AI is cool, but EI is still critical for top-performing HR service centers.

There’s a lot of hype these days around Artificial Intelligence (AI).  In an October 2017 interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Apoorv Saxena, lead product manager at Google and co-founder of the AI Frontiers conference said, “now computers are able to transcribe human speech better than humans.”

Did you read that right?  Did it say that a computer can understand a human better than a human can?

With all the hype around AI, it’s easy to forget about another type of intelligence that will continue to be a critical component of service, including HR Service Delivery.


Emotional Intelligence

That other form of intelligence is Emotional Intelligence (EI).

AI will continue to expand within our technologies, and may eventually become a dominant characteristic.   And as AI becomes more dominant, it's going to become more important to balance AI with EI.

More on that in a minute, but first let’s go to Columbus,  Ohio.

It was a dark and stormy night in early December. 

The flight from New York to Columbus was more turbulent than a bad carnival ride.  Beverage service was cancelled, and we couldn’t leave our seats.

While driving from the airport to the hotel, the normally-reliable Siri sent me on a circuitous route through downtown Columbus, turning a 15-minute ride into 30 minutes.

I arrived at the hotel still nauseous from the flight, and cranky from Siri’s senseless motor tour.  I was a guest in need of care and attention.

The hotel’s front desk receptionist greeted me, then immediately answered a phone call.

The 90 second call felt to me like an hour.  The receptionist told the caller that hotel pool was undergoing maintenance, that Sunday brunch is served until 2pm, and the hotel did in fact, allow pets.  There was more, but my brain had shut down.

Meanwhile, I waited.  Tired, nauseous and cranky.

“What about me?” I thought.   “I flew in from New York, drove up from the Columbus airport, and I’m standing right in front of you, as you talk to someone who’s probably sitting at home on a sofa.


The 4 main skills of Emotional Intelligence

In 2013, The Association for Talent Development published “Emotional Intelligence Is Key to Our Success” by John Keyser.  Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership.  According to Keyser, the four main skills of emotional intelligence are:

  1. Self-awareness – our ability to perceive our emotions and understand our tendencies to act in certain ways in given situations
  2. Social awareness – our ability to understand the emotions of other people (what others are thinking and feeling)
  3. Self-management – our ability to use awareness of our emotions to stay flexible and direct our behavior positively and constructively
  4. Relationship management – our ability to use our awareness of our own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully.

How to apply Emotional Intelligence in HR Service Delivery

Let’s apply each of the 4 EI Skills to my experience at that Hotel in Columbus.

  1. Self-awareness – the hotel receptionist may had a tendency to automatically answer the phone, whenever it rang.  He did.
  2. Social awareness – the receptionist could have recognized me – carrying luggage, slumped shoulders and tire eyes – as a guest that was dying to check into his room. He didn’t.
  3. Self-management – the receptionist could have avoided his normal tendency to answer the phone, and let the call go to voicemail and engage with me, instead. He didn’t.
  4. Relationship management – in addition to choosing me over the telephone, the receptionist might have shown some empathy by acknowledging my efforts to be at the hotel, and treated me in a genuinely welcoming and empathetic way. He didn’t.

The receptionist didn’t follow those four steps of Emotional Intelligence.  Therefore, I felt ignored and undervalued.  But what if he did?

What if instead of falling into his natural tendencies, he followed the four steps?  I’d have been energized from the conversation.  I’d have been smiling as I rode up the elevator.  And I’d have been feeling more engaged with that hotel brand.

In any service environment where human-to-human engagement continues to occur, Emotional Intelligence will – must - continue to be an important skill to drive a positive experience, engage the customer, and create loyalty toward the brand.

AI may be a lot more exciting, but EI is no less important.

Back to the Future Again

Back in 1984, I read a then new book by John Naisbitt called “Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives.”  Naisbitt stressed the importance of balancing high-tech with high-touch.

As we witness the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, it will behoove us to sharpen our skills in Emotional Intelligence.

At the end of the day or night, we’re all humans.  And there’s nothing like an emotionally intelligent interaction with another live human, to keep us feeling real!