Artificial Intelligence has the power to transform customer engagement, while creating higher-value jobs and driving business innovation.

Here’s what we know about Artificial Intelligence (AI) out in the real world, today. 

Just 24% of service teams are using AI, but 56% of service decision makers say they’re actively looking for new ways to introduce the technology.

As a result, over the next 18 months the use of AI is projected to surge by 143%. 

At the same time, 51% of service agents say they want to be doing more challenging work, and 70% tell us the automation of routine tasks would allow them to focus on higher value work.

They see smart automation’s impact already in their personal lives and expect it in their work lives.

And while some argue AI will cost people their jobs – as if staff are only capable of menial, repetitive work – leading businesses are using AI and other tech to enable their people to do more of the work they enjoy and to do it better.

Late last year, I spoke with Sinovation Ventures CEO Dr Kai-Fu Lee about how AI is impacting our lives and the skills we need for the future of work, as well as the privacy concerns and regulatory changes around its use. 

“AI is giving our society a wake-up call,” he told me. “Currently, so much of our time is spent on busywork and repetitive work. That will largely be automated in the age of AI, so we can devote more of our professional and personal time to caring for other people. AI has the capability to basically eliminate those activities that we weren’t meant to do as humans but got trapped into, dating back to the first Industrial Revolution.” 

That capability is already being embraced by some businesses. 
 

Target: Enabling humans to be superhuman

 

Target in the US has been re-imagining the roles of shop staff. Low-value tasks in retail include bringing stock out from store rooms, stacking shelves, counting and banking cash, and manning checkouts – they can be very competently handled by machines.

However, as Dr Kai-Fu Lee mentioned, “AI is about more than replacing each worker with a robot. It will involve the disruption and reshaping of whole industries.”

Dr Lee discussed retail as one area undergoing a revolution, with stores using their troves of customer data to personalise offerings and tailor experiences. 

“The online retailers have a big advantage here because they learn so much from how people browse their websites,” he said. “But in the future, physical stores will deploy technologies such as sensors that allow them to gain a pretty strong profile of shoppers who come inside.”

But what machines don’t do well now is to talk to customers, understand their needs, make them feel comfortable, provide useful information and inspire them to purchase something they hadn’t previously considered.

“Target wants workers to develop deeper product expertise to improve customer service or perform new tasks like managing online orders picked up in stores,” WSJ reported in July last year.

Automating check-out counters or store room jobs allows retailers to move staff onto the floor to deal with customers. 

Given the tools and training to complete tasks right there on the floor, a team member could use their device to check stock immediately and say, “Yes, we have what you need in our store room and it’ll be with you in 30 seconds.” 

Furthermore, they can add value that creates revenue opportunities: “I see that last month you bought barbecue equipment. Well, we have a special on barbecue umbrellas today – would you like to take a look?”. 
 



As Dr Kai-Fu Lee told me: “Overall, organisations in a world of AI will require people to excel at connecting with others and gaining people’s trust ... My advice to employees would be to become lifelong learners, always looking for the next skill and never believing that the next 10 years will be like the previous decade.”

The role of the human is to engage with the customer and further develop the relationship, leaving the low-value tasks to be automated. 
 

It’s a win/win/win

 

This example is a classic case of humans working alongside rather than being replaced by augmented or artificial intelligence. The robots, machines or AI systems make the people more capable. In doing so they offer staff greater job satisfaction (remember the 51% of agents who say they want to be doing more challenging work?), offer the customer a far better experience, and increase revenue for the business. 

Everyone wins.

AI removes friction and adds personalisation. It allows the service staff to do more satisfying work and it creates an environment in which the customer feels as if they’re dealing with a small business.

When I was young, growing up in Palo Alto, there was a small, local book store I loved. The owner got to know me and each time I would walk into the store, he would say, “Hey Peter, I’ve got a great book for you. It just came in. I think you’re going to love it.” Most of the time he was right.

Now businesses, from niche, online retailers to megastores like Amazon, are doing the same. They’re offering unique and personalised services for masses of people. They’re demonstrating empathy, a unique capability to understand and relate to customers. 

Customers sense and appreciate empathy. When it’s not offered, they walk. Of course, they know AI is behind some of the magic, but as long as they sense the technology is utilised in a transparent and ethical fashion, it only increases loyalty.

Find out more about the technology driving business transformation, we spoke to global leaders in enterprise technology. Download the Enterprise Technology Trends Report to find out about their top 10 priorities, and their approaches to strategies and skills.