More emphasis on customer orientation in the era of artificial intelligence

Digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI) will change service organisations in the near future. Technological advances give rise to challenges that impact organisational practices. Continuous personnel training, leading by example, transparent and responsible operation and, in particular, understanding of customer needs are crucial to a successful digitalisation. There was a lively debate on AI and the many aspects of this topic during the Almedalen Week in Visby in early July. Significant developments in the use of AI are expected over the next five years.

Introduction of artificial intelligence calls for changes to the modus operandi of service organisations. It will require additional inputs into education and training. In order to alleviate the ‘digital stress’, as much as between 10 and 20 per cent of working hours should be spent on training on a continuous basis, says Jan Gulliksen, Professor in Human Computer Interaction at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Digital stress means the stress that you experience when you feel that you can no longer keep pace with the advances in the sector.

At the same time, in the era of artificial intelligence, managements are required to lead by example. The top management is responsible for the digitalisation of the organisation in a process where failures must be accepted when pilot projects involving artificial intelligence are launched at short notice.

However, using AI is primarily a part of comprehensive digitalisation where providing a positive customer experience in an environment characterised by more competition acts as the driver. Services tailored to customers’ needs and the interactive skills of the customer service personnel are crucial to ensuring a successful customer experience. The use of AI in health care was one of the main examples discussed at Almedalen. Patients, and in this case customers, collect more and more information about themselves using a variety of mobile applications. This data can be used in robotised customer service on a pre-emptive basis to slow down the weakening of the patient’s health or to update the diagnosis. In addition, AI can ensure that resources are used more efficiently in the future. With robots taking care of the routine tasks and data management, professionals with the ability to understand patients’ needs take care of the more demanding customer service duties.

The benefits of AI can also be replicated to other customer service sectors, including the audit of central government finances. As data resources are growing and becoming increasingly diverse (as a result of such factors as open data or big data), robots or additional people doing the routine tasks are needed to ensure efficient data processing. The robots would release much-needed resources to meeting customers and interactive development work, something that is increasingly called for in audit and evaluation work. Moreover, it should also be remembered that robots need humans to program their work and to ensure that ethical procedures are followed. In fact, the need to develop human skills arises from this need.

A partnership between humans and robots lies at the core of using AI. Systems using AI cannot be black boxes, as they must be democratised so that the customers can decide on their own level of integrity and service (in other words, how much personal information customers are prepared to disclose so that a specific level of service can be ensured). The customer is at the controls of digitalisation.

Understanding of customers’ needs is also based on a partnership. From the perspective of the organisation providing the services, this means broader understanding of customers’ needs. For this reason, future services will be shaped in cooperation with the customers. Digitalisation of the professional audit in the public sector is still in its infancy and the use of AI has hardly started. In the era of artificial intelligence, the key to success (and to learning from failures) lies in customer understanding.