Coaching in the workplace is a proven tool in an organisations knapsack and the demand is growing. Effective coaching develops an engaged, productive and happy workforce but also helps address skills gaps and shortages.
However, live coaching is expensive and as a result, has been the privilege of a select few – until now. Could AI-enabled digital coaching hold the solution to extending the benefits to the whole workforce?
In our recent blogs, we explored the place for AI technology within the world of coaching. In the first of the series we examined the case for coaching along with the potential for AI to provide scale, and in the second, we discussed differing coaching models and where AI can align within these. But in this third and final – for now – blog, we address what is probably the little nagging doubt at the back of your noggin: can AI coaching ever embody the empathetic, emotional connection that one-to-one coaching can deliver?
Can digital coaches be emotionally intelligent?
Almost everyone will have had experience of trying to wrangle a productive conversation from customer service chatbots, whether you were trying to organise a refund or find out where on earth your parcel could be. These conversations inevitably lead to us asking the computer to “please let us talk to a ‘real’ person”. However, putting aside that experience and resulting bias, it would be wrong to assume that we would have the same experience with digital coaches.
The fact is that this technology is developing at a rapid pace and as a result is more intuitive and realistic than ever before. There are some interesting outcomes of the experience AI technology can offer the learner in our own project Create Your Own Future. Of which, the biggest breakthrough in this solution is the use of our AI-enabled, video-based coach. The learner is actually able to have a life-like conversation: recording their responses as well as typing or responding to multiple choice options. The emotionally intelligent AI-video coach then replies in short, conversational clips. In this way, the learner leads the conversation, but the AI-coach guides – providing input, information and signposting to other resources – including learning, articles, websites – as appropriate.
On top of the realism of the video-based conversation, the supported individual also becomes engaged in the process from the get-go. The very first thing they do is select their AI-coach – a luxury seldom available with live coaching. The AI-coach introduces themselves, sharing a little of their own story and experience of undertaking the same employability process. Invariably, of course, the user selects the coach to whom they can best relate and starts their journey. Throughout that journey, the AI-coach continues to share and ask questions and thereby builds rapport, in a very natural way, as a live coach would do.
Establishing trust and rapport between a coach and their client is essential to a productive coaching relationship. In a survey of 210 coaching clients, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) found that 50% of those surveyed confided in their coach as much as their best friend, spouse or therapist, and 12% confided in their coach more than anyone else! Our Create Your Own Future platform goes a long way to establishing that same bond. In the third-party evaluation of the platform, 100% of users found the AI-coach to be engaging and a positive experience. And anecdotally, many preferred the digital experience as they were able to explore at their own pace, whenever they wanted. Especially when it came to more sensitive issues, digital was able to mitigate the intimidating feeling of perceived judgement, whether real or not, that can come with live dialogue.
Does this mean the end of the live coach?
No, is the short answer and I, for one, am glad of it – even if I am singing the praises of emotionally intelligent AI-coaching! But maybe it does mean that as the live coaches role changes. And perhaps as AI becomes more involved, the experience is able to become more rewarding for both coach and coachee.
As one client said, “you are basically digitising my best advisor”, and that’s a good way to put it. There can be a lot of repetitive “legwork” with coaching and an AI-coach can take much of that away, providing a consistency of service at the same time. But there is a limit. Certain issues may need a more in-depth, one-to-one conversation and, at that point, the AI-coach can suggest that the individual reach out to their live coach. On the flip side, that coach can monitor the progress of their cohort. If they see they are struggling, or perhaps have not finished an action, expressed frustration, negative emotions or simply have not entered the platform in a while, they know to intervene.
Experience has shown that 30-40% of people are happy to progress their journey within the platform with virtually no need for live intervention. For 10%, it is just not for them, and they still need the live coaching. For the rest it is somewhere in-between ranging from one or two timely interventions to a range of nudges and assistance. The overall result, however, is that digital is able to deliver effective coaching at scale for the individuals. And for the live coach, they get to deliver high-value help where it is needed most.
The future of coaching and digital’s role
Demand for coaching in the workplace is growing rapidly year on year, leading the ICF to predict that by 2022 the market size of the coaching industry in the U.S. alone will be worth $20 billion dollars. A $5 billion dollar increase in under three years! The ICF has attributed this massive market size growth to one factor – changing global perceptions of coaching. For a long time, coaching was perceived as a luxury available only to senior management. Now, businesses have begun to recognise the value coaching has for all stakeholders and therefore for an organisation overall.
Coaching provides very tangible benefits in the workplace, as it improves not only an individual’s professional performance (though smarter goal-setting, increased motivation, and gaining new or improving existing skills) but also their emotional well-being. In fact, a survey found that 57.1% of coaching clients reported lower stress levels, 52.4% had more self-confidence, 43.3% had an improved quality of life and 25.7% even reported an increase in their income.
As the demand to provide coaching for all stakeholders in an organisation increases, digital coaching will be able to step in to meet this demand by providing a scalable service. But thanks to the rapid development of technology today, that service can provide a humanised, intuitive, and effective experience for both users and employers.