Artificial intelligence, or AI, is certainly in the news. Since ChatGPT launched in 2022, a lot of talk has been about what generative AI will do and whose job it might take. In that context those two letters tend can induce either excitement or fear.
It’s worth acknowledging that AI has enormous potential to transform professional services. But I think an important element is missing from the conversation so far.
If AI excels at doing so many jobs, what will humans do?
The future of work
AI has rightly or wrongly been cast as a potential threat; one that could replace human workers and render their skills obsolete. However, I firmly believe this fear is overshadowing an important conversation. That is, the potential for AI to enhance and elevate human work, rather than simply replacing it.
One of the key advantages of AI is its ability to handle repetitive and mundane tasks with speed and accuracy. By automating these routine tasks, AI frees up human workers to engage in more meaningful and fulfilling work. This shift in focus allows professional services consultants to tap into their unique human qualities. We’ve got the capacity to be creative, think critically, and employ emotional intelligence, which are difficult for AI to replicate.
Maybe we should shift our perspectives and embrace AI as a creator of better, more fulfilling work in future, rather than viewing it as a thief of work.
The book Human + Machine by Daugherty and Wilson provides a useful model to think about the future of work in the age of generative AI, illustrated in the chart below.
Human traits like leadership, empathy, judgment and creativity cannot be replicated by AI – thus jobs requiring these skills will need human staff.
This model avoids the AI-as-bogeyman debate. Instead, it asks us to consider what humans are likely to do best in future. What are machines likely to do best, and how can humans and machines work best together? This conversation has important implications for professional services firms.
Upskilling to work with AI
So while AI may not take your job it will change your job. The process of humans and machines working together is known as augmentation or co-piloting. In future, augmentation or co-piloting with AI will be a skill as common as using email or meeting via Microsoft Teams.
Harvard Business Review says, “AI won’t replace humans – but humans with AI will replace humans without AI”. In this scenario, humans will work more effectively with AI to tap into their unique human qualities. We’ve got the capacity to employ emotional intelligence and empathy to lead, to empathise, to interact and to make judgement calls. These human qualities can supplement the work that AI will do.
In professional services, humans already work with AI to interpret insights or generate content from a data source. An example close to home is that at Beaton we are investigating the use of AI to draw meaning from the open-ended comments we collect as part of our Beaton Benchmarks research. AI can help us synthesise comments at both an industry and at a firm level to generate themes. But human analysis of the AI generated output is still required to make the work client ready.
McKinsey says that “for most generative AI insights, a human must interpret them to have impact. The notion of a human in the loop is critical”.
Getting humans and machines to work together effectively and at scale will be both a significant digital transformation and people change process. Harvard Business Review suggests this is a 30 per cent technological challenge and a 70 per cent organisational challenge requiring employees and organisations to adopt a digital mindset.
In this transition the role of leaders will be to prepare their organisations and employees to meet the challenge. Westpac’s Paul Goessler, National Head of Professional Services suggest that any large-scale digital strategy needs to incorporate a change-management plan. He says, “Digitising may result in process change and will require an understanding of what that looks like, as well as education and bringing employees along for the journey”.
Human skills: the new market differentiator
But there will be activities that only humans can perform. In human-to-human organisations such as professional services firms, the ways in which people interact with each other will become elevated when other work is automated.
Making crucial judgement calls, leading, motivating teams of people, managing client relationships and negotiating client outcomes will matter more in businesses built on relationships. Westpac says “automation is transforming the business models of professional services firms, making them more efficient, more profitable and more readily available to focus on what matters most to their clients”.
In Beaton’s State of Client Experience in Professional Services 2022 report we discuss the role of client experience as a critical market differentiator for your firm. The infographic below illustrates the economic benefits of successfully building a great client experience. These benefits are even greater in environments where the human experience is more critical in the purchase decision.
Source: beatonbenchmarks 2020
Capturing value in this new environment will be crucial if firms are charging by the hour, productivity is increasing, and clients are opening conversations about the impact of new technology.
It will be essential to demonstrate the increased value of human-to-human skills as essential if firms are to maintain their viability and profitability. This will entail understanding your clients value drivers, developing pricing models that capture this value, developing service models that keep you close to the client and managing your AI in a way that builds trust – with an eye on privacy, data protection and integrity.
It’s easy to be drawn to the shiny new technology of generative AI. However, to realise AI’s amazing potential, we must think as much about investing in our humans as we do with our technology. And doubling down on working with our people to develop the skills and processes that support the work that only humans can do.
We can’t leave people out of the AI conversation.
Wondering how to best harness human skills in the face of AI’s growing impact to improve your service offering? Beaton can help you transform your firm’s client experience and help clients see greater value, rewarding you with ongoing loyalty and business growth.
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Matthew is focused on helping Beaton’s clients grow and succeed. He works with them to find and retain quality clients, improve client experience, strengthen brand equity and build growth opportunities. Matthew uses insight gained from Beaton’s extensive market research to provide clients with practical strategies and develop programs with measurable outcomes.Full bio