12 ways to incorporate the human touch in AI

A human hand shaking an AI hand.

Read time: 5 minutes (907 words)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard or read any of these declarations:

“AI doesn’t need humans to operate.” 

“AI is going to take all our jobs away.”

“AI robots are just biding their time until they can become our overlords.”

Well, with a reputation like that, it’s no wonder people are wary of artificial intelligence (AI). But AI can help small business owners in a number of areas, like marketing, customer service and logistics—and, in fact, are helping them right now. An October 2023 Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council report showed that 48% of the small businesses surveyed started using AI tools within the previous year, and 29% of them had been using AI tools for one to two years.

If you’ve hesitated in using AI for your own business because you’re afraid you’ll eliminate the human touch that makes your company unique, don’t worry. You can keep the human touch with AI by balancing the technology with the personalized, human-centric approaches that only you and your team can provide. Here are 12 strategies:

1. Lead with transparent communication

This can be a touchy subject, but it’s one of the most important strategies to implement. Proactively inform both your staff and your customers about the introduction of AI into your business. Explain to your team exactly how it will be used to assist them—not replace them—in their duties (i.e., make their jobs easier, more efficient and less monotonous, and allow them to focus on more creative, strategic and meaningful work). Reassure your customers that AI will be used to enhance their experience (e.g., reduced wait times, faster service, personalized recommendations), not replace the personalized service they’re accustomed to.

2. Understand your customer’s needs

Use AI to gather and analyze customer data, but ensure that your human employees interpret the data to understand your customers’ needs and preferences. This will help tailor services or products more effectively. Ensure that the final service or interaction is personalized and human to show your customers how much you value your relationship with them.

3. Use personalized communication

AI can handle routine queries, like chatbots, but be sure that complex issues or conversations that require nuance are routed to your human staff, so they’re resolved with personal contact. Personalize printed or email communications with customer names and remember their preferences, which AI can help track.

4. Train and involve your team

Training that helps your team grow in their job shows your commitment to their personal and professional growth. Offer training programs to help your staff use AI tools effectively. Consider ongoing customer service training to reinforce the ideals of great service. Encourage them to provide feedback on AI systems and involve them in the decision-making, development and implementation of these systems, so they complement your team’s human skills and improve the customer experience. Have leaders and managers in your business lead by example and use AI tools in their work to set a positive example.

5. Retain human oversight

Always have human oversight for any AI operations. AI can process and suggest, but final decisions—especially critical ones—should have human involvement to consider any ethical, emotional and complex factors that AI might not fully grasp.

6. Blend AI with human creativity

Use AI for tasks like data analysis, predictive trends and operational efficiencies. Complement with human creativity for marketing, customer service and problem-solving, where nuanced understanding and emotional intelligence are key.

7. Maintain ethical, responsible and transparent use of AI

Be transparent with your customers about how you’re using AI and data. Ensure that your use of AI adheres to ethical standards, always respecting and prioritizing customer privacy and data security to build trust and reassure your customers.

8. Focus on continuous improvement

Request and use feedback from both AI systems and human interactions to continually improve your services. AI can identify patterns and suggest improvements, while your employees can provide insights based on direct customer interactions.

9. Build relationships

While AI can handle many aspects of customer interaction, focus on using it to free up your human employees for more meaningful, relationship-building interactions with customers.

10. Customize AI solutions

Instead of one-size-fits-all AI solutions, consider customizing your AI tools to fit your specific business needs and customer expectations. This may involve working with AI developers to tailor systems to support unique aspects of your business. 

11. Remain engaged

Engage with your community and customers through events, workshops or social media to highlight your commitment to people-first values. Use AI to analyze engagement and feedback, but let the humans in the business lead these initiatives to ensure a personal touch.

12. Highlight the human stories

Whether it’s testimonials from happy customers that spotlight the human element in your services, or posts on social media showing your team interacting with customers, being involved in the community or commemorating special milestones, share your stories. This can help reinforce the idea that while AI is a tool, people are irreplaceable in—and to—your business.

It’s crucial to create an environment where AI is seen as a tool for empowerment, growth and service excellence. By focusing on and implementing these strategies, you’ll not only help alleviate fears and build a more accepting and optimistic view of AI among your team. You’ll also reassure your customers that while your business is embracing technological advancements, the human touch remains—and will always be—a core component of your service and values.