It’s easy to get yourself into an anxious state about artificial intelligence (AI). As a person who earns her living as a writer and editor, I find it unsettling to hear of ChatGPT-assisted papers and articles being written. The editorial advisor for a publication I edit told me that before sending me her work, she sends it to ChatGPT to edit, then to her husband, and, finally, to me. AI is her resource before both her husband and me as her editor.
Instead of focusing on the potential of AI to replace assignments given to humans, we can focus on using it to increase workplace learning. Marketplace recently published an interesting piece on the impact of AI on employees when it is brought into the workplace as a tool. The challenge is that the technology sometimes can make finding answers so easy that it becomes a kind of cheat sheet that keeps the employee from doing the legwork—or mind work, you could say— that commits information and skills to memory.
A Mixed Impact
The Marketplace tech staff team note the mixed impact of AI on the work of customer service employees, for example: “A recent joint study from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined how customer support agents used an AI chatbot to assist with tech support questions and found that while productivity increased for low-experience workers, the technology stirred concerns that it acted as a crutch, or a barrier to learning skills that workers would otherwise acquire on the job.”
Customer service employees became more productive, presumably able to find the information they needed faster. But without having to do the work themselves to find the answers to their questions, they didn’t retain the information for as long, if at all.
The technology, the Marketplace tech team points out, is a plus mostly for making jobs easier and more efficient—the same things that also make it a crutch that can prevent employees from retaining the information they are given through the technology. That said, if it makes work more efficient and easier, that means that employee time and mind-space has been freed up. Could an organization with top-notch Learning professionals find other, maybe higher-level, things for employees to do with this newfound time?
A Developmental Opportunity
If AI is going to quickly find the answers to customer questions, allowing employees to get many of their tasks done faster, it could be a developmental opportunity for employees. An employee could move into more of a consultative or interpretative role, in which they take information supplied by AI about their customers’ most frequently asked questions and complaints, and then work with managers to develop better ways of doing business.
An organization also could turn the jobs of customer service representatives on their heads, having them become test customers themselves, to call, text, e-mail, or interact in-person with the company. They could even be given a quarterly budget to purchase or experience the products. They then would become ongoing reviewers of the process of finding, purchasing, and using the company’s products and services. This updated role might allow them to sharply reduce the number of calls and complaints coming into the customer service line.
Lack of Emotions
AI can do many things—nearly anything, it seems. However, it is not actually a human with human emotions. It can simulate those emotions, but doesn’t, in fact, have those emotions. That means it is hard to have an AI bot give a review of an experiential product, such as an airline ticket. In fact, I recently had an experience that made me wonder if an AI bot had responded to my complaint, rather than a human who was familiar with the experience I had found unsatisfactory.
I made a once-in-a-decade splurge on an upgrade to a business class ticket, with a “lie-flat experience” on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. The problem? The seat didn’t recline fully, so I didn’t get the promised “lie-flat experience.” The flight attendants toiled for a long time trying to manually force the seat down into the lie-flat position to no avail. They were upset on my behalf, instructing me to file a complaint with the airline’s customer care team, which I did.
More than a month after filing my complaint, I received an e-mail with an apology and a $100 travel voucher. The upgrade had cost me thousands of dollars, so this was not satisfactory to me. The person (or bot?) corresponding with me over multiple e-mails finally told me that they had “tried to see it from my perspective” and would not be responding further to me.
I scratched my head at the time wondering how anyone who sincerely tried to “see it from my perspective” could think I would be satisfied with a $100 voucher to make up for a defective product I purchased for thousands of dollars. I now may have an answer to that question: Perhaps it wasn’t a person I was corresponding with, but an AI bot! AI doesn’t long to lie down on a 14-hour flight, so why would it be able to “see it from my perspective”?
The Human Perspective
Your employees may not be as efficient as AI, but they come with the invaluable ability to see problems and discomfort from the perspective of a human.
Are you using AI in your workplace yet? How do you think this technology could positively impact your employees’ learning and customer service?