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Artificial Intelligence, Human Behaviour, Real Progress

Nowadays, there are a lot of controversies related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it can be both an asset and a threat to human society. Regardless, is it true that AI may be able to nudge us to change our habits and improve our productivity in the workplace?

It is undeniable that employees develop their skills over time, through job experience, training, coaching, and other means. However, most of this training comes from infrequent interventions made to fit all employees. Most times, workers fail to make the most of these experiences and, when done incorrectly, this training may, sometimes, harm the morale and engagement of workers. This way, it is vital to understand that, to have the intended effect, professional development must be tailored to each individual and their talents and capabilities.

Companies started to understand that the use of nudges in the daily life of employees improves their performance and well-being. One example of this is a steel company that installed posters of eyes in places where safety procedures are critical to lead employees to follow said safety procedures. Now, companies are combining elements of behavioural economics with AI technologies to create an even more customised and self-regulating experience for each employee.

These new AI coaching systems can combine diverse sources of data to identify specific talents and challenges of an employee and can deliver timely and context-specific nudges to each employee. These nudges can be integrated into a pre-existing and systematic program, offered on-demand, or even delivered in real-time when employees carry out their tasks. Moreover, these nudges can be about different topics, from operational efficiency to individual health. Another approach is for these nudges to be delivered to managers, for example in the form of a notification, to encourage them to interact with the workers and coach them at the right time.

Some examples of AI-driven nudges that encourage higher performance and productivity in employees are AI-backed insights added to existing dashboards, pre-work training on predicting issues that the employee may face, post-work performance reports, and coaching nudges. Regarding supervisors, there is the option of daily reports on their team performance and some key actions to take, and weekly reports for coaching and celebration.

As humans have short attention spans and limited capacity to learn new information, AI can better identify which approach is better for each employee. Furthermore, the response of the employee will also help the system better prepare for future interventions. Notwithstanding, traditional coaching must not be disregarded. AI systems are not meant to replace traditional coaching, but to complement and help, to reach the best possible outcome. This can be achieved by, for example, AI systems providing detailed insights for managers, remembering them when employees deserve praise and public celebration, or whether an employee needs more help or support in a specific task.

One company analysed how AI-generated nudges could affect the performance of workers. For this, they compared the introduction of an AI system of recommendations of coaching opportunities based on employee performance and response to past nudges with a control group that followed the traditional coaching of the company. The results showed that the productivity of the workers increased by 8 to 10 percent and the need to redo their work dropped by 20 to 30 percent. These productivity and quality improvements lead to a decrease in costs of 5 to 10 percent and, even more, workers and managers were fond of this new program.

AI is also being used in other areas of the company to improve workers' performance. One good example is the use of an AI system in customer service call centers. At the beginning of a call, AI is able to determine the most likely reason for the call based on the customer’s profile and then reminds the agent about the best approaches to that specific type of interaction. Moreover, during the call, it can offer real-time nudges to better understand the problem and to better give directions to solve it. On the other hand, the system also helps managers, giving them resources to share with their teams based on predictions for the most likely kind of calls that will happen during the day. It also keeps track of each call and offers real-time suggestions for workers who might need more supervision. In one company, this system led to about an 11 percent drop in average handling time during the first three weeks. Another company registered a 10 percent drop in calls that needed to be transferred to a second agent.

In sales and marketing, AI is being used to deliver hyper-personalised marketing to customers to nudge them to buy the company’s products. AI can be used to identify customers who are most likely to be interested in a particular offer and then, it can personalise the marketing message based on the specifics of each consumer. This involves, for example, mentioning that the person was included because of their age, home address region, or preferences. By doing so, the marketing message becomes more relevant to the consumer and more persuasive, which also increases the likelihood of the customer choosing the product advertised.

Although these systems have shown great potential to improve employee performance, their success depends on careful targeting, testing, and development. To have a successful AI system, companies must understand their critical Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and be able to identify the groups of employees who would benefit the most from this type of coaching. Moreover, the development of AI models requires a core group of digital and learning specialists to secure the process and ensure that these changes in workplace coaching are done as effectively as possible.

To conclude, AI-generated nudges can improve workers' performance and productivity by delivering timely and context-specific coaching tailored to each employee’s talents and challenges. AI can also be used in other areas, such as to personalise marketing messages and improve customer service. However, the success of these systems relies on careful targeting and development and must not act as a substitute for traditional coaching, but rather as a trustworthy sidekick to human interaction and guidance.

Written by Beatriz Pedro

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