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Why Business Must Strike a Balance with AI and Emotional Intelligence
by Daniel Newman | July 13, 2020

As we turn to AI to do more tasks for us, the need for emotional intelligence has never been greater. This was true even before coronavirus took hold. Now, imagine how important emotional intelligence is in creating environments where leaders must manage employees who are stressed, scared, and uncertain about what lies ahead. Still, while it’s true that we need emotional intelligence in business management, that’s not the only area where an empathic approach is necessary. It’s also incredibly important—especially now—in balancing your AI marketing efforts.

First, what is emotional intelligence? In the simplest form, it’s the ability to not just solve problems, but understand and connect with the reasons why those problems are occurring and how they impact other people. It’s the ability to care. Rather than getting stuff done, people with high emotional intelligence get stuff done in a way that works best for those they are working for.

In marketing, especially right now, the need for emotional intelligence is also essential. It’s one thing to reach out to customers to let them know your store is still open. It’s another to understand that your customers are scared, nervous, living on an increasingly stretched budget, and perhaps even dealing with the loss of someone they love. These are things data and analytics don’t flag without human perspective. That’s where today’s marketers need to step up their emotional intelligence game.

Emotional Intelligence and AI in Marketing: Changing Your Voice

One of the biggest things to know today is that the “hard sell” is no longer appropriate. Even in the best of times, it can be off-putting. But in a time when so many people are stressed to the max, it’s essential to change your voice from salesperson to empathic and understanding friend.

Keep in mind: the fact that customers are stressed does not mean you can no longer market non-essential products. It just means that they need to be marketed in more empathic ways. Tech companies that offer B2B software solutions like HPE have introduced discounts and other payment programs to help customers. Marketing these opportunities shows you’re listening and you care.

Whereas AI will tell you X number of people or companies that are looking at your product, only a human can determine if they need to know about the deals that are being offered or that you’re willing to work together to find a solution that works for everyone.

Pro-Tip: If you really want to step up your game, make empathic questions part of your data-gathering and analytics efforts.

Emotional Intelligence and AI in Marketing: Making Yourself Available

With so many people working from home and finding a new balance in life, there is one thing your company needs to do: be available. While AI might tell you that X number of customers typically call on a certain day, at a certain time, regarding a certain topic, emotional intelligence will tell you to staff up for longer calls and shorter wait times. Customer service reps need to be prepped on the importance of emotional intelligence. Empathy and understanding will go a long way to help people find solutions they need. As an added bonus, it will likely develop a stronger sense of loyalty between the customer and your brand. We all know it only takes one bad experience for a customer to leave a brand, a positive experience can gain you repeat business — something we are all striving for right now.

Emotional Intelligence and AI in Marketing: Know Thyself

One of the key tenets of emotional intelligence is that you aren’t just able to read the needs of others, but you’re aware of your own emotional trappings. Therefore, if you tend to be more analytic and problem-solving in nature, it’s essential that you make an intentional effort to work more empathic goals into your marketing and AI efforts. In a recent conversation I had with Splunk CTO Tim Tully, he shared that he has started looking at problems with an emotionally intelligent mindset, asking questions like what are the other issues I’m not seeing here.

AI won’t take the step to do this for you. In fact, it will only reinforce whatever bias you bring to the marketing table. So, especially now, make a conscious effort to surround yourself with empathic people who truly understand what your customers are going through, and empower them to make decisions they know to be right even when AI tells you otherwise. This also might be a good time to reintroduce some unconscious bias training. Tim shared that he recently went through an unconscious bias seminar and it opened his eyes to a number of his own personal biases.

This is a time like none other in history. It’s a time when AI and analytics can offer tremendous insights and answers, but when relying on those things alone will force all of us to fall short in serving our customers’ needs. If you lead a data-driven organization and find it difficult to merge that type of enterprise with the more human side of marketing, that’s OK. Just remember: in natural selection, the companies that can adapt to change are the ones that ultimately survive. And right now, data-only culture is not what customers want or need.

The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.

Daniel Newman