What’s the role of AI in client listening?

Everybody’s talking about AI – whether you view it as a threat or an opportunity – it’s here to stay. I don’t claim to be any kind of tech guru (my Mum mistakenly thinks I am one, but it’s all relative!) so won’t be going into any great detail or delving into its wider potential repercussions, but I do want to share how it seems to be playing out in my own client listening work.

One of the things AI is able to do is replicate and indeed, go so far as to replace, certain human interactions – think ChatBots and their like. These can be a useful instrument in the client experience toolbox but they should always be regarded with a certain degree of caution.

Some of the more transactional elements of your clients’ relationship with your brand can legitimately be conducted through ChatBots. It can be quicker and easier to have a simple query resolved in this way. However, an over-reliance on AI can damage your clients’ impressions of your business, especially if they prefer interacting with a human, and that option isn’t given.

It’s all in the relationship

After all, relationship – the ‘know, like and trust’ thing – is invariably one of the main reasons why your clients choose to stay with you. In B2B, that trust will have been something that has developed over a relatively lengthy period of time. This inevitably begs the question, can the evaluation of the strength of that sort of relationship ever be outsourced to, or meaningfully conducted via AI? Because I don’t believe it can.

The concept of relationship – between a buyer or user, and the person supplying the service – is central to client listening. The very act of taking time for human-to-human interaction, with the back and forth of a conversation that’s guided but also allows for spontaneity and going off-piste, is where so much of its value is found.

Accessing digital behaviour intelligence purely from analytics systems may be easy but it’s no substitute for deeper, human, observational research. The old adage, that the stuff that’s harder to find, is the most valuable, stands true. Client listening, in the way it moves away from dashboards, puts your client front and centre and focuses on narratives. It’s where you find the answer to WHY your clients feel and act the way they do.

The ‘artificial’ in AI

Client listening, and indeed, listening in any context, takes a high degree of skill, empathy and emotional intelligence – can that ever be meaningfully engineered for? And, more importantly, would you want it to be? Doesn’t its very artifice negate the effect it’s going for?

So, I’m of the opinion that the act of gathering insight from clients and other stakeholders through one-to-one conversations will continue as a human-to-human interaction.

A role for AI

There is more of a role for AI however, in the processes around client listening. Transcription tools can be very handy for recording conversations (although I have yet to find one that’s as accurate and attuned to nuance as a human) and data analysis can be helped along by the introduction of AI. There are some great examples of platforms, eg MyCustomerLens, which use AI to consolidate feedback from multiple sources and use AI-driven sentiment analysis to pull out common themes. This is particularly useful when you have large volumes of qualitative data to analyse and need to be able to easily identify your strengths and where you need to take action.

We may be in the foothills of the age of AI but we should be mindful of how we approach its inevitable development and growing prevalence. Even my own breezy opening of ‘it’s here to stay’ should be qualified with ‘we must make sure we mould its development towards areas that serve us – that help us reclaim time and resource, and not allow it to run away with replacing us’. Only then will we be able to fully embrace its potential.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how AI is impacting your sector.

And if you’d like to find out more about how I can help you introduce a very valuable and human approach to client listening, do get in touch.

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