Emotional AI: towards engineered empathy

In the never-ending story of consumer empowerment, a new chapter opens. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology are assisting customer service workers in repetitive tasks, resulting in a new generation of intelligent chatbots and automated consumer-facing platforms.

In some cases, this will see entry-level roles replaced by smart AI, however, there will always be a need for human input. Machines have the potential to push boundaries, but the human touch is a differentiating factor for consumers who favour interacting with a person.

How are the bots advancing? They boast an increasingly clinical understanding of the customer’s real-time emotional state (including his/her emotional associations with particular brands) and the arrival of empathetic services that, powered by cold hard data, deliver warmer, more human interactions, at scale and on-demand.

Helpful assistants

Chatbots and AI helpers may be able to handle many of the initial questions on a customer service representative’s behalf, freeing them up for other tasks. However, if natural language processing and AI reach levels of engagement that are indistinguishable from humans, they might replace the other parts of a representative’s job as well.
The vast majority of consumers prefer to make complaints to a human being. These consumers want their concerns listened to and action taken, not simply filed away.
With this growing use of chatbots, the line between talking to a human and machine is becoming blurred, brands are increasingly using human services for more complicated enquiries, leaving the simpler tasks to the AI.
A quarter of the total UK population has already interacted with a customer service chatbot, with or without knowing it. That figure is set to rise, with 50% of the entire population expected to have used a chatbot service by the year 2020.

Soft skills grow in importance

Machines now have the ability to respond in a more empathetic way – the launch of Google Duplex is a key example. These systems are likely to be able to handle basic requests and even interact in a way that feels profoundly human, but when more nuanced requests take place, a human agent will need to step in.
While chatbots are already exhibiting impressive levels of sophistication, in reality, emotional AI will be used as a support within the workplace. It will be necessary for employees to understand how these tools operate in order to utilise them at their most effective. Knowledge of the ways a chatbot or AI assistant can serve a human workforce will be an essential skill for anyone working in a customer-facing role.
Whether the customer is in-store, in-app or browsing sites at on a desktop computer at home, empathetic engagement will surface from the chatbots they encounter, from context and mood-sensitive greetings to recommendations based on a customer’s core underlying motivations. Commercial interactions that do not reflect a little of ourselves back will soon seem underpowered by comparison.

A digital you

Owners of the new iPhone X can use ‘animojis’: customised animated emojis that use the device’s FaceID functionality to track the user’s facial movements. With the growth of this technology, there are new ways to communicate using a digital version of yourself and your physical expression in real time for webinars, virtual career fairs and 121 meetings.
As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and human-like, we anticipate a future in which emotional intelligence can be seen as core commercial expectation as well as a key personal skill to master in an emotion-sensitive world and workplace. The capacity for humans to empathise when decision-making is likely to become a core commercial expectation, making it a highly-prized skill.

What are the key trends and how are they likely to impact the future of work? We explore the following future trends: