Automation could be so much more than just a buzzword if we let it be. The practice of automation sits at the heart of countless exciting technologies, giving space for risk-taking and innovation. Unfortunately, rather than deploy AI in meaningful ways, companies have co-opted the automation AI makes possible to power cost-cutting efforts.
Sadly, this has nothing to do with the technology. By relegating automation to exclusively target cost-cutting strategies, we strip it of its real power. Take, for example, the fact that most automation happens in contact centers, where business goals are as simple as call deflection and cost reduction. Automation here is reductive, sometimes painfully so. Contact centers want to cut costs. They want to reduce inefficiencies to the extent that they take away jobs from humans and assign the same work to AI. People have only accepted this future because it’s inevitable, not because it seems valuable to them as employees or employers.
While cutting costs is an ever-present goal in business, it doesn’t drive innovation. To move away from this objective is risky for many businesses, especially when reductive thinking is the only automation strategy they’ve ever known. Still, AI has the tremendous potential to be additive to business, if we’d only apply it in ways that allow it to be. We should be using AI to add consistency and repeatability to essential business processes — because that’s where it’s most powerful as both a technology and as a tool for us.
To bring value back into AI, we need to move it out of cost centers where it has been deployed almost exclusively. By applying AI to revenue-generating business units, we can finally achieve the real benefits of automation. But first, we have to bust some myths and dispel common fears.
AI as sales rep of the year
While implemented with high hopes, automation has now stalled out, delivering ever-diminishing returns. Through lack of imagination, many companies are missing out on huge opportunities for revenue. The fact is, when you train AI in the contact center to deliver cross-sells and upsells, AI agents outperform human agents. The reason why is simple: When you tell a computer to offer an upsell in every conversation, it actually does it every time. Automation has no embarrassment or rebellion, no anxiety or confusion. Instead, automation offers 100 percent compliance.
This is just one example of how we have been thinking about AI backward. Though the industry is constantly touting the power of automation, we’ve stifled its promise. Traditionally, we’ve attempted to maximize upsell and cross-sell revenue by reducing human error. By doing this, we demand too little from our technology. We need to trust automation to the same degree that we trust employees, especially when it has the potential to open up a new era of business. And, as a happy coincidence, when you aim to add to the business, the reductive benefits of a new technology almost always continue as a byproduct of your efforts.
AI as an employer
Whether reductive or additive, automation in fulfillment is almost always talked about as a job killer. In reality, there’s no telling how many jobs AI has created in delivery. Ask yourself: Would a business like Amazon even be possible without the rise of automation? AI is not stealing jobs — it’s changing them.
The history of Amazon is illustrative. Once we figured out how to automate fulfillment, everything changed. Delivery became ecommerce’s killer feature, and humans were no longer able to keep pace with the demands of the shopping and shipping business. Now, robots from Boston Dynamics move all the boxes and pallets in Amazon warehouses. This reduces the reliance on human labor in the warehouse, but it increases on-time delivery. In turn, increasing on-time delivery drives customer satisfaction, which in turn fuels the company. With happy customers, there’s more room for a company to grow, leading to better jobs for humans. Rather than doing menial labor, these people can run systems or build new products.
Automation does not cut out human employees, it simply moves their positions further up the chain, making their roles more meaningful. AI has moved into call centers into and warehouses. Meanwhile, humans have moved on with analysis and into leadership positions.
Help AI help you
It’s time to retire the specter of reductive automation. While reductive use cases are the proving grounds of emerging technologies, they’re not where long-term success happens. Up until now, we’ve managed AI like a really complex information technology, but it’s time to move onto even more ambitious goals. Given its immense capabilities, AI should be treated less like tech and more like talent, and we should manage it in the way we do employees.
The changing pace of technology is helping leaders slot their employees into more strategic roles. We must now do the same for automation like AI. This technology opens an exponential amount of doors when deployed correctly, which is why tech teams need to learn how to manage AI strategy the way HR manages your people strategy. Every company should have people dedicated to ensuring its leaders have implemented AI where it can be successful and instrumental to the whole team. Otherwise, we’re back to the beginning, where automation is either too inefficient or opportunistic to serve human teams well.
When leveraged correctly, AI can serve as your development engine, powering the future of your business. This technology has allowed companies to place people in positions that maximize their potential to succeed — it’s time we return the favor for AI and put it in a position where it can add real value.
Tracy Malingo is senior vice president of product strategy of Verint, where she provides strategic and operational vision on the company’s extensive and innovative conversational AI suite.