Why emotional intelligence matters when using AI for customer experience

- June 25, 2019 3 MIN READ

In the classic Little Britain comedy sketch, David Walliams plays the world’s most unhelpful clerk, Carol Beer who responds to every customer request or enquiry with the ultimate dismissive and unhelpful response ‘Computer says No’.  With this, Carol makes it clear she is unwilling to do anything further to help with a customer’s problem.

Unfortunately, many people find this sketch a little too familiar when dealing with chatbots, online platforms, and AI-driven service operators. Have you ever experienced dealing with a chatbot or online form that doesn’t yet have the intelligence to think outside the algorithm it has been programmed to follow? Have you ever had to ‘briefly describe what your call is about’ to the machine answering your request, and feel a rising infuriation when asked to repeat yourself again and again, before you’ve even joined the queue.  This is a prime example of ‘computer says no’.

We now operate in a marketplace where customers are increasingly disloyal to brands, and yet 89 per cent[1] of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, so each and every customer touchpoint counts.  Businesses must find a way to stand out from their competitors and provide their customers with an experience that meets their expectations and resolves their problems in a personalised and efficient way.

However, as we see more and more examples of automated customer services across all customer contact channels, it’s clear that businesses are hoping customers will embrace the digitalisation of customer service. But are there some problems that can best be solved with the emotional intelligence of a real person?

According to an April 2019 survey, almost 90 per cent[2] of customer service decision-makers believe that chatbots and virtual agents (VA’s) are useful technologies for personalising customer interactions. However, only half of these decision makers believe that these technologies actually had the capability of successfully fulfilling customer needs in a way which understood the value of the customer transaction, provided a personalised response and automated actions based on these responses.

Emotionally intelligent customer service teams are vital.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others

Emotional intelligence is vital in many customer encounters. Contact centre staff who have high emotional intelligence are capable of empathising with customers and building a personal connection. Currently, AI still has not proved itself capable enough of replicating these ‘soft skills’ which can ultimately make the difference between retaining or losing a customer.

Can businesses combine the efficiency of artificial intelligence with the emotional intelligence of a real personal connection in order to create the best customer experience possible? AI can complement the soft skills of a customer service agent in the following three ways, creating a more efficient, empathetic and successful customer experience.

Use data and AI to personalise interactions with your customer:

AI is extremely efficient in processing and analysing large amounts of information to identify opportunities that customer service agents can use to create a highly personalised experience for individual customers across all communication channels. It can help direct the interaction with a customer, based specifically on their previous interactions with your business.  Armed with this insight, the customer service staff can accurately direct them to the relevant solution that creates the most value for them.  AI can help your customer service staff provide up-to-date informed responses to customer issues, instead of having to ask numerous questions of the customer, or guess their way blindly through a conversation, resulting in more meaningful interactions in less time.

Use AI to solve the customer’s problem faster:

A 2018 report found that 25 per cent[3] of an agent’s time is spent searching for relevant information to help the customer with their enquiry. AI can help to reduce call times by gathering information on the customer in real-time, informing the agent of who they are talking to, their history with the business as well as any preferences or potential problems the customer is having. By presenting this information at the customer service agent’s fingertips, they are able to spend more time resolving the customers’ problem in a way that meets their needs rather than wasting time asking redundant questions or searching for the relevant information.

Use AI to improve employee engagement:

Less frustrated customers mean happier employees and greater productivity. Empowering employees with the best aspects of AI such as real-time information enables them to respond with more confidence and competence. Often contact centre environments can be high-pressured and emotionally challenging, and call wait times can fray the patience of everyone.  AI-powered technology can take the pressure off and enable staff to focus on bringing empathy and personal connection to the conversation. Take a telephony platform that gives contact service agent staff all the customer’s data and history the moment they answer the call, so the customer can skip the long explanation of who they are and what products or services they use and move straight to the solution they need.

Rather than committing to complete digitalisation of all communication channels or completely eschewing AI, businesses should implement solutions that combine the best parts of new technology with the intangible ‘soft skills’ of emotionally intelligent staff. This ensures the business creates an experience that adds value and delights the customer rather than causing frustration and annoyance.


[1] https://blogs.gartner.com/jake-sorofman/gartner-surveys-confirm-customer-experience-new-battlefield/

[2] https://www.emarketer.com/content/can-chatbots-actually-achieve-customer-service-success

[3] https://yourstory.com/2018/08/logmeins-bold360-ai-change-customer-experience


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