Leading in the AI Era Means Rethinking Executive Roles

AI is changing everything, including your C-suite.  

We’re still in the early days of the AI era, and it’s already been a whirlwind of change. The impact of artificial intelligence on business has been undeniable and impressive. And it’s just getting started.

Among organisations that have already seen success with AI, most have aimed for greater efficiency and productivity with point solutions that target narrow use cases. Banks have used AI to identify fraud. Human resources departments are using AI to respond to job seekers’ basic questions. Even law firms have sped up contract drafting with AI — so much for billable hours. In each of these cases, AI allows organisations to do more at a lower cost.

The impact on customer and employee experience has been especially significant. Customers increasingly engage with intelligent bots. Agents get real-time AI support as they engage with customers. Workforce planners get faster, more accurate forecasting. Managers can target improvement efforts and personalise professional development. And they can initiate employee recognition with real-time performance insights and holistic views into the entire operation.

In this brave new AI-powered world, brands can orchestrate experiences that drive loyalty for customers and employees — at scale – and improve the bottom line.

During all this change, we barely have time to consider what’s next, let alone what the long-term impacts will be. But we should; the next round of changes will be much bigger, and they’re coming fast.

We’re on the cusp of a fundamental transformation in how we do business. And that means we need to evolve how we lead. It’s time to reimagine the executive team for the age of AI.

What’s Next for AI: Challenges and Opportunities

Artificial intelligence is lightening workloads across industries and job functions, and we are just now beginning to consider the implications of all the efficiency it’s creating. That leaves business leaders with the question of whether to reduce the workforce or redeploy it. The answer isn’t always that simple.

Consider the customer experience. Quick resolutions and the convenience to connect on any channel at any time is now the baseline expectation for all brands. And as AI adoption matures beyond efficiency to proactive personalised engagement, customer expectations will rise even higher.

At the same time, as AI handles more customer interactions, there are fewer human touchpoints in the customer experience. The growing prevalence of automated service makes the collection, curation and analysis of data on a grand scale even more important for understanding and managing customer relationships.

While AI excels at transforming data into actionable information, human decision-makers remain critical for ensuring wise data governance. Issues of privacy, consent and ownership of data are paramount.

And to ensure that AI models continue to perform as expected, humans must train the models, monitor performance and prevent problems associated with its sometimes surprising limitations.

The Great AI Talent Shift

As AI continues to gain traction, the disruptive impact on talent needs is growing clearer. While it’s true that AI can — and already does — take over repetitive tasks and complex data analysis, it also creates the need for new skillsets. That’s generating some fear of impending job losses – with AI systems replacing employees for certain roles.

The reality of AI in the workplace isn’t as straightforward as a one-to-one replacement, however. It’s shifting the definition of those roles and creating opportunities for employees to evolve.

The contact centre is a prime example. As AI-powered bots provide quick resolution to an expanding range of customer inquiries, agents are left with only the most complex and sensitive issues. Those interactions require higher-level skills in problem-solving, expressing empathy and growing customer relationships. That elevates the role of the agent.

The impact of AI on managers and planners will be just as profound. Supervisors will need to add a new level of data literacy to their skillset. For planners, basic forecasts and adequate staffing will no longer be enough. Instead, they will dial in workforce plans with greater precision to increase productivity and drive revenue.

These shifts in talent needs will affect every aspect of the employee experience — from onboarding through exit. Businesses will need to determine the appropriate mix of new talent and reskilling of current employees.

The implications for HR departments, internal training and everyday coaching of the workforce will be disruptive. This upheaval requires a new kind of leadership that many executive teams are not prepared for.

A Fundamental Shift in the C-Suite

Technology has played a central role in every business for decades. And with the CIO and CTO firmly established in executive teams, it might seem that C-suites are well positioned to adapt and add AI to their tech stacks. But AI is fundamentally different from other recent technologies, and it will change the nature of business in profound ways.

As the impact of AI on business expands, two executive roles are emerging as critical components of the C-suite, the Chief AI Officer (CAIO) and Chief Experience Officer (CXO). Within the next five years, many executive teams will be incomplete without these two roles.

Navigating the challenges and opportunities AI presents will require a strong vision, novel strategies and new leadership skills. Organisations with an executive team that aligns on a clear strategy for leveraging AI effectively will gain a clear competitive advantage.

Those that use AI for more than efficiency gains will pull far ahead of the pack. In every industry, brands that move beyond bolt-on point solutions to organisational transformation will redefine what’s possible with AI. The rest will scramble to catch up.

The CAIO Role Imperative

The strategic clarity required to transform an organisation ahead of the curve demands focused leadership. For organisations that lack deep expertise in AI, the need for a CAIO grows more urgent by the day. It’s not just a matter of technical oversight.

An effective CAIO will partner with nearly every line of business to define AI strategy, drive adoption, monitor results, ensure compliance, redefine processes and workflows, reskill employees, and more.

And to wield the power of AI without undue risk, the CAIO will be instrumental in guiding the organisation on these key points:

Strategic AI implementation

Across industries, executive teams are feeling the pressure to adopt AI — but where and how isn’t always clear. The CAIO will oversee the development of a detailed roadmap of use cases that will benefit the organisation and collaborate with other executives to prioritise implementations strategically.

Data governance and ethics

AI presents ethical challenges that you don’t encounter with other technologies. A strong framework for responsible use of data and the application of AI helps ensure regulatory compliance and builds trust both within the organisation and with the public. The CAIO is uniquely positioned to minimise risk in these areas.

Intelligent infrastructure

To reap the biggest rewards with AI, data quality is critical. So are security, privacy and transparency. But legacy systems can hamper efforts to incorporate AI in safe, ethical ways. The CAIO will work closely with other technical leaders to evolve toward an intelligent infrastructure that enables agility.

Organisational transformation

As AI matures beyond targeted point solutions toward broader, systemic impacts, the organisation itself must transform. Everything from internal processes to organisational structure and talent development will be affected. The CAIO can help the business stay a step ahead with insight into how AI’s expanded role will affect customers, employees and the business.

The Continued Rise of the CXO

We already do business in a connected world. With AI, we’re moving beyond connected to hyperconnected — and hyperpersonalised.

Customers expect easy access to information, answers and more, no matter where they are or when they want to reach out. And they’re no longer willing to accept bland, impersonal experiences. They expect interactions and moments to be connected into seamless journeys.

This makes the orchestration of experiences even more critical. AI is making that orchestration possible for a growing number of brands.

Today, experience is a significant market differentiator — and revenue generator. As AI drives customer and employee expectations higher, experience will occupy an even larger role in evolving business strategy. With that in mind, the CXO is already becoming the chief executive officer’s (CEO) right hand in many organisations.

The CXO leads the charge in cross-functional alignment of all departments that play a role in the customer and employee experience. For example, the Chief Marketing Officer is focused on generating leads and growing pipeline, while the head of customer service might be searching for a way to increase efficiency in resolving issues.

To the CXO, those are not two separate challenges, but rather, two facets of the same holistic customer experience. As a result, the CXO, drives alignment across these functions to better serve the customer and the business.

This customer-centric view informs strategy throughout the organisation, ensuring consistency in customer journeys across touchpoints, regardless of the functional teams involved. In this era of rapid and continuous AI-driven change in experience-enabling technology, this overarching strategic focus is increasingly important. A strong CXO builds the necessary bridges to maintain hyperconnected and hyper-personalised experiences.

Ever-Changing Dynamics for Executive Teams

The addition of new roles changes the dynamics of any team. But the impact of the CAIO and CXO will extend beyond the C-suite to reshape processes, strategy and structure throughout the business.

These roles will connect diverse areas of expertise that cross traditional functional lines. Both executive roles will establish a new level of collaborative leadership that permeates the business.

Data silos will be connected. The customer relationship will be viewed holistically. And previously disjointed processes will be bridged. Cross-functional decision-making will become the norm in every corner of the organisation. These changes will not come easily, but they will increase agility and accelerate innovation.

There’s No Time to Lose

The AI era is still in its early stages, but it’s moving fast. To thrive in this new age of constant innovation, organisations must do more than pick low-hanging fruit with AI point solutions that deliver quick returns with improved efficiency. They must re-examine and re-imagine existing business models. They must transform in a fundamental way, and that starts with the executive team.

Every business that competes in the experience economy should already be considering whether to add a CAIO and CXO to their team. As quickly as AI is evolving, the time to start laying the groundwork for that transformation is now. There’s not a moment to lose.

AI is changing every facet of the customer and employee experience. Read the latest Gartner report “How Generative AI Will Transform Your CX Program” to learn more about how AI is impacting the contact centre, as well as recommendations to optimise your ROI and mitigate risks.