How can emotionally intelligent AI improve CX?

There has been rapid progress in artificial intelligence (AI) but emotionally intelligent systems that help improve customer experiences remain a long-distant dream.

That was the conclusion a panel of experts brought together to discuss the potential for AI at the recent opening of Photobox Group's new headquarters in London. The panel said AI is now beginning to deliver on its hype. However, brands should be wary of assuming emotionally intelligent systems that think more like humans are on the way.

Functional AI

Clare Gilmartin, CEO at Trainline, said any industry that has a huge amount of data is clearly a great test bed for AI, including the travel sector and her own firm, which manages a huge amount of insight, including passenger information, industry knowledge and social media commentary.

“We’ve ingested the data, built a tonne of products and given people travel super powers, so they can predict when prices might change, delays might happen and even identify where seats are available on trains,” she said.

“If we can use AI to avoid passenger delays and anxiousness, then we can increase the likelihood of people using public transport – which leads to a positive environmental impact."Clare Gilmartin, CEO, Trainline

Yet Gilmartin also said that, despite this progress, Trainline’s developments in AI are best-described as “functional” right now.

“We’re not yet deploying emotionally intelligent rules,” she said. “If we’re interested in building useful products that make everyday life better, than we must understand the emotional context of our customers in the various stages of their journeys.”

Gilmartin said there is lot more Trainline can do to recognise the different emotional states of its passengers and to put rules relating to those states into its products. She said the business aim should be to use AI to help develop new services that encourage consumers to embrace environmentally friendly ways of travelling, such as trains and coaches.

“If we can use AI to avoid passenger delays and anxiousness, then we can increase the likelihood of people using public transport – which leads to a positive environmental impact. But there’s an ethical angle to all advanced technologies that we must be mindful of,” said Gilmartin.

Adding more context

Hugh Williams, senior tech advisor and former global VP of engineering and product for Google Maps, said there has been significant progress regarding the development of emotionally sensitive products in the past 12 months, particularly in terms of conversational AI. He said Microsoft and Google are leading these endeavours and have added more context recently. 

“We’re going to see much more development in this area,” said Williams. “The technology will seem like it knows you a lot better than it does today. But there’s a lot of responsibility on technologists to make sure it’s done in the right way and that we’re using the right data in the right context. We have to take a lot of care, but AI is going to evolve and be a lot more conversational.” 

Behshad Behzadi, engineering training lead at Google Assistant, said the tech giant is investigating how humans interact can with machines in a “more normal way”. He said companies that build emotionally intelligent AIs, such as in digital assistant devices, will help to build consumer trust and confidence.

“I believe that many more people will start using the technology in a much more socially acceptable way in 10 years’ time,” explained Behzadi. “It will be much more natural to use a digital assistant that you always talk to, which understands your context, helps you learn – and that you might even feel something’s wrong when it’s not there. So, there will be more opportunities to make our lives easier but we must be careful what that means, particularly in terms of privacy.” 

PhotoBox Group CTO, Richard Orme, agreed businesses must start carefully investigating the potential impact of advanced technology, like AI. “That’s related to not what we can do but whether we should,” he said. “The reality is we might not create emotionally intelligent machines but they can be designed to respond and interact with humans in certain ways.”

Orme said Photobox Group through key brands such as Moonpig is using AI in an attempt to find creative solutions to customer challenges. “Customers like being creative, but they are anxious about building the best thing they possibly can,” he said.

“In the case of Moonpig customers, we have a tough problem, which is around helping them know what gift to buy for someone else and how we build a recommendation engine to help with that process. We think AI can help.”