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Why AI Might Be Damaging the Trust Bridge Between a Client and Your Brand

AI Might Be Damaging the Trust Bridge Between a Client and Your Brand

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The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in customer service and support over the past few years has been rapid. Chatbots, virtual assistants, and other AI-powered tools have become ubiquitous across websites, apps, and messaging platforms. While these technologies promise efficiency, convenience, and potential cost savings, they also come with significant risks regarding customer trust, satisfaction and the human connection.

As more brands adopt AI prematurely or improperly, it can actually damage the relationship between a company and its customers. When not thoughtfully implemented, AI can feel impersonal, inauthentic and frustrating for customers. This erosion of trust can have long-term implications for customer retention and brand reputation.

The Rise of AI in Customer Service

The customer service domain has been an early and eager adopter of AI technology. In 2021, Gartner predicted that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions would involve emerging technologies such as machine learning applications, chatbots and mobile messaging. (Source: Gartner)

The potential for businesses to save costs through AI-powered chatbots continues to grow. A recent Gartner study found that 70% of customer interactions will be handled by conversational AI platforms by 2026, suggesting significant potential cost reductions compared to human-staffed support channels. (Source: Gartner) Other benefits touted by AI evangelists include:

  • 24/7 availability – Bots can handle simple, repetitive inquiries anytime.
  • Improved efficiency – AI tools complete tasks faster than humans.
  • Scalability – Chatbots can manage huge volumes of interactions simultaneously.
  • Personalization – Data analysis enables customized conversations.

However, despite the hype and potential upsides, AI-driven customer service also comes with considerable downsides regarding the customer experience. Poorly implemented AI can actually harm brand trust and loyalty.

Lack of Personal Connection

One of the biggest drawbacks of chatbots and other AI is their inability to make an emotional connection with customers. While AI interactions may be quick and functional, they lack warmth, nuance, trust, empathy and understanding. Research shows that emotionally engaged customers are typically three times more likely to recommend a brand, three times more likely to re-purchase, and less likely to switch to competitors. AI often fails to satisfy this human need for bonding and rapport. (Source: Spiralytics)

Many customers become frustrated when chatbots give scripted, robotic responses that feel impersonal. Without that human touch, customers cannot form a bond or relationship with the company.

How emotional connection on marketing helps trust signals
Image rights: Mark Manson

Misinterpretation of Customer Needs

Another common complaint with AI customer service is its difficulty understanding context, nuance and complex customer issues. While AI can easily handle simple FAQ-style queries, problems arise with more open-ended conversations.

AI chatbots rely heavily on pre-programmed keywords and scripts. When customers phrase questions differently, use humor/sarcasm, or ask about unusual topics, chatbots often fail to comprehend the intent. This forces customers to re-phrase repeatedly, or gives inaccurate/nonsensical responses.

Such misunderstandings erode trust in the company’s competency and ability to help. Customers expect agents, whether human or AI, to demonstrate understanding of their unique needs and situation. When AI falls short, it feels incompetent rather than intelligent.

Privacy and Data Security Concerns

The data collection required to power AI applications also raises customer concerns about privacy violations and data misuse.

Brands overtly collect customer data to train their AI tools. But they rarely explain how this data gets used, stored, or shared behind the scenes. Customers may unwillingly provide personal details to a chatbot that could be exploited or compromised.

These opaque data practices undermine customer trust in the brand’s ethics and integrity. Recent scandals involving data breaches and misuse have heightened consumer wariness of how companies leverage their information. AI tools must be transparent regarding data practices to avoid appearing sinister or underhanded.

Inability to Handle Complex Situations

While AI excels at simple, rules-based conversations, its limitations quickly emerge when dealing with complex, nuanced, or non-routine situations. Customers expect human-level sophistication, but AI technology is not advanced enough to replicate human cognition.

When chatbots or virtual agents fail to understand ambiguous, open-ended conversations, they default to pre-written scripts and responses. This inability to handle exceptions or “off-script” discussions is readily apparent to users, who quickly lose patience.

Handing over these difficult interactions to a human agent may deliver better outcomes for the customer. But the transfer can feel jarring and inefficient if the AI system fails to provide context. This disjointed experience reflects poorly on the company’s competency.

Lack of Transparency and Accountability

In addition to data practices, brands are often not transparent about when a customer is interacting with AI versus a human agent. Customers may be conversing with a chatbot for several minutes before realizing they are not dealing with a real person.

This deception erodes trust in the company’s honesty and transparency. Customers expect brands to be upfront about whether they are talking to a human or an AI system. Ambiguity around AI usage suggests the company has something to hide.

Relatedly, brands must clarify who is accountable when AI systems fail customers. If a chatbot gives inaccurate information or behaves inappropriately, customers need recourse. Without assigning responsibility, customers have no way to provide feedback or escalate issues when AI drops the ball.

Lack of transparency and accountability
Image rights: Americans for Prosperity

The Importance of Human Touch

Despite AI’s capabilities, the unique strengths of human agents highlight the inherent limitations of technology. Human strengths like emotional intelligence, creativity, adaptability and complex reasoning cannot be easily replicated by machines.

The human touch builds rapport through empathy, active listening, humor and understanding nuance. Human agents can read between the lines, interpret intentions, and make situational judgement calls in a way AI cannot. These emotional connections create bonds of loyalty and trust.

While AI handles routine transactions efficiently, human oversight is still crucial for complex issues, escalations, and building relationships. Customers often prefer dealing with an actual person for addressing sensitive topics or securing reassurance during high-stakes interactions.

Balancing AI and Human Interaction

The solution is not to abandon AI altogether, but to thoughtfully balance automation and human involvement. Brands should not blindly hand customer interactions fully over to AI without considering its limitations.

The ideal approach recognizes the unique strengths of both humans and AI. Each excels at certain tasks. AI handles high-volume, repetitive inquiries while human agents focus on complex issues and relationship-building.

By thoughtfully mapping out customer journeys, brands can determine appropriate hand-off points between AI and human agents. With strategic oversight and governance, AI becomes a productivity-enhancing tool rather than a replacement for human expertise.

Building Trust through Transparency

To mitigate the trust risks of AI customer service, brands must prioritize transparency, especially regarding data practices.

Customers should explicitly opt-in to any data collection, fully understand how their information gets used by the company’s AI tools, and have the right to delete their data.

Brands should also confirm upfront when an interaction involves AI versus a human representative. This sets appropriate expectations around the sophistication and capabilities of the response.

Finally, brands must clarify accountability – who customers can follow up with if an AI system provides a poor or harmful response that requires investigation or recourse.

Ensuring Ethical Use of AI

In addition to transparency, brands must implement responsible AI practices that align with their values. This includes:

  • Fairness – Eliminating biases embedded in algorithms that could harm certain customer groups
  • Safety – Preventing the AI from making dangerous or unethical recommendations
  • Security – Protecting customer data from breaches and misuse
  • Oversight – Monitoring AI behavior to quickly catch and correct mistakes
  • Testing – Extensively piloting AI tools with real users pre-launch

Adhering to ethical AI principles demonstrates the company’s integrity and commitment to using technology responsibly.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence

To maximize customer satisfaction, AI tools must exhibit greater emotional intelligence (EQ) – the ability to detect and respond appropriately to human emotions.

AI should:

  • Recognize customer sentiment and intent
  • Respond with empathy and understanding
  • Mirror human qualities like humor and warmth
  • Know when to hand-off to a human representative

With sufficient EQ development, AI can foster the rapport and trust that human interactions cultivate. This requires extensive training on real customer conversations to learn nuanced human behaviors.

Training AI to Improve Customer Experience

Thoughtfully designed training frameworks are key to developing capable, trustworthy AI systems. Data scientists must:

  • Gather diverse, high-quality conversational data
  • Thoroughly test AI chatbots with human users for feedback
  • Continuously update training models to address weak points
  • Work closely with customer service teams to incorporate insights
  • Give end users a voice in shaping AI behavior

With rigorous, customer-centric training protocols, brands can maximize AI’s upside while mitigating risks from poorly executed automation.

10 reasons why AI can tank trust between a brand and its customers:

  1. Deepfakes Gone Wild: Imagine your favorite brand’s CEO caught on video saying something crazy. Except, it never happened – it’s a deepfake made to look real. Talk about a reputation nightmare!
  2. Chatbots That Just Don’t Get It: Ever tried to get help online and the chatbot’s more clueless than you are? It’s enough to make you want to scream. No wonder people don’t trust brands that hide behind bots.
  3. Ads That Stalk You: You search for one thing online and suddenly ads for it are everywhere. It’s creepy, and it makes you feel like brands are more like invasive spies than helpful businesses.
  4. Fake Everything: AI can make fake reviews, fake product pics, you name it. When you can’t even tell what’s real online, how are you supposed to trust any brand?
  5. Sneaky AI: Brands that try to hide using AI come off as shady. If they’re not upfront about it, you gotta wonder what else they might be hiding.
  6. Robots with Bad Attitudes: AI can pick up all the worst biases out there, then treat customers unfairly. No one will stick around for a brand that seems discriminatory.
  7. Lies That Spread Like Wildfire: Fake news was bad enough, now AI can make it even faster and more believable. That makes it super hard to know who to trust.
  8. When Your Data Isn’t Safe: AI systems get hacked sometimes, spilling your info all over. Bye-bye trust, hello worry about who has your credit card number.
  9. Talking to a Wall: Dealing with AI instead of humans makes you feel like a number, not a valued customer. Who wants to be loyal to a brand that doesn’t seem to care?
  10. The Robot Takeover: People are scared about AI taking jobs. If they think a brand doesn’t care about its workers, they’re definitely not going to be loyal shoppers.

Leveraging AI to Enhance Trust

When responsibly implemented, AI can build trust by providing customers greater convenience, personalization, and solutions to problems. AI that is competent, transparent and aligned with human needs demonstrates that the company listens to its customers and invests in improving their experience.

For example, AI could:

  • Resolve routine issues quickly so customers spend less time waiting
  • Use data insights to tailor interactions to each customer’s preferences
  • Proactively notify customers of potential issues before they arise
  • Follow up after conversations to ensure issues are fully resolved

These capabilities illustrate that the company actively strives to understand and serve customers better through AI innovation.

Overcoming Customer Resistance

Given many customers’ skepticism towards AI, brands must delicately introduce automation while emphasizing its benefits for consumers.

Companies should:

  • Clarify upfront when a chatbot handles straightforward queries to set expectations
  • Reassure users the tool has been extensively trained on real customer data
  • Highlight when AI frees up human agents to solve complex issues
  • Share positive feedback from other customers about the AI experience
  • Make it easy to switch to a human agent if preferred

With patient persuasion and education, brands can overcome doubts and demonstrate how AI, when thoughtfully applied, enhances rather than detracts from the customer experience.

Long-Term Implications for Brands

Customer service is a vital touchpoint that shapes brand perceptions and loyalty. The rise of AI poses risks if implemented crudely without considering its limitations.

However, brands that responsibly integrate AI to complement human strengths can reap benefits like improved efficiency and personalization. This elevates the customer experience while delivering business value.

But the technology must be carefully monitored and refined based on actual customer encounters. With rigorous training and oversight, AI in customer service can evolve from novelty to indispensable asset.

Final Thoughts

AI holds tremendous promise to transform customer service and support for the better. But realizing its full potential requires patience, transparency and a human-centric approach. By upholding ethical principles and thoughtfully balancing automation with human oversight, brands can utilize AI to forge stronger bonds of trust with customers.

Rather than a quick fix to slash costs, AI should be viewed as a long-term investment in customers and the brand experience. With responsible implementation, AI can enhance, rather than erode, the trust bridge between companies and the people they serve.

Jesus Guzman

M&G Speed Marketing LTD. CEO

Jesus Guzman is the CEO and founder of M&G Speed Marketing LTD, a digital marketing agency focused on rapidly growing businesses through strategies like SEO, PPC, social media, email campaigns, and website optimization. With an MBA and over 11 years of experience, Guzman combines his marketing expertise with web design skills to create captivating online experiences. His journey as an in-house SEO expert has given him insights into effective online marketing. Guzman is passionate about helping businesses achieve impressive growth through his honed skills. He has proud case studies to share and is eager to connect to take your business to the next level.