’s for us to decide.

Photography by Bob Adler/The Verbatim Agency