The ‘Wild West’ era of AI is over

ARTICLE | April 12, 2023

The ‘Wild West’ era of AI is over

Artificial intelligence promises to transform work and life in Australia, if it’s deployed with careful planning and safeguards

By Tahn Shannon, Workflow contributor

Just before the global explosion of artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT and DALL.E, Australia’s Royal Commission into Robodebt came into being. The timing was uncanny. Alongside media buzz about how generative AI will reshape our lives, senior civil servants reflected on significant issues caused by an automated welfare debt recovery process.

For business leaders, the human and reputational cost of robodebt is a stark reminder of what happens when decision-makers ask, “what could we do with this data?”, instead of “what should we do?”.

Australian executives at a recent ServiceNow and Trans-Tasman Business Circle roundtable event agreed the ‘Wild West’ days of deploying AI wherever, whenever are behind us.


How AI is improving customer experience

In a climate of economic uncertainty and changing customer behaviour, leaders are being asked to do more with less. Many organisations are turning to AI to cut costs and improve experiences. And as more firms embrace automation, there is growing awareness that careful planning and safeguards are required up front to mitigate risk, elevating questions about fairness, ethics, and responsible AI to the board level.

This year, every company, regardless of industry, will need to formulate a vision of how to embed AI into operations. Companies are already scrambling to respond to existing tools and govern their usage, reminding employees that private data entered into tools like ChatGPT could be shared with other users.

“We’re at the front line of risk exposure right now,” commented an executive from the financial services industry. “Businesses must help policymakers raise the bar on best practice AI.”

As AI use-cases proliferate, organisations must be prepared to test and learn.

When one of Australia’s leading insurance brands considered using AI to process death claims, everyone from senior management to frontline teams thought it was a bad idea. They assumed having an agent handling calls in an empathetic and supportive manner would deliver a superior experience. What they learned, surprised them.

After analysing customer calls, managers realised that people going through the immediate stages of grief do not want to sit on the phone with a stranger recounting painful details to lodge a claim. Their preference was to submit a digital form, engage with a chatbot, and avoid speaking with humans at all.

“Digital first and human where it matters,” an executive from the company told the roundtable.

A similar story plays out in the home mortgage industry. “AI analysis helped us figure out that if a customer has bought a home before and is familiar with the application, they’re happy to step through an automated process,” explained an executive from a major lender.

In contrast, the bank’s data revealed that first-home buyers seek reassurance and prefer multiple human touchpoints along the journey.


of executives planning significant or moderate investments in CX in 2023

“We only learned that by asking our customers and employees the right questions, and challenging our own assumptions. You can’t just zero in on improving the technology. We have to ask whether it’s better for a human or a robot to do certain things. Is it more productive or profitable to automate, or to have an employee handhold a customer through a manual process?”

In challenging economic times, good customer experience is a key differentiator. Leaders are taking note, with 70% of executives planning significant or moderate investments in CX in 2023, according to research by ThoughtLab and ServiceNow. AI-powered tools like sentiment analysis and virtual bots will let customer-service representatives focus on providing great experiences. These tools work best if risk and governance considerations are incorporated from the outset.

As cost-of-living pressures start to bite, customers are losing patience with poor service. Aussies wasted 96.5 million hours waiting to have their problems solved in 2022. At the other end, employees are wasting one day a week on low value, routine work, when they could be helping customers. Digitising the right processes allows people to play to their unique strengths, leaving machine mates to do repetitive tasks.

“Many organisations today find themselves on a blinkered mission to automate everything in an effort to ‘fix’ the customer experience,” said an executive  from one of Australia’s largest banks. 

“They’re forgetting that to achieve better service and faster resolution times, you have to understand the employee experience. Like many banks, we have a lot of optimisation happening in isolation of the end-to-end value chain. We’re automating all sorts of manual processes in the backend, without truly understanding the up- and down-stream impacts.”

The lightbulb moment for many arrives when AI investment is focused on integrating both sides of the experience. Companies that excel at experience delivery don’t think of the two as separate; they align employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX) to multiply the effects of each. 

This is prompting some organisations to redefine value. According to executives from two of Australia’s leading financial institutions, reducing friction in EX to elevate CX has become the major priority for AI investment.

Many organisations today find themselves on a blinkered mission to automate everything in an effort to ‘fix’ the customer experience

Consider something many of us take for granted: single sign-on (SSO). For many frontline employees handling critical data, hybrid work exposed their disconnected experiences. In one example, agents were logging in to 20 different systems before starting work each morning, with many of those systems timing out during the day. This crystalised the bank’s technology priorities: if we make life easy for employees, they can make life easy for customers.

Using automation and AI-optimised search tools also reduced case volumes and response times — slicing a loan application processes from half a day and over 60 tabs on a screen to a single view, completed in minutes.

As organisations climb the digital maturity curve from manual to automated, they must ensure that new AI tools are implemented with guidelines for fair and ethical decision-making. This adds a new layer of complexity—and opportunity.

The Australian Federal Government’s Digital Transformation Agency is a good example of  how automation can build trust while delivering better user experiences. The agency  enhanced productivity and efficiency with a new, automated procurement platform that was built to ensure  compliance with record management and audit regulations. As a result, buyers and sellers are guided through all the relevant steps and get responses far faster.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” says Anthony Conway, product manager and director for digital sourcing platforms at the Digital Transformation Agency. “We have facilitated 5,000 transactions in the last financial year alone. We have seen an 82% increase in contract value, from AUD700 million to almost AUD3.9 billion in 2021. Before ServiceNow, these volumes would have been quite challenging to manage.”

Gone are the days when responsible AI was a problem for data scientists who were far removed from the customers and employees their decisions impacted. Today, responsible AI is  rapidly joining other risk and compliance topics as a staple of board discussions.

As more firms adopt AI, putting people at the centre of digitisation conversations and carefully planning will improve experiences and reduce costs — all while building trust with stakeholders.

 Workflow Guide

AI in the enterprise

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Tahn Shannon is a Sydney-based communications strategist and writer. She’s spent nearly two decades working with business leaders at the intersection of industry disruption, innovation, and organisational change.

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