For those involved in leadership, few skills are more important than emotional intelligence (EQ). Those with a high EQ can better manage relationships with customers because they are empathetic, patient, and attentive, which empowers them to provide exceptional customer service.
EQ also drives better decision-making. As leaders understand and adjust to the emotional impact of their decisions, they can move forward in ways that are more efficient and less painful.
As a small business grows, emotional intelligence gives leaders what they need to build effective teams by allowing them to recognize in potential hires the qualities that will support their desired culture. It also equips them to foster an environment in which team members are valued, inspired, and engaged.
Each of the duties listed above benefit significantly from EQ, which makes it a bit surprising that each is being delegated more and more to artificial intelligence (AI).
Appreciating the value of AI in the workplace
You can’t argue with the fact that artificial intelligence has the power to make business more efficient. Consider something as simple as reading your email. It’s something that small business leaders must do and something that, if you are not careful, can distract you from more important tasks.
By leveraging AI, business leaders can automate their email management in a way that dramatically improves their efficiency. AI can filter and prioritize the email, categorizing messages based on user preferences, and can provide “sentiment analysis,” which assigns a higher priority to incoming messages that seem to come from dissatisfied customers. AI can also filter through a collection of email messages to extract insights related to customer needs and emerging market trends.
How much power should AI have?
As business leadership begins to trust in AI-driven tools to assist with their operations, it faces the challenge of determining how much power the tool should have. In other words, it’s critical that small business leaders decide where artificial intelligence stops and human intelligence takes over.
Let’s go back to the case of email management as an example. Should AI be permitted to push the send button without a human — and the emotional intelligence they bring — having a final review?
If that issue gives you pause, consider the fact that AI-driven chatbots are already being used to automatically respond to customer inquiries. Recent stats show that 22 percent of micro-businesses and 20 percent of small businesses use chatbots on their websites to guide visitors. While AI can make the process more efficient, business leadership should carefully investigate whether it makes the process more effective.
Taking an AI augmentation approach
To preserve EQ in an AI-driven world, I encourage small business leaders to take an approach that involves AI augmentation. This means allowing AI to optimize the human effort, but not replace it.
In the area of customer service, for example, AI augmentation means not letting the chatbot have the last word. This is especially important when a customer indicates their issue was not settled satisfactorily. Optimizing the process in those cases involves having a human representative — preferably one with high emotional intelligence — follow up with the customer and address the issue.
AI can dramatically improve the customer service process. It can answer common questions, guide your customers to the correct product, and make personalized recommendations. However, if an AI chatbot is your only option for customer service, you have abandoned the benefits that EQ brings to the customer service process.
Steps to EQ alive and well
One important step for preserving EQ in your business is to maintain human-centered decision-making. AI can dramatically improve your ability to analyze data and identify insights, but it also has some weaknesses that can impact the quality of the guidance it provides. If the data provided for training AI is faulty, the result can be decisions that are biased, incomplete, or just plain wrong.
With those shortcomings in mind, small business leaders should not simply accept the counsel AI provides. If you are relying on AI-driven tools to guide you in your recruiting and hiring efforts, for example, be on the lookout for biases that could result from the platform’s training. Are you seeing sufficient diversity in the recommendations it’s making? If not, a training bias could prevent you from connecting with large groups of qualified applicants.
Another step leaders can take is to embed EQ into their corporate culture. Write it into your values, make it a key qualification in your job postings, and ensure new hires have EQ training as part of their onboarding process.
Perhaps the most important step for small business leaders to take is to include EQ in their change-management process. The business world is still adjusting to the changes inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning both your employees and your customers are engaged in the process of embracing a new normal.
Leaders that engage their employees and customers with emotional intelligence can effectively guide them through transitions, uncertainty, and setbacks. They also communicate that people are their most valuable resource.
Small business leaders that fail to leverage the power of AI will quickly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, but that does not mean they should abandon the use of emotional intelligence. By embracing AI augmentation, small businesses can have the best of both worlds.
Craig Goodliffe is an entrepreneur, job creator, and CEO/Founder of Cyberbacker, the leading provider of world-class administrative support and virtual assistant services from anywhere in the world to anyone in the world. Goodliffe is an expert on business development and shares his insight as a MAPS coach who helps clients earn seven-figure incomes.