Your Customer, the AI

It sounds like a pathetic phishing attack: Click here to make $300,000 to $500,000 a year without an advanced degree and little experience. Too good to be true, right?

Not when the offer is coming from Silicon Valley and the job involves the jackpot-hitting skill of artificial intelligence (AI). Technology companies are trying to do with the world’s limited supply of 10,000 AI engineers what John D. Rockefeller did with oil: corner the market.

Okay, you ask, what do these big-spending technology titans have to do with me? Do you buy or sell anything?

As the Q4 issue of the Digitalist Magazine Executive Quarterly explains, it actually has everything to do with you.

The companies making big plays in AI aren’t hiring all those quants just to refine their search algorithms or make it easier to share photos. They have something much bigger in mind: They want to own the customer experience—your customer experience.

In this month’s cover story, “With or Without You,” we explore how AI is reorganizing the customer experience into two categories: those that add meaning to our lives and those that don’t.

Companies with experiences, products, and services that add emotional value to customers’ lives have a good shot at retaining the direct relationships that they enjoy today. But many everyday purchases are at risk of being offloaded to emotionless AI intermediaries that make buying decisions independently and even without the knowledge of their human beneficiaries.

Companies that lack meaning in customers’ lives must either work to create it or figure out how to make their offerings stand apart from incredibly well-informed AIs. Business leaders need to learn how the AI-mediated marketplace will function now and gather the AI expertise necessary to hang on to their markets. There is no time to wait.

AI isn’t just changing the world of humans, however. Robots have long been second-class participants in the workplace, kept separate from humans and tasked with the dullest, dirtiest, and most dangerous work imaginable.

But now, equipped with AI smarts, robots are entering a new phase, becoming colleagues and collaborators with humans and with each other. Our story, “Domo Arigato, Partner Roboto,” focuses on strategies for how man and machine will work together. Human resources will need to become human–machine resources.

Meanwhile, trade saber-rattling aside, there is no denying that our global economy has become completely interdependent. These days, any company worth its salt has global aspirations, meaning that it must learn how to cross borders successfully.

Increasingly, that crossing has as much to do with data as with products or services. Depending on where companies do business, the value of that data and the sense of ownership that customers have over it varies wildly. Germany, for example, has had a strict data privacy law in place for 40 years, while the United States is only now beginning to wake up to the implications of not managing a free-for-all.

As we point out in our story, “Can You Keep a (Data) Secret?” the increasing sophistication of global cybercrime is causing customers all over the world to become more sensitive about their data. Companies that can deliver a high standard of security to customers will have a competitive advantage in doing business globally. We tell you how to do it.

Data is just another way to look at behavior. And how we interpret behavior, not just among customers and employees but also among growing numbers of cyber-colleagues such as robots and algorithms, will determine our companies’ success. Read the latest issue of the Executive Quarterly to find out how the pieces fit together.

Other highlights from this edition of the Digitalist Executive Quarterly include:


David Jonker is vice president of Thought Leadership at SAP.

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