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Recently, while traveling abroad for work, I made an Amazon purchase of something I was unable to find in local shops. However, this purchase was running late, despite my paying extra for it to arrive on time. By the time it was ready to be delivered, I had already moved to a new hotel in a different part of the city. I was unable to update the location on the order, and this was something I needed ASAP, so I called up Amazon customer support to see what I could do.

Amazon sure tried its level best to avert me from speaking to someone, keeping me on the phone for 10 minutes and bumping me back and forth through a maze of unhelpful menu options and generic FAQ pages that did nothing to help with my specific query. Never once in any of these options did they even offer the option to “speak to a live human.” So naturally, I had to interrupt the bot and ask (demand) to speak to someone myself.

Related: In An Era Of Artificial Intelligence, There’s Always Room For Human Intelligence

The power of empathy

And once I was finally routed to a human, guess what happened?

I explained to the agent my situation in an angry huff. She listened and replied: “Ma’am, I can understand this must be very frustrating, and I’m so so sorry, but we are unable to update the address once it’s out for delivery. Your only choice is to cancel the order and re-order.”

Ironically, even though she did nothing to solve the problem besides giving me more work to do, my anger had melted away. Just having someone, a real person, empathize and authentically apologize for the inconvenience made it all a little better.

And that, my friends, is something AI can’t do(at least not yet). Imagine an AI trying to robotically and creepily express empathy — not quite the same.

Complementing AI with emotional intelligence training

Employees by and large are grappling with the harsh realities of AI taking over many previously human tasks. People are indeed losing jobs, or are in danger of losing jobs, so these fears are not unwarranted. As a change management lead who has aided companies in adopting AI into their workflows, I’ve encountered both the fears and the actual repercussions of mass layoffs and reorganizations at many of my clients’ companies.

But while AI has drastically transformed how businesses operate, I would argue that it is still not ripe to replace most customer-facing functions — just augment them. Companies should think twice before completely swapping out people and replacing them with AI.

For one, take a look at some of these statistics published in a report by UJET recently regarding the use of AI bots for customer service:

  • 80% of customers said using chatbots increased their frustration level.

  • 78% of consumers were forced to connect with a human after failing to resolve their needs through an automated service channel.

  • 63% indicated that their interaction with a chatbot did not result in a resolution.

  • 72% felt that using a chatbot for customer service was a waste of time.

  • More than half of consumers (54%) believe that a phone call with a live agent provides the fastest resolution and best overall customer service.

A survey conducted by Cyara found that of 1,554 consumers worldwide, 30% were driven away from a brand by a negative chatbot experience.

It is true that in many cases, for more generic issues, a bot can help solve the problem through a predictable workflow and pointing to some online resource.

But most customers who take the time to contact customer service have already searched publicly available sources of information and were not able to find the solution to fit their problem.

Related: AI Can Replace (Some) Jobs — But It Can’t Replace Human Connection. Here’s Why.

When AI isn’t as effective as humans

Rest assured that there are still some areas where human intelligence outshines artificial intelligence. Here are a few:

  1. Innovation: While AI can generate novel ideas and artworks, it often lacks the depth of human creativity. Humans excel at combining disparate ideas, emotions and experiences to produce truly original solutions.

  2. Complex problem-solving: AI is powerful when it comes to solving specific, well-defined problems within a structured environment. However, it struggles with ambiguity and may not adapt well to entirely new or unforeseen situations where human intuition and creativity are crucial.

  3. Ethical decision-making: AI lacks a moral compass. While it can be programmed with ethical guidelines, it may not always make morally sound decisions in complex scenarios that require understanding nuances, cultural contexts and human values.

  4. Interpersonal communication and negotiation: Building rapport, understanding subtle cues and negotiating effectively are skills that humans excel at but can be challenging for AI, especially in dynamic, unpredictable social interactions.

  5. Intuition and gut feeling: Humans often make decisions based on intuition or gut feeling, drawing on subconscious processes that are difficult to replicate in AI systems, which rely on explicit algorithms and data.

Nearly all of these examples have a common thread, which I would sum up as emotional intelligence.

And while there is no doubt that AI will continue to advance and get better at mimicking human emotional intelligence, quite possibly to an eerie level, it may be a long while before we can really buy into it as being an adequate substitute for human connection.

Related: The Art and Science of Promoting Emotional Intelligence

So, in conclusion, my message to employees is to keep your head up in these difficult times and invest in those soft skills.

And to employers as well: Don’t overlook the importance of emotional intelligence.

Certainly invest in incorporating AI into operations, but at the same time, don’t forget to invest in offering emotional intelligence training — it sure can make or break the customer experience!

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