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When I speak with boards and executive teams about the future of work in a rapidly evolving workplace, the conversation quickly moves to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ‘chatbots’ and coalesces around the concept of a digital employee.


Whilst initially confronting, the light-bulb moment occurs when people understand a digital employee to be a member of staff, a colleague working in the organisation among other colleagues. When taking on a digital employee we need to consider the same things we do when recruiting a human employee: the must-have skills; the ongoing training they require; how they’re going to fit in culturally.


At Ambit, when designing a digital employee, which is our core business, we create a persona. We run design sessions where we develop a personality for the employee, give it a name, assign a birthdate and identify the internal or external customer base it will be dealing with. We focus on personality design and then on AI-driven conversational design. We match the personality of the chatbot with the target market, asking how an employee of that age and with that personality would typically speak to customers. One of our chatbots is named Alan and we speak about him as if he’s an employee that’s just ducked out of the office. That’s the kind of acceptance that’s required for digital employees to be successful. They need to be treated as colleagues internally if they’re going to be successful in dealing with customers externally, and that won’t happen unless the employee is created with a deeply considered persona.


What our clients immediately recognise, and what we point them towards, is that chatbots often provide the first impression of their brand and therefore they need to be strongly aligned with brand values. To properly design a chatbot for an organisation, we need to know how someone representing the organisation’s brand would talk. Entire conversations need to be defined. For example, we built a chatbot for a challenger bank who wanted a slightly different and quirky personality, aligned with their brand positioning. You have to bake that in right from the beginning. If you’re not considering brand values when you’re designing the artificial intelligence that’s facing your customers and your employees, then you’re not going to get a good outcome, because it’s very hard to go back and retrofit it.


We’ve also been working with a multinational clothing retailer whose demographic is eighteen to twenty-three-year-olds; the Instagram generation. They have an entirely different conversation from the one that targets an older demographic. They quickly understood the mind shift required for them to ‘hire’ the right digital employee as they already had a strong concept of hiring the right human employee and were able to buy-in to the design paradigm required to get the most out of their shift to conversational AI.


As with many newcomers, we’ve found that people are ruder to chatbots than they might be to an experienced human employee, so we’ve built in the ability for our chatbots to have empathy so they can understand how people are feeling. If a customer is expressing frustration or communicating with a chatbot in a negative way, this is detected with sophisticated ‘sentiment analysis’ and the conversation is steered down a different path. The chatbot might say “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way, how about we do this”  or “Why don’t I tell you a joke?” as a way of easing the tension. It’s something people don’t expect from a machine but digital employees now have the tools to be able to do that.


At Ambit we want people to be their best. We believe that there are certain things that people can do that machines will never be able to do, however humans spend a lot of time doing menial tasks and if we can take those tasks away by handing them to a digital employee then we can enable humans to concentrate on the things that they’re really good at. We’ve had a lot of discussions with clients and potential clients around how they want to use chatbots and conversational AI and not a single one has said they want to reduce headcount. What they want to do is to improve service, in other words, they want to use this as a tool that enables their employees to do a better job and their customers have a better experience.


As with any technological advancement, some companies may be tempted to think that the impact of AI won’t be significant or that it won’t really affect them. My view is that artificial intelligence is the biggest advancement in technology since the internet itself. It’s going to be a revolution in the way we work and companies need to start on the journey now. They need to start small and learn fast because in five years if they haven’t got digital employees, if their staff don’t have digital colleagues, if they’re not giving their customers an AI-driven digital experience… they’re going to be dead in the water or playing catch-up for years to come.

Tim Warren is Co-Founder and Director of Ambit AI Limited.

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