Enterprise Marketing & Promotions Management

Successful Integration of AI into Customer Experience Requires a Human Touch

By / November 2017


*this article originally appeared October 13, 2017 at tedrubin.com

Business AI isn’t just coming, it’s here. Einstein AI is now integrated into Salesforce’s cloud-based CRM, IBM’s Watson has gone commercial, and we’re only scratching the surface of how artificial intelligence will impact the business world. Like any other advance, it will be a mixed bag. Our current generation of AI is already helping businesses solve problems, but like any new solution, AI generates as many questions as it does answers.

The big one: How do we leverage this powerful technology to inspire, create, and improve the customer experience, without sucking the humanity straight out of the process?

It’s not an easy question to answer. When a commercial AI solution proves its value, the natural response might be to give it more responsibilities. The current level of AI is not like popular portrayal you see in movies, where an all-knowing machine simply has the answer to every question. These are purpose-built systems, designed to perform their purpose very efficiently.

Efficiency Is Great, but Not at the Cost of Humanity

When you look at Einstein AI from Salesforce, it’s easy to see how two different businesses might use AI in very different ways. Among other things, the upcoming Einstein Case Management system automates data collection, automatically directs customer service inquiries to the correct reps, and moves high-priority cases to the top of the stack.

All very useful, but the heavy lifting – the stuff that ultimately reflects on the perception of your brand – is still handled by humans. As it should be! If a brand is looking for a magic trick to turn poor customer service into something better, AI isn’t swooping in to save the day just yet. It helps with the logistics, but you still need to have the right people in place to make the most of the technology.

A customer service inquiry gets to the right desk, but that only matters if the person behind the desk knows what they’re doing. If the person behind the desk is rude, unhelpful, or poorly informed, the customer will rightly be just as frustrated as ever. Maybe even more so, if you’ve been bombarding that customer with marketing about your new, AI-based “amazing” customer service. I just had an experience involving poorly informed customer service agents with 1800Flowers… nothing more frustrating than them reaching out to you because of a complaint you lodged, and the agent not knowing why she called.

A Means to an End

Smart businesses with very good customer service see AI as an enhancement rather than a replacement. A system like Einstein AI saves time, and with the right culture in place employees will use that time to better serve customers. The same goes for the information side of marketing and customer service. If an employee has to spend less time searching for information on customers, they can spend more time finding the best ways to put what they’ve learned to work.

But the people must be an integral part of the process, and they must be in control of the process. There’s no way around it, nor should there be. If you don’t put the right people in place, develop the skills they need to succeed, and empower them to put those skills to work, then AI will just be one more expensive cure-all that doesn’t live up to the hype.

AI has an incredible potential value for integration into the overall customer experience. The key will be using the tech to make it a more human experience, rather than the other way around. Put humans first, and use AI to enhance the customer experience rather than replacing the human element.

Also keep this in mind… if you think you are not using AI in your marketing, think again. If you are buying adds on Facebook or Google, guess what… you are using AI. So consider how indexed content affects everything on Facebook and Google.

Customer Experience and Marketing will truly WIN when Humans control the Machines instead of the Machines controlling the Humans.

Contributed by Ted Rubin, Social Marketing Strategist & CMO 

Ted Rubin is a leading Social Marketing Strategist, Keynote Speaker, acting CMO of Brand Innovators, and Co-Founder of Prevailing Path. In March 2009, he started using and evangelizing the term ROR, Return on Relationship, hashtag #RonR. Ted left his position as Chief Social Marketing Officer of Collective Bias on August 31, 2013. He remained a principal shareholder until the November 2016 acquisition by Inmar.


  • Ronald Lunde

    I agree with Ted. In business we must try to avoid a singular reliance on the digital, the blinkered euphoria of the the transaction ‘digitary’ or the ‘infoenthusiast’. We cannot ignore the resources, the information that lies outside the tight focus 1’s and 0’s. The ‘fuzzy’ stuff that lies around the edges… the social life … the consumer insights … that deep understanding of the background, history, common knowledge or social resources is not, perhaps, as irrelevant as it seems as it provides the valuable balance and perspective of the institutions, organizations and communities that frame human activities. The path to purchase will always, must always, have human to human interaction. Information has a Social Life too.

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