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Would you like a side of fries with your AI?
Wendy’s is betting that your answer is yes.
Earlier this year, the company unveiled a plan to bring generative AI technology to its drive-thru visitors. Instead of dealing with a person, hungry patrons would be greeted by a chatbot programmed to get their orders right.
Those of us who’ve tried to converse with a fast-food worker through a scratchy sound system would probably find this move a blessing. Who wouldn’t want to remove obstacles to getting grub for a bunch of hungry, restless kids in the back seat? Yet Wendy’s foray into AI might well serve up more than just a meal. It might be yet another sign that AI is being used to bypass the brand-customer human touch.
This isn’t to suggest that AI tools aren’t valuable. They are, and leaders know it. McKinsey & Company found that 55% of businesses have adopted AI in some capacity. But the almost-feverish desire to automate has some executives worried. At a Yale University summit, a full 42% of CEOs sounded alarm bells about AI’s potential for humanity’s destruction. That’s pretty scary stuff.
At the same time, you can’t allow yourself to be left behind in the AI arms race. You need to figure out a way to remain competitive without losing your brand’s human side. And that’s doable if you take steps to preserve the humanity of your organization.
1. Bring AI solutions into the fold thoughtfully
There’s nothing wrong with using AI solutions to enhance and optimize your processes. Fair warning, though: You shouldn’t just adopt tools left and right. Rather, take a more thoughtful, pragmatic approach and ask if an AI product will help or harm your company’s humanness.
Where should you start? Research scientists at MIT Sloan recommend studying the ethical effects of all AI you’re evaluating. Does the AI free up time and space for your employees to have deeper interactions with buyers? Or does it have the power to hurt some end users or stakeholders? For instance, consider a generative AI software like ChatGPT. It can churn out content faster than humans, but the content may lack depth and contain inaccuracies. Therefore, although it may technically make populating your blog simpler, it could steal from your ability to provide truth and value.
Each time a team member brings up an AI product to test, think about the long-term effects. Map out the good, bad and unintentional outcomes. That way, you’ll be able to see if you’re about to gain more positives or negatives if you bring the AI into the fold.
2. Gear up your human-to-human outreach efforts
Let’s say you have a customer service chatbot and AI-powered marketing campaign generator. Both products could allow you to rev up your team’s efficiency. Nevertheless, you may still be worried that customers won’t get as much of a chance to see the people, purpose and humanity behind your brand. One way to overcome this issue is with authentic outreach vehicles.
Take podcasts, for example. More and more B2C and B2B brands have entered into the podcast realm, my professional arena. Podcasts are excellent opportunities to send your voice and message out to the world. Plus, they’re popular: More than 100 million people are expected to tune in next year. When you’re sharing information over a podcast as an expert, there’s no barrier between you and the listener. On the contrary, you’re creating a stronger, richer bond between you and the people you’re reaching.
Other outreach options that are also effective at bridging any AI-constructed gaps include webinars, video blogs and even live #AMA (“ask me anything”) sessions. All of them encourage you to tap into your storytelling and teaching skills. Consequently, you get the benefit of increasing your thought leadership acumen while simultaneously upping your brand’s humanity.
3. Resist the temptation to hide behind AI tech
I’ve always appreciated technology and what it can do for businesses and their workers. With that said, I’m not a fan of those who hide behind AI. For example, you might use an AI plug-in to elicit feedback from customers. That’s a great idea. Surveys — particularly those taken right after a purchase is made — can reveal how satisfied your customers are.
But what happens when a customer isn’t happy and makes it quite clear on a survey? Do you immediately try to get in touch to find out why or do the right thing? Or do you simply allow this critical moment to pass because it feels like “just another data point?”
Ideally, AI should free up your (and everyone’s) time so they can make the most of touchpoint opportunities like the one I just described. It may not be your favorite thing in the world to call a cranky customer. Nevertheless, it’s a lot better — and more lucrative — than losing the customer for good. American Express research reveals that acquiring a new customer is up to six times as costly as retaining one. And nothing beats a personal reach-out to soothe a buyer’s irritation and highlight the empathetic humans behind your company.
The development of AI innovations isn’t going to stop. Fortunately, AI doesn’t have to interfere with your brand’s humanity. As long as you use AI consciously, as well as balance it with human outreach and connections, you can avoid problems. And that’s advice you can take all the way to the drive-thru.