Despite AI Advances, Consumers Crave Human Interactions

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Using the latest artificial intelligence technology, brands are finding new ways to streamline and automate the customer experience. But a new report shows that type of streamlined experience might be the exact opposite of what consumers actually want when they interact with their favorite brands.

According to research from Adobe and Invoca, 53% of consumers would rather interact with a human than a computer, even if that means longer hold times on the telephone. More than half of consumers (51%) believe AI will make shopping more frustrating, and 61% believe it will be less personal.

“Companies need to consider consumers’ attitudes toward AI from this point forward because that technology is going to power businesses in incredible ways during the next decade,” explains Julia Stead, vice president of marketing at Invoca, which offers AI-powered call tracking and analytics services to brands. “It’s important to participate and learn at this moment.”

Surveying 1,000 adults on the role that a brand’s “emotional quotient” (EQ)—defined as the ability to recognize and respond to a customer’s emotional state—has on the consumer experience, Invoca found that almost seven in 10 consumers believe brands will “mostly” use AI for communications five years from now. Younger adults, under the age of 35, more strongly believe that the technology’s EQ will improve by then, compared to those over age 35. Invoca also found that younger consumers are more likely to believe that voice assistants, like Siri and Alexa, can deliver better EQ than their older counterparts.

Stead says she was somewhat surprised to learn that 71% of millennials have heard of EQ, compared to 58% of people 35 to 54 and 34% of people over 54. She chalks the finding up to EQ being a “buzzy” term on social media, which is more heavily used by the younger generation.

“This awareness will translate into expectations when it comes to brand interactions,” Stead says. “In the near term, brands will need to be careful to not over-automate the customer experience. Brands will be successful if they can find ways to balance tech innovation with thoughtful human interaction.”

When brands do find success with AI, it’s usually because they’re hitting the right interaction points. Invoca’s survey found that 90% of consumers say problem-solving is an important characteristic of their interaction with a brand, followed by support (89%), efficiency (88%), and adaptability (87%).

Stead says brands seem to be most effective in using AI when they aren’t using the technology to pitch consumers on new products and ideas. Instead, she recommends that brands use AI to “expand consumers’ horizons,” citing Spotify as an example of a brand that’s been able to use technology with great success.

“The digital music service not only recommends rock songs to me that are stylistically similar to tunes I’ve listened to—it also accurately recommends albums and songs from other genres like jazz, country-western, and classical,” Stead says. “Marketers should aim to do, in essence, the same thing with AI.”

Looking forward to the future, Invoca’s survey found that consumers are hoping for a combination of AI and human interaction. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they prefer this approach, even though only 40% of consumers believe AI will make communication easier. There’s also a belief among researchers that developments in AI will cause the technology to turn a “significant corner” by 2020, leading to better outcomes for retailers, in particular.

“With the 5G era emerging and voice recognition improving, Internet of Things appliances and smart screens will become increasingly part of consumers’ lives,” Stead says. “It won’t take many years for their expectations to elevate from the novel, ‘wow factor’ into assuming they’ll speak into these machines and seamlessly get what they want.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.