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AI robots and business people interacting together in a productive process, artificial intelligence and smart industry concept

World leaders descended on Bletchley Park this week to try and crack the enigma of AI that delivers prosperity without imperilling humanity.

Billed as the first ever global summit on Artificial Intelligence, the AI Safety Summit addressed the risks and threats posed as this fast-evolving technology grows in scope and sophistication.

From a service perspective, job security is high on the list of concerns – and for good reason, with over 60% of UK employees in customer-related roles.

So, as we stand on the verge of what looks set to be the fourth industrial revolution, how do we maximise the benefit to society whilst mitigating the risk of the social fabric that binds our country together?

AI is likely to follow Amara’s Law

American physicist and futurist Roy Amara coined an adage – that feels apt right now – which became known as Amara’s Law:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

I’m not sure quite where we are on the AI hype cycle, but the promises of productivity still feel some way off. There is a fundamental question to be answered for many businesses currently looking at AI deployment: are you doing it to enhance the customer experience, make your colleagues’ lives easier, or simply to reduce costs? In an ideal world, emerging AI tech can achieve all three. But we must think bigger and understand that delivering on your value propositions and service agenda is not just the responsibility of operations or customer service team.

AI to enhance and streamline the customer experience

Some AI and technology will inevitably replace some jobs – still more will support service professionals in providing customers with more informed, data-powered solutions to complex human problems with greater speed and efficiency.

The key lies in striking the right balance and being imaginative in shaping the future we all want. As I mentioned in a recent Telegraph article, that could mean finding the right blend of service professionals and chatbots in your digital service offering or having a healthy mix of cashiers and self-service tills in your supermarkets.

We should also apply emerging technology to how we understand and take action to better service customers based on their data, behaviour, needs and desires. AI has the potential to play a very different role in the service economy. Most organisations hold massive amounts of data. This needs to be better structured, and companies need to understand how to interpret and apply it to enhance their service strategies. AI can help with this and go further – but without human direction and asking the right and appropriate questions, we will not get to the outcome we want. Which is why we need to choose wisely, focus on the purpose and intent and always look to do the right thing.

Ultimately, organisations whose boards and CEOs think about how AI can improve the customer experience in the longer term – and not just improve short-term efficiencies – will see the biggest benefit. I want us to start imagining the service of the future – the combinations of skills and technology. We may be a long way from some of Elon Musk’s predictions, but it is worth reflecting on some of his ideas to help us keep driving forward the service economy.

Personalisation or privacy?

As customers, we want service that recognises our individual needs, priorities, and circumstances. Our research shows that technology alone cannot adequately replace human contact in the context of issues of high personal importance that require sensitivity, discretion, and judgment.

It’s about how we do this ethically: driving a service culture is the answer here, and one of those tools is AI. That’s the way we need to be thinking about it: as a fundamental tool in our ever-expanding service arsenal.

AI can and should make the customer experience more efficient and potentially effective, but only if it’s designed and applied correctly by organisations, guided by a strong ethical and service-led culture.

Concurrently, we need to think about how we improve the falling levels of service we have today and ensure we get those basics right. The future is in all our hands, and we need to choose wisely to ensure we keep building a fairer society, a profession we are all proud of and sustainable businesses and organisations and above all we need to stop seeing this as opposing views.

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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