Katharina Wittgens: Why emotion is key to AI success

AI must enhance human emotion says Katharina Wittgens, Insights Director at Innovationbubble.

Data and hard-nosed science may form the backbone of artificial intelligence, but emerging technology won’t succeed without an ample serving of emotion. Retail Connections caught up with Innovationbubble’s Katharina Wittgens to discuss AI and how hidden psychological influences trigger purchasing decisions. You can hear more from her at our next event, Artificial Intelligence: the new game changer in retail, in November.

What’s the public’s awareness level of AI? Do they see it as positive or negative?

I’m actually quite curious as to whether consumers will ever really have an awareness of AI itself, or just what it does. Some view AI’s capabilities positively because it makes their lives easier – they need to search less for items, it enables personalisation, and it helps to make their retailer relationships feels more special.

On the other hand, there is a real generational difference in attitudes towards the power of AI. Generation Z are used to sharing their data so companies can predict their behaviour; they have grown up with technology that can do this. However, older consumers are much less comfortable.

When implementing AI, retailers need to be extremely aware of how it can impact on their conversations with customers, and manage that transitions.

How do you think AI will change the relationship between consumers and retailers?

If retailers are smart about using AI to understand the consumer and their behaviour, it can positively affect their relationship. However, they need to be sensitive that it might not benefit everyone – for instance, certain consumer segments get irritated by their own predictability.

Overall, the best use case for AI is to make customer engagements more personalised, so you’re not wasting their time with unwanted information and offers. It allows you to get closer to who they are and what they are interested in, which can only be a positive in the customer’s eyes.

Also, we need to think carefully about how AI will impact the role of people in retail. Psychologically, humans are social beings; we get more value from human interaction than any robot or machine. For that reason I don’t think AI will ever replace human interaction – it needs to augment the experience in a smart way.

Are there any misconceptions about the value of AI in retail?

Many retailers think customer interactions need to be quicker and easier, and that’s where they are looking to utilise AI, but this isn’t always true.

Our research shows that if the buying journey becomes too seamless, the brain becomes disengaged because there is no need to make an effort anymore. Consumers only achieve understanding when they put effort in; this is an important part of forming an emotional attachment.

People will differ in the volume of effort they want to put in, but there has to be some engagement during the buying process.

What advice would give retailers who are building their AI strategies?

AI should be implemented smartly, with an understanding of human behaviour, so that it helps you deliver better experiences. Remember that the brain derives pleasure from human interaction and feedback; technology should be enhancing this, not trying to replicate it.

To discover more about the psychological impact of AI on retailer/consumer relationships, sign up for our next event free of charge – Artificial Intelligence: the new game changer in retail.

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