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November 14, 2023

From Efficiency To Empathy: The Role Of Our Humanity In An AI Customer Experience

I recently attended the Gartner Symposium IT/Xpo, where presentations on artificial intelligence revealed new perspectives. Two Gartner statements resonated deeply: "AI is the new machine and we are in a relationship with it," and "We are shaping AI, and AI is shaping us." This evokes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s quote in The Little Prince: "The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them."

While AI is often seen as a “window to the future,” it also serves as a mirror reflecting humanity. As we create thinking machines, we face philosophical questions about human consciousness and creativity. The emergence of AI prompts reflection on what makes us human, especially as we integrate it into customer experiences. Can automated systems replicate human empathy, wisdom, and imagination?

Philosophers and psychologists have long sought to define humanity through models of motivations and psychosocial development. These frameworks highlight the complexity of human relationships and wisdom - dimensions which algorithms cannot fully encapsulate.

Yet AI is undoubtedly transforming how companies engage customers. Chatbots now provide 24/7 interactive support. Voice assistants offer intuitive self-service. Recommendation engines suggest personalized content. While these tools excel at efficiency, the human touch remains vital.

Dr. Rana el Kaliouby presented at a recent Avaya Engage conference, providing powerful examples of how AI applications are empowering human connections when thoughtfully designed. Her company Affectiva has created technology that reads facial cues, helping those with autism to perceive emotions. This enables richer rapport. However, AI has limitations in replicating the nuances of human relationships.

The film “Her” explored this dilemma through a sci-fi lens. The AI system Samantha exhibits impressive emotional intelligence but cannot embody love’s essence. This highlights the inherent constraints of simulated bonds. Customers still yearn for authentic connection, mutual understanding, and being seen as their full, imperfect selves.

Companies should guide AI to augment human strengths, not replace them.  Chatbots can handle common queries, freeing staff for deeper problem-solving. Voice assistants can rapidly resolve account issues, while human agents focus on empathetic listening. The goal is harmonious synthesis, not replacement.  One of Avaya’s customers recently coined the term “bionic agents” to represent this union of technology and human capabilities. 

Balance is key. Even as AI advances, people crave human touchpoints along the journey. A travel app may recommend activities, but local guides share cultural insights no algorithm can provide. An automated assistant can report credit card fraud, but a reassuring human voice confirms all is well. AI should not dismiss the customer’s inner world.

A mirror not only reflects; it also refracts light in new directions. AI challenges us to enlighten our path ahead. We must shape it to uplift humanity and act as wise stewards of its potential. For in the end, the problems AI presents mirror our own inner terrain. Our machines mirror who we are and who we aspire to be.

The essence of great service lies in humanity, creativity, and meaning - those glimmers of magic that give life purpose. Companies must listen to what customers value most. Efficiency has its place, but leading with empathy, compassion and wisdom fosters relationships that transcend transactions. Our shared path ahead lies in uplifting our human potential. For it is the unquantifiable inner light that imbues everything else with significance. Let our shared humanity light the way forward.

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