The future of AI: designing with a human touch

2021 Macquarie Technology Summit related insight


1 July 2021

Over the last decade, businesses have begun to regard artificial intelligence (AI) as a critical tool for improving customer service. However, it comes with an important warning – get it wrong – and customers may reconsider buying your product.

Amanda Guerrera is a Product Designer in Macquarie’s Digital Transformation and Data team. In this article, Amanda discusses the blurred lines between AI, customer service and, ultimately, what’s best for customers.  

The term ‘artificial intelligence’ refers to any behaviour exhibited by a computer, robot or machine that mimics those of a human and in 2021, AI is everywhere.  It’s no longer a figment of futurists’ imaginations but paves the way for convenience in our modern day society. From intricate algorithms designed to lure consumers with personalised advertising to self-driving cars, the future belongs to AI.


The dangers of unempathetic AI

Even with the steady increase in the use of chatbots by organisations as a service channel, customers undoubtedly still prefer to turn to traditional channels such as phone and email for help when an issue arises. With expectations of a fast and personalised experience, when they reach out for support they want to feel listened to. 

And, while AI can solve many problems, it still lacks the personal human connection, which is why 80 per cent1 of customers say they are less likely to make a purchase when they perceive their conversational partner is a bot and not a human. 


AI and humanity working together

As much as Hollywood would like us to think otherwise, AI can’t solve all our problems – it's here to support routine tasks and make business more efficient, and supplement – not supplant – the human experience. 

Customers expect their service to be personalised and would rather pick up the phone than deal with a rabbit hole of unsatisfactory responses created by a chatbot, which is only as good as the knowledge centre its programmed with.

Humans bring the added empathy and can show the compassion that customers crave when they want to connect to a brand. Humans can empathically adapt their response and, ultimately, that customer experience can decide whether or not they return. 

AI works at its best when it doesn’t replace the human interaction but enhances it. And when the lines of human interaction and artificial intelligence are blurred so much you can’t tell them apart and they become a part of your everyday. 

Simple yet powerful examples of this are the algorithms of streaming platforms that suggest which series you should binge next based on your previous watch history. A second is chatbots reading customer sentiment based on just a few keywords and acting like a traffic cop directing customers to the most appropriate sales agent. 

With more data, comes better analysis of a person’s needs and in turn, an opportunity to provide more products and services based on their feedback or historical usage. 

Understanding your clients' needs is about creating empathy and therefore the human connection to your brand.

Examples of AI sentiment analysis, regularly used by businesses to assess customer engagement and satisfaction.

Source: MonkeyLearn


Where is AI taking us?

With the rise of quality AI and its integration into everyday devices such as smart speakers, there could soon be a future where it's less about direct interaction with organisations and more about voice assistants acting on your behalf directly - including making calls from your phone.

“Hey Google, book an appointment next week with the best rated hairdresser in my area.”

Arguably the biggest announcement from Google in 2018 was its completely automated technology Duplex, which can conduct natural conversations to carry out “real world” tasks over the phone.

In a demonstration of it making a reservation, the AI sounded so human – inserting ‘mmhmmm’s’ into the conversation – that the salesperson on the other end of the call had no idea they were speaking with a robot.

“The amazing thing is that Google Assistant can actually understand the nuances of conversation,” said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google during their IO 2018 developer conference, “we’ve been working on this technology for many years.” 

Duplex really feels like next-level AI stuff, but Google’s chief executive said it’s still very much under development. And again, one wonders if the reason is simple, if the ‘cover is blown’ and the person on the other end of the call perceives their conversational partner is not human - the trust is broken.


Human-centered design is key to an enjoyable experience

Despite efforts to replicate human behaviour through automation and AI, the essentials of human connection – eye contact, personal touch, empathy – remain irreplaceable by technology.

To solve for this, organisations need to design products and services with empathy and the customer in mind. Understanding your customer’s needs is about creating empathy and therefore the human connection to your brand. 


To get this right in future, businesses must:

  1. Know the values of the people they hope to serve.
  2. Be wary of AI solutions that are glaringly obvious (and clearly only benefit the business); and
  3. Think of ways to add meaning and a sense of belonging to their brand to ensue customer loyalty.

Amanda Guerrera (second from the right) Product Designer in Macquarie’s Digital Transformation and Data team. 

2022 Macquarie Technology Summit

Embracing the transformative potential of technology, for a better future

The Macquarie Technology Summit once again brought together global leaders driving technological change across multiple aspects of business and community.