Does AI's ROI Mean Humans Are SOL?

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Increasingly, we hear terms like “seller bots,” “cognitive computing,” and “relevant metadata” (which one can only assume is a lot more valuable than irrelevant metadata). Such terms can sound pretty scary to many people who work in an under-automated call—I mean, contact—center. Even for those of us who are tech savvy, the idea that human beings found a way to steal their own jobs indicates that it is mankind’s intelligence that may have been artificial all along.


Despite their typecast use in many sci-fi plots, bots are simply tools for humans to use to do a better job and provide socially intelligent customer service while increasing profits. Bots allow agents to offer personalized service while their electronic brethren do menial tasks. Predominantly, research shows that human beings still value connecting with each other, preferring it over any other interaction.

And that includes the screen-glazed-eyed 19-year-old Generation Z customer who, despite his professed love of all things automated, was thrilled to find out that Haley (or Kaylee or Bailey) was a real person when his overly confident trial-and-error trouble-shooting method wasn’t enough.


It’s right there in the name: artificial intelligence. After decades of research—and billions of dollars poured into that research—robots still cannot think. Gaining knowledge and applying it at record speed does not mean your AI can turn an angry customer around in seven minutes. This customer is getting ready to tell her 5,000 Facebook friends that your company is “actually” the devil. So why can’t your AI do it? Because an artificial brain does not read emotions or urgency. Speaking of Facebook, its AI program to identify suicidal thoughts essentially turned out to be a filter for flagging posts that human handlers could then interpret and respond to. Quite often, AI is just a very focused computer program—with some programs (like the Facebook one) designed for nobler purposes than others.

Self-learning algorithms are impressive and can beat humans in games of logic. Still, to be intelligent is one thing; to live in the reality of the human experience, to feel and have empathy, is another thing entirely. As phony as some people can be, they can still have an emotional connection to a motive. An AI mechanism that performed well on an IQ test would not know why it was taking the test and wouldn’t care about the result.


I’m not saying that we’ll never have technology that can replicate human intelligence and behavior 100 percent. I’m just saying the return on investment for artificial intelligence does not include anything beyond programming at this point.

The future of customer relationship management is still dependent on the acquisition and retention of talented employees. Those who are highly skilled at making the customer feel valuable are themselves the most valuable asset the organization has to offer.

I’ve heard from the latest generation of geniuses about accepting the new truth about technology. And I certainly understand where they’re coming from because every generation has said the same thing. But there is no such thing as new truth. The truth can never be invented; it can only be revealed. So allow me to pull back the curtain.

I managed call centers in 38 states, back when they became automated with predictive dialers and computer screens. There was resistance and some initial job shrinkage and talk of everyone being replaced by robots (though we envisioned something that resembled Daft Punk more than Siri). We faced new restrictions for outbound calling, lawsuits, and other problems. But in truth, the technology made humans better, and the industry started to grow.

It turns out that industries are disrupted when they don’t grow and change, but if you know the value of your people, you won’t disrupt yourself. We realized that the sci-fi concept of humans being replaced by the technology they create was just that—science fiction. Since 1990 the number of call centers and call center employees has increased well over 400 percent. So the profitability of artificial intelligence is not a threat to your job security. On the contrary, it’s proof that you’re in an industry that’s worth investing in long term because it has a big future.

So the next time someone tells you that the ROI for AI will cost you your J-O-B, you can LOL!

Garrison Wynn, CSP, is a best-selling author and keynote speaker who has been featured in Forbes and Inc. magazines. He can be reached at Garrisonwynn.com.

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