Daniel van Vorsselen: The AI connection gap, is human empathy essential?

TRA - Daniel Van Vorsselen

“AI might be efficient, but humans are sceptical.”

By Daniel van Vorsselen, business director, CX lead, TRA Melbourne

Humans seek connection – with the people around them and the brands they interact with. Recent research by TRA exploring human connection to brands revealed the value of customer experience (CX) – 29% of respondents cited CX when asked ‘What creates connection to companies?’. This makes it one of the most popular drivers of connections to brands, second only to affordability and price.

The study also found that humans still value connecting with others, but the way we connect is changing. The changing nature of connection and the rise of AI is having a knock-on effect – it’s impacting our experience with brands. So how can customer experience stay ahead?

Brand moments of truth

Customer experiences and service interactions are critical. These moments bring a brand’s promise to life, either confirming or challenging whether a brand delivers on what it says. As the use of AI-supported interactions increases, what do customers think about the change? Does it truly lead to better outcomes or is it more a case of prioritising the bottom line over connected, happy customers?

AI might be efficient, but humans are sceptical. When surveyed, we found that less than half (44%) of Australians said they believe AI outperforms humans in simple tasks like refunds – and this drops to 27% for more complex enquiries. In its current state, the interactions carried out using machine learning and data analysis don’t display the nuances required to fully grasp and respond to complex human emotions. There’s limited empathy and emotional engagement. It lacks trust.

We don’t trust AI, yet

Brand perceptions are shaped by trust. Strong, trusted brand perceptions influence buying decisions, loyalty and reputation in positive ways. Trust is built or lost through the emotions we feel when promises are kept or broken. Hence the old wisdom to ‘under promise and over deliver’. Brands that build trust do so through strong emotional connections with customers, fostering long-term relationships. Introducing AI to customer interactions will disrupt how brands build emotional connections with customers. And in turn this could disrupt how brands deliver as it risks creating uncertainty and lowering trust.

Humans are wary of technology. We often use the term ‘technology’ to refer to new inventions that don’t trust, or that don’t work reliably yet, before we call it by its name. The same is true with AI-enabled CX. Introducing AI to customer interactions is an approach that’s in its infancy. For many customers, interactions with AI will fall into the experimentation stage. It’s something new and unusual. For it to become normalised, customers need to experiment with the technology and gain experience using it. Most importantly, these interactions need to build trust.

To build trust, brands need to be clear about what they are promising and consistent in how they deliver.

Be clear on the promise

To reduce feelings of anxiety around using something new, communicate what customers can expect with clarity and transparency. For example, clearly defining the purpose and roles of different channels.

Advocate for a hybrid approach, combining human interaction at key points where psychological needs are higher. Combining AI efficiency with human oversight will help to alleviate concerns about using new technology and build confidence in AI systems.

This is also an opportunity to generate excitement around what you are doing as a brand and the potential of AI. Linking this to customer interest topics is one example of how brands are building enthusiasm around AI solutions. There are examples of where this has been done well, such as the IBM® watsonx partnership with the US Open in tennis, which showcases data on professional tennis matches and makes predictions to support players to step up their game, with benefits to both players and spectators.

Deliver what’s expected, over and over again

Consistency and reliability are key to fostering trust over time. So set realistic expectations with a positive, reassuring tone of voice. Be clear about where AI is being used and who it’s for. Highlight the benefits, such as 24/7 availability and instant responses, then share success stories to demonstrate effectiveness. Doing so will leverage social proof and reinforce the sense that experiences are positive.

Ultimately, technology is intertwined with the future of CX. To stay ahead, brands need to harness technological advancements, but they need to do so in a way that enhances, not undermines – the human aspects of customer service. To successfully integrate AI into customer service, systems must be trustworthy, reliable and able to emulate human empathy. Prioritising empathy and emotional intelligence is critical to building genuine, meaningful connections with your customers.

Top image: Daniel van Vorsselen

To Top