It’s no secret that front-line employees have some of the most challenging of jobs, while receiving little, if any, training to cope with the emotional toll of their roles. Not surprisingly, they have higher rates of sick leave, attrition and mental health concerns. Therefore, this makes it is critical to prevent and, more importantly, support, such workers with the emotional fitness skills they need.
But how to accomplish this goal at the scale required? That’s becoming a job for Artificial Intelligence. Today, many more companies are deploying A.I. as it becomes more sophisticated, and one such resource is the A.I.-powered digital fitness coach Kleu, designed to support the emotional resilience of front-line staff.
To learn more about the programme, we put the following questions to Kleu founder and CEO, the charming Linda Boyd, a serial entrepreneur and visionary leader, who is determined to take the stress out of front-line customer interactions, by democratising access to emotional coaching.
Linda, to get us started, could you give us a snapshot of what Kleu is?
“Kleu is an AI-powered digital coach which builds the emotional fitness of employees to manage stress, connect with others and collaborate to achieve things at work and in life. It’s particularly important now for three key reasons.
“Firstly, existing mental health stresses are being accelerated by the pandemic, and a productive workforce requires equipping people to manage stress. Secondly, automation – which means routine and repeatable tasks will be taken over by machines. This creates the space for people to develop skills that are unique to humans, like the ability to feel, empathise and collaborate to solve complex problems. Thirdly, developing talent. Employees are choosing work-life balance; they want the ability to work anywhere and to feel their employer is investing in them as a person, not just as an employee.
“Companies that want to attract quality talent must invest in people’s need to flourish both at work and life.”
How do front-line employees learn and practise collaborating with Artificial intelligence?
“We have used A.I. to replicate a best-practice human coach. Everyone benefits from having someone at their side to give them tips and feedback, but it’s just not practical, really, for companies to provide that kind of coaching for everyone in the organisation.
“That’s where Kleu steps in as a digital coach to help each employee improve the way they play the ‘human game’ in the workplace in a sustainable way. It features a personalised learning journey that is fully automated, involving 15-minute coaching sessions. Each session includes a coaching video, interactive simulations, feedback and scoring, so it’s engaging, fun and fully gamified.”
How does Kleu’s interactive simulation work?
“We immerse employees in common scenarios, interacting with digital characters such as customers, colleagues and managers.
“The employees then make behavioural choices as part of those interactions and see how the characters respond. Next, their ‘emotional fitness odometer’ gives them a score on their choice and a digital coach provides feedback – identifying both what they did well and how they could have behaved differently to achieve a more desirable outcome – just like a great coach would do in the real world. However, because it’s a simulation and doesn’t involve real people or interactions, there are no real-world consequences.
“People feel safe to explore different interactions, going through scenarios multiple times and practising applying their new skills. This ‘learn by doing’ approach, also known as ‘experiential learning’, is a very powerful way to develop new skills and actually embed them as habits.”
How can an A.I. coach when it can only recognise emotions without empathy?
“While A.I. might be able to recognise emotions based on written text, tone and pace of language or facial expression, it’s still fairly rudimentary and can face privacy issues.
“However, we are simply using A.I. to automate and personalise the learner’s journey. For example, if we identify that a person has difficulty expressing empathy, based on the behavioural choices they make in a simulation, then we direct that person down a different learning path compared to someone strong in this area. In other words, A.I. helps us deliver content and scenarios to a person based on their unique strengths and development areas, as well as the goals they set while taking part in the programme.”
Will A.I. ever be able to analyse and understand emotions?
“It’s already happening, although still at a rudimentary level. Facial expression, natural language with tone of voice, or written words, allow A.I. to ‘identify’ basic emotions. However, machines will never be able to feel, connect, empathise – things unique to humans.”
On completing any training programme, implementing the knowledge acquired and turning it into a habit is a challenge for organisations. So, how does Kleu’s habit formation app work?
“This is one of the key goals we set out to achieve with Kleu: embedding learning and ensuring sustained behaviour change. Traditionally, training is about giving people information – theoretical knowledge – and then we expect them to implement it and wonder why they can’t.
“But we use the science of motivation and behaviour change and accelerate it with technology and experiential learning. As habits are formed through practice, we give employees the opportunity to practice key skills in a range of different settings, until these are embedded as new neural pathways in the brain.”
Are workforces embracing A.I.-powered coaching tools, or is there any resistance?
“There’s generally a lack of awareness of what’s possible or available. There’s plenty of ‘A.I. coaching’ tools emerging, but often there’s no data on their effectiveness.
“That’s where we differ – we’ve been able to make the link between our tool, the capability embedded, and business outcomes like sales results, customer satisfaction, employee productivity, employee engagement and collaboration in the workplace. The workforce is really embracing it.”
Which generation has adapted quicker and embraced this technology?
“Initially we expected Gen Y and Z to embrace KLEU more readily, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised that more mature workers, who you wouldn’t necessarily call ‘digital natives’, have embraced it, too, particularly men. So, we took a deeper dive and discovered this demographic really appreciates the privacy factor.”
Compared to older generations, do younger workers need different or more training in developing E.Q.?
“Historically, at school, university and the workplace, we never invested in human skills. We were taught maths, science and other I.Q.-related subjects that will all be taken over by machines. Yet, irrespective of any generation, Emotional intelligence [E.Q.] is recognised as one of the top 10 future work skills. Anyone collaborating with another will need good Emotional Intelligence; some people will need it more than others and the great thing about that is: E.Q., in contrast to I.Q., can be learnt and developed.
“Meanwhile, even though we’ve been targeting the front-line defence as initial Kleu users, it’s equally effective for workers in any other job position who want to manage stress, interact better with different types of people, and achieve more positive outcomes.”
How do you see emotional fitness coaching changing future training experience?
“I would say Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and tech will continue to shape how people learn, and we will demonstrate a strong link between human capability and its impact on business performance.
“We will continue to be at the forefront of this shift, applying tech innovation to behavioural science to unlock people’s true potential. The future of work is now, and the future is human.”