Hiring AI Co-workers: Is this the business model of the future?

The pace at which Artificial Intelligence (AI) has advanced in the past few years has certainly got everyone talking about how it’s going to change the way we work. According to the World Economic Forum, it is projected that by 2025, the distribution of work will be evenly split between humans and machines.

Whereas there will be an increase in demand for roles that leverage human skills, machines will predominantly handle tasks related to information and data processing, as well as administrative and routine manual jobs.

Disruptions, transformations, and shifts are expected. There is uncertainty and confusion in the air, side by side with optimism and enthusiasm. On one hand, there is a prevailing concern about the potential displacement of jobs, while on the other hand there is a growing confidence that AI will catalyse productivity like never before. How do organisations prepare themselves to embrace this paradigm shift?

What is working alongside AI going to be like for employees and how do the benefits extend to customers? Let’s have a look.

AI’s impact on the workforce will depend on how it’s approached

Transformative changes such as these often evoke scepticism and apprehension, and within workplaces, it means that employees will need to be ensured that their concerns will be duly addressed. As much as organisations strive to implement radical technological advancements at workplaces, they must place equal importance on shaping the mindset of employees to cultivate a proactive and forward-thinking approach to fully embrace the opportunities presented by AI. Employees may go through a myriad of perplexities surrounding job security, uncertainties and misunderstandings about AI, and disruptions to existing work routines.

Leaders must grasp the implications of AI on their teams and help them prepare by upskilling some for the current roles enhanced by AI, while also retraining or hiring others to meet the demands of emerging AI-driven opportunities. There is no one way to do it, and as with any transformation, experimentation is essential. The ability to iterate and refine strategies becomes a valuable skill in itself, ensuring that there is flexibility for continuous learning and improvement.

Understanding and evaluating the technology’s capabilities and limitations is key to confronting the anxiety surrounding the unfamiliar, which is why it’s important for leaders and managers to involve employees in the decision-making process. Not only does participation bring down resistance, but it also instills a sense of confidence and security in them- a reassurance that everyone is in it together. Honestly communicating about what is to be expected of the future will ensure transparency and allow a free flow of perspectives and ideas for successfully integrating changes. In short, boosting employee morale should be on top of the list.

A win-win for employees and customers

To leverage AI effectively, it’s crucial to acknowledge that AI excels in certain areas where humans may face limitations, while humans excel in realms that AI may find challenging or lacks the nuanced understanding inherent in human experiences. For example, AI can sift through massive datasets, identifying intricate patterns not easily discernible to the human eye, or brain, whereas humans often outperform AI in situations that require intuition and the knack to navigate ambiguous situations.

That is to say, it’s not about choosing one over the other; it’s about discovering the most effective approaches to facilitate a robust human-machine collaboration in ways that yield the best possible outcomes for customers, employees and businesses alike. As a case in point, consider one of the most demanding domains within every business- customer support. A considerable share of customers’ trust in a company hinges on the latter’s ability to promptly acknowledge and cater to customer queries and concerns. If customers have questions or queries about a particular product or service, they would expect quick responses. They need it when they need it.

More often than not, customer support professionals are inundated with a lot on their plate, making it seem almost impossible to efficiently handle every customer. Afterall, humans don’t run on unlimited energy. With the likelihood of burnouts lurking around the corner, the monotony of repetitive tasks doesn’t bring any respite. There is a staggering number of areas and tasks demanding a professional’s attention simultaneously. A perpetual sense of urgency surrounding emails, notifications, and meetings in the modern day has also made work routines rather stressful. Prioritising tasks becomes a challenging endeavour in itself. This is certainly an area where AI can step in to help share the load. A recent study from MIT suggests that employing generative AI chatbots for routine activities such as handling emails or creating short reports accelerate productivity by an impressive 40%, while concurrently enhancing quality by 18%.

Recent advancements in customer-centric language understanding and processing have come a long way since initial versions of chatbots were first introduced into customer service during the early 2000s. Today, thanks to Large Language Models (LLMs) and the evolution of Natural Language Processing (NLP), interactions with AI chatbots have become impressively human-like and much more personalised. Working with digital assistants, for instance, can make something as demanding as customer support more efficient and less tiresome for employees.

Digital assistants can be engaged with multiple LLMs and trained on company information, including product descriptions, FAQs, and past conversation data. The beauty of modern digital assistants is that they no longer have to be seen as just smart robots but as digital colleagues capable of imbibing the company’s brand voice, just like human employees- for example, adapting interaction style to match a company’s tone of voice and other elements of brand identity.

Think of mundane yet crucial tasks such as providing basic information, tracking orders, solving common problems and generating standard reports- these tasks are all quite repetitive in nature. Digital assistants are able to handle repetitive questions quickly, ensuring that employees don’t have to manually look for information to respond to customer queries.

There is context awareness and better detection of customer emotions, ensuring that customer queries are not only answered promptly but also with a level of understanding that reflects the intricacies of the issues raised. While automation takes care of routine queries, human agents are free to focus on more complex issues like resolving high-priority issues that require their problem-solving skills, improving the overall quality of customer support. It ensures that one task doesn't take away from another.

At the same time, consistency is ensured in responses across various interactions, regardless of the channel or time of engagement. Automated systems powered by LLMs are also scalable, catering to the increase in workload as businesses expand. For the customers, it translates to uncompromised quality in support, whereas for professionals, it means manageable workload. Ultimately, this technological integration potentially leads to a win-win scenario, where customers enjoy consistent, high-quality support, and professionals can deliver their expertise in a more strategic and impactful manner.

To enhance, not replace

Welcoming digital colleagues into the workforce not only boosts employee productivity but also enhances the overall health of a business through increased efficiency, expedited decision-making, and the cultivation of a more agile and adaptive organisational culture. Integrating AI into the workflow in itself allows organisations to follow a data-driven approach in its everyday operations. Think of how AI algorithms can predict future trends and outcomes based on historical data, enabling businesses to stay ahead of market changes. It would be fitting to say that digital assistants further exemplify this potential by enabling companies to be proactive in customer engagement and retention, using data to predict behaviour and thereby improving their business’s ability to better respond to customer needs, for instance.

The integration of AI in the workplace will allow organisations to step up their operational efficiency and customer experience game while giving their employees adequate support they would need to put their best foot forward. What’s important is that organisations should critically evaluate where AI would sit within their nuanced requirements, as every workplace is different and will need specifically tailored approaches. Introducing something like digital co-workers in the workplace is indeed a game changer, and has the potential to escalate a business's productivity to unprecedented levels. An essential precursor to unlocking the full extent of such transformative initiatives is a shift in perspective, recognising and preparing for the impact that it can have on traditional work dynamics.