Chatbots Might Be Cool, But They're Not Necessarily Innovative

The rise of artificial intelligence has once again fooled companies into making decisions that seemed innovative but aren't. Adding an AI chatbot can make an organization appear modern, but that is not what innovation is about.

Innovation is about finding new ways to drive value for the business and customers. The key here is that innovative decisions have to benefit both recipients and are not done just for the sake of coolness or fear of missing out (commonly called FOMO).

There are too many decisions being made within organizations simply because they are possible or easy. Let's dive deeper into what it truly means to make an innovative decision.

Innovative Decisions Aren't the Same as Novel Decisions

I recently had to contact my bank and was presented with some new ways of getting in touch. They offered a chatbot of sorts, so I curiously chose that option. The chatbot offered basic options like telling me how much money is in my primary account or helping me find a branch. After a few futile attempts to get the chatbot to help me with my credit card issue, I gave up and called the bank's phone number. The estimated waiting for a rep? 45 minutes.

You might say that my request was too niche and we cannot expect chatbots (or AI) to solve every problem. My counter argument is that this bank thinks it is making innovative decisions when in reality, it is simply making decisions based on what is cool or hip.

The innovative decision for the bank is to figure out how to reduce the waiting time on the phone. Perhaps AI could help customer support reps handle more requests, or the bank simply needs to innovate on its hiring process.

A chatbot that tells the hours of a branch nearby is barely better than those phone systems that most banks have been using for years. Google Maps is probably better at helping me find a branch.

I'm excited for AI because I hope it will free employees to interact with humans. Let AI handle the routine and admin work. My nightmare is having to constantly deal with AI chatbots that cannot help but are annoyingly polite.

An innovative decision brings real impact to the business. It could be growth, profits, revenue, or cost savings. At the same time, it also benefits the customer. Making me waste time with a chatbot is no better than wasting time waiting on hold.

Innovation Should Amplify the Human Experience

Technology is one of those areas where organizations think they will find innovation. I have lost count of how many organizations are engaged in a "digital transformation". They want to eat the world like software.

The question not enough executives are asking is whether technology is helping the human experience. Take Big Tech like Google or Linkedin. A colleague of mine was recently banned from Linkedin for a few weeks by accident. The process to get reinstated was hell, involving notaries, lawyers, and lots of hoop-jumping.

Why can't tech companies make it easier to deal with humans? Why has technology made the human experience for customers so much worse?

Don't assume that technology will bring innovation to your organization. You still need to find ways to ensure that technology impacts customers in a positive way.

Technology should give your sales reps more time to educate customers. It should help marketers spend more time researching customer preferences. It should help customer reps be more dedicated to humans. If it's not doing this, then what's the point of it? That is not innovation.

A Simple Distinction for Innovation

To make things even easier, let me put forth a simple distinction. Everything in a business happens internally or externally. Internal changes are decisions, such as employee compensation packages, training and strategy. External changes are decisions that affect the customer, such as pricing, new products, and customer support. Spending time on internal decisions is unavoidable, but it should be a minor portion of the business. The majority should be impacting customers. Innovation lives on the outside of the business.

I have worked with organizations who are obsessed with the internal. They have a high level of politics, internal disagreements, and processes that offer little benefit to customers.

A healthy organization is constantly thinking about how any decision will help customers. If we adopt AI, will this help the customer? If we buy this software, will it help the customer? Will the customer notice if we make this decision?

You can't ignore the external, especially around innovation.

Innovation has been the driving force in our economy since the end of World War II. It has allowed us to create worlds straight out of comic books with smartphones, watches, drones, and self-driving cars.

We cannot lose this ethos by getting caught in the internal decisions. Innovation is outward-facing and has to be tangible. It's not about what is possible but what can benefit customers.

Don't fall for the novelty of our world. That's not where innovation comes from.

Ruben Ugarte is a decision strategist and expert and author of Bulletproof Decisions and The Data Mirage. He helps organizations, teams, and individuals make exponentially superior decisions. He has done this across five continents, in three languages, and his ideas have helped hundreds of thousands of people. He can be reached by email at