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The potential of empathetic AI

Andrew LeClair, Log in to subscribe to the Blog

The term artificial intelligence has been around since 1956; however many people don’t truly understand what it means or how it affects their lives on a daily basis. Visions of robot overlords and sentient computers, no doubt the product of science fiction and pop culture, seem to always be attached to AI. But today, AI permeates all manner of things, from spam filters, to personalized recommendations, to voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana. While AI and machine learning are extraordinarily useful for completing manual tasks faster and more efficiently than human beings, science is always pushing the boundaries of what AI can do.

In the business world, large enterprises are under constant pressure to close the gap with customers, to innovate how they engage, and to act with empathy – as a means to develop deeper (and ultimately more valuable) relationships. That’s a huge challenge. AI technologies provide a potential means to achieve that level of intimacy. Yes, AI can reason based on inputs and algorithms - but can it actually understand or share the feelings of another? Can it be empathetic? And does it matter?

Challenges and concerns with AI today

Dr. Rob Walker, Pega’s Vice President of Decision Management, focused on this topic in his keynote presentation at PegaWorld, explaining how AI is more advanced than ever – and that means we need to proceed with caution. We know AI can create photos that appear to be actual people, or even “deepfake” videos that convincingly alter reality. We also know that the algorithms that drive AI can learn and adapt on their own. The challenge is how to guide an AI’s self-learning capabilities in positive ways, while eliminating bias, preventing the creation or perpetuation of wrong or false information, or in some other way causing harm.

Consumers view AI with that same sense of caution. This past year, Pega surveyed 6,000 customers from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, France, Germany, and Japan to get their thoughts and concerns around AI and empathy. The results show that a majority of consumers (69%) believe businesses are morally obligated to put consumers’ needs first, but 65% don’t believe businesses have the consumer’s best interest at heart. About half (54%) also believe AI-based decisions could show bias.

Empathy as a key component of your customer engagement strategy

Businesses are aware that customers are losing faith in them. They know they need to step their game up when it comes to putting the needs of the customer first.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

The same assumption is true of businesses – consumers will take their business elsewhere if they feel like they’ve had a bad experience. Today, it is all about the customer experience, and businesses who excel at making their customers feel heard and understood have the advantage. But how do you create and foster a personal customer experience when you have millions of customers and petabytes worth of data? That’s where the machines come in.

Businesses know that AI-based systems aren’t yet ready to fully make decisions on their own, but machine learning can still be used to personalize the experience. To use AI in an empathetic way, human partnership is essential. An AI needs human guidelines that prioritize ethical considerations and integrate those into the way the machine learns.

This human-machine partnership is a way to address the challenges of AI-based decisioning and foster positive results. The approach:

  1. Reflects well on the brand and the brand’s reputation.
  2. Generates “in the moment” ROI by triggering relevant and valuable engagement.
  3. Has a long term, downstream effect, increasing customer lifetime value.

How to operationalize empathy with AI

How can businesses use AI-based decisioning to prioritize consumer needs, while still allaying those same concerns about AI? That can be tricky, but it’s very do-able.

First, it’s essential for businesses to understand the outcomes they want to achieve through AI-based decisioning. Then, by defining rules related to company goals, customer journey goals, ethical goals, customer behavior, and the best actions to take depending on those defined rules, businesses will have a framework on which to apply adaptive analytics in an empathetic way.

This approach gives businesses control as well as visibility into how analytics are used and decisions are made. It allows businesses to leverage AI-based decisioning to engage in a contextual, relevant, and personalized way across any channel, creating outcomes that are mutually beneficial to the customer and the company.

Differentiate through empathetic AI

When it comes to morality, AI still needs work. But businesses can differentiate themselves and their core brand values by using intelligent decisions and empathy to create relevant and personalized experiences.

Learn more:

  • Download Pega’s report on AI and Empathy to get customer insights and learn how a combination of AI and human ethics can create better customer engagement.
  • Read how Pega’s Customer Empathy Advisor™ can help balance next best actions that are beneficial to both the customer and the business.
  • See Dr. Rob Walker’s thought-provoking PegaWorld keynote presentation for deeper insights on AI and empathy.
  • Learn how insurer Achmea is building high-value customer relationships with AI.
  • Watch our webinar series on “The ins and outs of one-to-one customer engagement” to learn how to deliver contextual, personalized customer experiences.


Industry: Cross-Industry Product Area: Marketing Topic: AI and Decisioning

About the Author

Andrew LeClair, Pega’s senior product marketing manager for decision sciences, helps the world’s largest brands leverage real-time analytics and AI to deliver one-to-one, personalized customer engagement.

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