The customer experience (CEX) workforce could be on the cusp of change. Generative AI is advancing rapidly, with tools like ChatGPT-4 capable of producing human-like responses at a low cost. AI’s capabilities could potentially replace human presence, and this could contribute to about 14 million jobs lost in the next five years, according to a World Economic Forum report. Customer-facing roles, like sales associates and bank tellers, are expected to be part of this loss.
However, people are still the cornerstone of any great customer experience today, with customer-facing roles delivering an important personal touch through their interactions.
This change can be an opportunity if we harness the AI-Human relationship. The human experience, formed by our relationships and interactions, is a unique strength that is irreplaceable by code or numbers. The value of human experiences is at the core of AIA’s foray into AI during our digital transformation efforts.
AI and the human experience
The story of Pinocchio is a good way to understand this AI-Human relationship. In the famous 1883 novel, a puppet is brought to life and enters the world as an ignorant and selfish child. It moves and talks like a person but only becomes an empathetic, human-like companion after interacting with people.
Pinocchio’s story and AI’s journey have strong parallels. AI-powered platforms like ChatGPT-4 and Midjourney today are human-like with their creative and logical output but struggle to be real companions. Due to their reliance on historical data, AI tools still hallucinate false information, produce culturally biased outputs and struggle to form predictions or create their own opinions.
AI’s limitations are clearer if you imagine it completely powering a business’ customer service. An AI chatbot can competently recommend the best product based on requirements but struggle to anticipate how a customer could use the product or share their personal experiences. There is also no guarantee (yet) that a chatbot’s responses will be free of racial and gender bias. Empathetic, sensitive, and personalised interactions are crucial aspects that elevate the customer experience but cannot be produced by AI alone today.
The human experience is also ever-shifting, which further limits AI’s impact. A person’s language, values, and needs are fluid. For example, while a typical Asian Gen Z customer today prioritises values, experiences, and branding in their buying decisions, a similar customer archetype five years from now will be very different. To adapt to these changes, AI needs to constantly learn how we think and feel.
An AI companion for CEX
AI’s reliance on the human experience is why it cannot replace the current customer-facing workforce. Instead, AI can be engineered as a powerful companion to help us become even more human, creating a win-win situation.
An AI companion can be an easy-to-use tool using the human experience as a data source to improve the customer experience. From learning what people know, feel, and have experienced, AI can guide customer-facing staff in their daily interactions, helping them develop more meaningful relationships. AI could also understand our past conversations and interactions to help us better understand what customers feel and need. Such tools could enrich staff with meaningful insights on how to follow up with customers, what tone of voice to use, and even to generate bespoke personalised content.
AIA, which has been digitally transforming in the past three years through its Technology, Data and Analytics Programme, is one such business that uses AI companions alongside people.
In China, AIA introduced an AI-enabled training tool that is helping agents improve their communication skills. Called AI Roleplay, the model provides scripts and interactive scenarios to guide agents on the language, tone and timing they should use with customers. Agents can use AI Roleplay anytime, anywhere and are benefiting from a companion tool that equips them with techniques to serve customers better.
AI companions can also augment customer service training. Learning from an individual’s personality, past performance, and activity data, an AI companion can generate and recommend learning materials to help them learn how to engage their customers better. AIA used such an application to train its Hong Kong agents and noticed that one out of three staff promoted were using this tool.
AI companions can play a larger role in the customer experience ecosystem. For example, AIA China’s Navigator uses an agent-focused Super App that uses AI and data analytics to help agents cultivate better customer relationships. An ‘agent behavioural model’, Navigator nudges agents towards positive sales behaviours and helps them nurture social media leads. Navigator has introduced a new standard of personalised customer relationship management in China’s market. It’s transforming the agent experience, enabling agents to do their jobs better, and is contributing to more than 15% of high-quality leads from 200,000 interactions per month.
The AI-Human Partnership
The workforce disruption is looming, but the future of customer-facing staff is not set in stone. In this regard, businesses should embrace AI’s potential but also harness our human experience as the technology’s guardian. After all, AI is like a puppet, and not even magic can make it human.
How businesses adopt AI will decide the future of these jobs. It is imperative that businesses design AI applications in a way that empowers customer-facing roles, as meaningful connections with the customer are just as important as the cost and time savings that AI brings. A partnership, if pursued the right way, can be the bridge to help us become more human in an AI-powered world.
By Simon Lee (Group Director, Enterprise Artificial Intelligence Delivery at AIA Group)