Illustration in orange backdrop and white and black lettering. Says on the left, "CX Decoded by CMSWire” and “Generative AI Meets CX” and “Brianna Langley Henderson” and has Brianna’s headshot in black and white to the right.
CX Decoded Podcast
May 16, 2023

CX Decoded Podcast Episode 18: Generative AI Meets CX

In this episode of CX Decoded, Brianna Langley Henderson, a seasoned CX practitioner, delves deep into the implications of introducing generative AI into business organizations. She acknowledges the transformative potential of AI and its capacity to fundamentally alter the landscape of various industries. At the same time, she highlights the resistance this technology faces from certain quarters. The discussion extends to exploring the ethical conundrums posed by AI, emphasizing its potential to disrupt traditional job roles and intensify the fear of human downsizing, a concern particularly felt for creative roles. Henderson underscores the urgent need for organizations to establish their own codes of ethics in this nascent and rapidly evolving field, where concrete legal and ethical guidelines are yet to be standardized. She advocates for a proactive approach in embracing this technological advancement, emphasizing that the strategic integration of AI can secure a business's place in the future of customer experience and other creative endeavors.

We caught up with Brianna recently on the topic.

Episode Transcript

The Gist

  • AI impact. Generative AI is revolutionizing industries, but also raising resistance.
  • Ethical concerns. New tech sparks questions around privacy and legal implications.
  • Job evolution. AI could transition the jobs of creatives.
  • Organizational adaptation. Ethical AI use and risk assessment will be crucial.
  • Time-saving capacity. AI can take care of monotonous tasks and save time so that workers can focus on higher level tasks.
  • Embracing change. Accepting and integrating AI into our worklives is a better path than fighting technological progress.

This transcript has been edited for clarity. 

Dom Nicastro: Hello, everybody, Dom Nicastro here, managing editor of CMSWire back for another round of CX Decoded. And today, I nabbed another one. I nabbed the practitioner in the world of CX. I love it. Here she is Brianna Langley Henderson, regional customer experience manager for Waste Connections, but forget that title because she's also a CMSWire contributor. What's going on Brianna?

Brianna Langley Henderson: Yeah, forget everything else in my life. And nothing up until this point has meant anything. I also write articles for CMSWire now. I'm good. I'm good. I'm glad to be here. Glad to be talking to you today, for sure. 

Dom: We are happy to have you, you, you know been about a year now. So really, of just cranking out some copy for CMSWire, and our contributors are those in the trenches, you know, doing the work of CX marketing. I love getting practitioners, honestly, because you're doing the work, and you're living it. 

Brianna: And I feel like CX is still a new enough field that we're all just really excited when people care about and want to talk to us about it. So I hope I can speak for my fellow practitioners when I say that, but I'm always happy to talk about this stuff. 

Exploring the Role of Generative AI in Customer Experience

Dom: Yeah. And now this is such an exciting time because Brianna, you and I get excited about things like voice of the customer and CSAT. And now this monster has come in in the form of generative artificial intelligence. And all of us are thinking, what are we going to do with this for CX? How are we going to implement it? Where can we start? What are the early wins? So that's what we're going to focus on today. But before we get into that, I just want our listeners to get a little bit more insights into Brianna. So tell us how you got in the role you're currently serving? What's your gig all about? And kind of the evolution of how you arrived there? 

Brianna: My story is probably pretty similar to a lot of CX practitioners. But I started out not in CX, believe it or not. 

Dom: I'm telling you, I hear that more than you think like, yeah, I was an engineer. And you know, I was an architect. And then I do voice the customer now. 

Brianna: Yeah, exactly. Not an engineer and architect. But I did go to school for journalism. And I double majored in international affairs. So definitely a little more political science than marketing. But ironically, my first big girl job out of college was in marketing. And then after that, I was in PR for a couple of years. So I've seen both sides of that communications coin. And CX kind of happened to me, honestly, I was in the market for a job and I saw a job that was inappropriately labeled. My manager at the time would agree with me that it was inappropriately labeled because they didn't have a word for it. And they didn't know what to call it. But it was definitely it was marketed as a digital marketing job. So I applied and ended up getting it, and I now work for this awesome company. But we definitely changed the title pretty quickly.

Because as you know, customer experience encompasses just so much more than straight up digital marketing. So it was a decision that was made right off the bat to make that title a little bit broader. But yeah, now here I am. 

Dom: All right. So we got the backstory. That's great. Now, November 2022, November 2022 is the month. I think it's November 30. Actually, that ChatGPT debuted, OpenAI is wildly popular, fastest growing app of all time. Chatbot. And so that comes into play. Bring me back then, what as a CX leader were you doing in the early days there, like kind of testing things out? Or are you just putting in things like, spark a debate about peanut butter and jelly between Obama and Trump? That's what I was doing in the beginning. I don't know what you were doing. 

Brianna: Yeah, that's funny. We actually here at my company, we don't use ChatGPT. But we use something very, very similar. So we do use a generative AI content generating platform that is super similar. I am — when we first discovered it, I do remember some of the silly, silly tests and stuff we would run. I think we wrote a country song in the voices of Willie Nelson as a team, and just things like that to see what it could do. Honestly, it's not been that long since it's been released. And I think that that's an indicator of what a game-changer it is, is that it has come such a long way in such a short amount of time. The idea of it I think, in the beginning was what really captured a lot of people's attention and now all those things that we were talking about, Oh, I wonder if this will be possible eventually, back when this was first being talked about are suddenly possible. Like we have, we have boots on the ground sales campaigns here. And one of the more you know, non-obvious things you can use this type of software for is creating super simple, super streamlined routes for our salespeople. 

And just things like that, that I think you think automatically about blog posts and social media content, things like that. But the more advanced this thing has gotten, the more we've been able to get a lot of less obvious use cases out of it, which has been super helpful. 

Dom: Yeah, so you guys were ahead of the game in that sense. So you are already implementing, had already infused generative AI before the whole ChatGPT phenomenon. 

Brianna: Actually, yes. I remember reading the first article that I saw on ChatGPT. And I was kind of like, that sounds really similar to you saying that's interesting. 

Dom: Waste Connections was on point. 

Brianna: I know. Yeah, well, technically, if we're just talking chat, GPT. I'm not an expert. Not super familiar. But if we're talking about generative AI in general, I definitely have some notches in my belt, and I'm happy to contribute any kind of knowledge I can, which is limited because I think it is still growing. And it is still very new. And so I think, for everybody, we're still all learning this thing and how it can really be utilized to its fullest potential. 

Related Article: Generative AI: Opportunities and Challenges for Marketing

Selecting and Implementing AI 

Dom: Were you involved in the whole which platform you're gonna use? Were you part of the team that selected the platform kind of thing?

Brianna: Yeah, I was the short answer is yes. The longer answer is at the time we were working with a contractor who we had hired, actually, I believe we hired him originally to do some photography work for us. He threw the name of the software out there. And I'll just say it. I mean, they don't sponsor us. But it's Jasper, Jasper AI.

Dom: A very popular tool. Yeah, absolutely. 

Brianna: Yeah. And we were working on some creative stuff. And I was working on some copywriting, I believe, and he just kind of threw it out there to me, he threw it out to me, Hey, have you ever tried this Jasper thing? I think you would really like it. And so I brought it to our CIO and the rest of the team. And we ended up incorporating it. So it all thanks to a contract and photographer that I haven't seen in a very long time. But here we are. 

Dom: Yeah. So so the early use cases, what were they? What was implementation like, you know, did it have to communicate with other existing internal systems? That's a big deal when you when you're choosing any kind of software that's going to get into the marketing, customer experience ecosystems, like, does it even work with what we have already? 

Brianna: OK, so I will tell you a story. And it’s a little bit of a personal story. But for me, personally, I was like, on board with this thing from the beginning. Because I hate mundane tasks. This story that I'm about to tell you is what made me want to kiss the feet of generative AI because I cannot handle having to do the same monotonous thing over and over again. But way back when, June of 2021, I believe is when our organization first undertook just this massive project to migrate all of our websites, to a brand new hosting platform. 

For those of you who aren't familiar so much with our business model, we are a very decentralized company. So that means that all of our local sites need their own local websites, most of them have chosen to retain their pre-acquisition, local branding. Okay, so we're kind of sneaky in that way. Right. So there's like a ton of waste and recycling companies out there that we own, that you would never know because there's no words, Waste Connections in their name anywhere at all. But all that to say the branding for 95% of these local sites had to remain unique throughout the whole migration process. And just to put in perspective, we have well over 500 or so just locally branded sites. So you can imagine what an undertaking that was. And in the beginning, it was really an all hands on deck situation for a long time. So we had IT, we had the web dev team helping, obviously CX, you name it, we were all just kind of helping to chip away at this huge effort. 

And now, we put yourself in brand willingly Henderson shoes, the person who absolutely hates mundane work and mundane and monotonous things. 

Related Article: Where Are Marketers on the Generative AI Adoption Curve?

Adapting to AI and Utilizing Its Efficiency

Dom: I'm with you, by the way, I'm with you. They're like I'm an editor, right? I'm supposed to be having fun, creating content, talking with reporters about how we're gonna approach a story. Anytime someone makes me do something like you got to fill in that data cell in Excel. I get mad at them like no, I don't. Why? I’m better than this, right? 

Brianna: And I know there are people out there who love coming into work every morning knowing exactly what they're going to be doing and God bless them because I'm truly grateful that those people exist because I couldn't do it. Can't do it. But imagine having to write that many unique SEO related page descriptions for that many websites, or that many image alt tags or like even just website copy in general, honestly, there's only so much you can say about waste and recycling in a different way every single time, right? So it just became very, very monotonous. 

And that was the first thing I thought of when this software was presented to me. And so I was really hyping it up to our CIO, especially in the beginning, which I don't regret at all, because it has been a lifesaver. Like, literally since that time, I don't think I've written a single page description on my own. It's all been our AI software. And so for things like that, it's so incredibly useful. 

Dom: Yeah, very smart. So that's a huge undertaking. I mean, we all know how much of a bear that is to get the websites uploaded, distinguished, different logos, different product descriptions, different links to cities and towns by laws. And let's not forget, people, when they go to a trash website, what do they want? They want quick, easy information. 

Brianna: Exactly. 

Dom: No, they want to know, the day they throw out the trash. They want to know when the yard waste state starts. When other Christmas tree dumps, right? 

Brianna: Yeah, like that. You're a pro. Listen, you 

Dom: Yeah, I'm all about the trash. For real. I went to my city and town government website. I think I was in a new town as of a year ago. That's what I did. But back to the generative AI thing. So that was a huge, early win. 

Brianna: Yeah. For me personally, and I think for the rest of the team as well. I mean, even people who love monotonous things, 500 sites is a lot. 

Dom: Yeah. 

Brianna: So it was it was definitely one of the early ones. And again, since then, not only have we been able to explore it more and really what it's capable of, but it's become capable of so much more. I want to say that was summer of 2022 When we first adopted this thing, so it's really kind of taken on a whole new life and a whole new level of helpfulness. 

Dom: Yeah, the efficiency for me, too, as an editor, reporter writer, the efficiency is the big win for me early, right. I wouldn't say like I know how to write now. No, I kind of knew how to write before AI came into the picture. 

Brianna: You did. I've read your stuff. 

Related Article: FTC Won't Tolerate Generative AI Deception in Marketing, Customer Service

Finding a Balance with AI

Dom: But I but I do appreciate how fast it transcribes or gives me key takeaways from a podcast transcription like this one, because I will be using ChatGPT to tell me the main talking points from Brianna Langley Henderson at some point, when I'm doing this podcast. My question to you of how great it was at the beginning. Were there any drawbacks though, because I will tell you this, I got burned once, oh I'm going to be so clever and efficient today. So I put a contributors article into ChatGPT. And I said, Give me a LinkedIn post about this. Right, I'm busy, I wanted to put it on LinkedIn. So I did write all looks great. And the contributor said, OK, not quite what I was going for in the article, Dom, I'm like, You know what, you're right. I reread it, I'm like, that's a little off. So were there anything like that that came up? Were you so efficient, you rolled it out, but then you went back and said, Ooh, that's might be a little off. 

Brianna: I think now, at least my team, we've kind of found our rhythm with it. And I really love what you said about efficiency and time saving, because that's really where the benefits are. And if you try to use it for much beyond that is, that's when you're gonna get burned, right? Because I'm telling you, we crank out now twice the amount of content as we did before. So whether you're talking about LinkedIn posts or website copy, even PR pitches, we could never have had the bandwidth to really do what we've done now before. 

But I really like to approach the system as a whole. And when I say that, I mean, the generative AI piece and the human element of it. So I've said pretty much from the beginning, I want to look at this in terms of quantity and quality. So when you use the AI piece to generate your quantity, right, you have more of the human capital and human energy to be able to focus on the quality of what you're putting out into the world. So when you kind of approach it as an all in one machine, for lack of a better word, it really becomes more of a win win situation. 

So while the AI is cranking out kind of the skeletal content, we have our amazing humans, fleshing it out and editing it and tweaking it and making it just so before we send it out into the world. So then at the end of the day, you end up with both higher quantities and higher quality content. Whereas before at least for us, it was often a case of having to choose one over the other because we only have so much bandwidth right? So the results have been really quite amazing.

You have to harness it as a whole concept. And as a singular system in that way, I don't think you can really separate the AI from the humans too much without getting into trouble. 

Dom: You know what I look at AI as it's an intern, right? 

Brianna: It's the best intern ever.

Dom: Bring coffee to Yeah, no, that's the only thing. But it also doesn't take the last slice of cake in the office, though. So that's a good thing.

So this compare and contrast. But if you look at it as an intern, for real, everyone loves the intern, they do so much. They take things off your plate, those mundane tasks that you hate. But at the end of the day, when the intern puts something out there, that's going to be public facing right, you're like, Okay, let's give us a look. Let's give us a quick look, right? Because they're young, they're trying to impress, and they don't have that institutional company or customer knowledge quite yet. They're learning. So interns are constantly scrutinized.

So ever since that LinkedIn post, which is a big lesson for me, I adapt that mindset. I use AI very frequently, but I always give it that human check. Last minute thing? For sure. 

Brianna: Yeah, you got to I mean, at the end of the day, it is a robot. And so yeah, I think that's a really helpful way to look at it like an intern. 

Dom: And I want marketers customer experience people like you to envision and see how that implementation went, because I think it's a big part of OK, there were some successes there. Of course, you doubled your content, you a quicker, 500 websites is no joke. Was that a heavy lift, actually implementing that AI tool, that generative AI tool to integrate with your website? Was that like an IT job? Or was it something like the average marketer or customer experience professional can kind of just do? 

Brianna: So for us, I think it's a little bit different, because we do have very unsilent teams. So the person I had to bring this to was our CIO, who's obviously over our IT department. So from the beginning, we were all kind of aligned in the direction that we were going. But if it was the more siloed situation, and it was just a marketing department or just the CX department. For us, it wasn't really a heavy lift. But that being said, if you're talking specifically ChatGPT, I have no idea with, with Jasper AI, they made it very, very easy. And it seems like it's very integratable with a lot of different software's and things like that. So for us, it hasn't been that part of it at least hasn't been too difficult. 

And I don't want to get too philosophical with this or anything. But I'm kind of hoping that that's what ends up happening as a result of this, I think that the more evolved AI becomes, the more we've really got to figure out how to work together better. And I don't just mean with the AI itself, but also with each other, right cross departmentally, we've got to break down those silos because, and this is gonna sound way more dramatic than what I necessarily mean. But it's kind of like the old mantra, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Right? And I definitely don't think AI is our enemy. Not really. 

But I'm very much hoping that the rise of this new tech does bring it into some of the, you know, internal competition we might feel towards other humans in our organization, or even just those silos I was talking about earlier, because I'm hoping that this technical evolution brings humans all a little bit closer, because we really do all need to have a voice at the table when it comes to generating content that's meant to represent an entire organization using robots, right? I mean, if we aren't all aligned when it comes to something like that, I'm afraid. That's when we'll see the breakdown of internal communication start to erode. And that leads to serious gaps in customer facing communication, which can be devastating, ultimately. 

So anyway, I know that doesn't really answer the question you're asking. But I think the more human hands that we can get into the AI pot, the better off the entire organization will be in general, for sure.

Related Article: Break the AI Blame Cycle: User Responsibility in the Generative AI Age

Grappling with Game-Changing Advancements & Ethical Challenges

Dom: It's super weird, like generative AI to me is super weird. Advancement. On one hand, it's so phenomenally game-changing, right? On the other hand, there are people trying to stop the creation of it. Okay, you have thousands of high level AI players and Elon Musk, trying to actually stop these big AI laboratories from doing any more development. They literally signed a petition. There's a policy group in Washington that wrote to the FTC, that literally they should pretty much shut down open AI, which created ChatGPT. So sometimes, Brianna, I feel when I'm using it, I feel like I'm using a drug that's going to be illegal next month. It's got that odd contrast to me that so you wrote a great column for us March 6, talking about the challenges and the opportunities. We know what the opportunity You've laid that out very well with your use case with the website. Talk about some of the challenges now that you brought up in that column, like ethical questions, that kind of thing. What What kind of sparked that column?

Brianna: You know, we can talk about privacy issues, and we can talk about legal ramifications. And we can talk about all of that stuff. Honestly, I personally don't think there's much to talk about in that arena yet, except to say, organizations are going to have to kind of come up with their own codes of ethics right now, because it is still so new, that there hasn't been a lot of precedent set. I think the underlying fear though, and we're really going to get to the heart of the concern is that we're going to see the best writers out there. And this is just an example, we're going to see them begin to turn into the best editors instead, right, and other similar situations like that. And I think the obvious fear with that is, if we're being honest, if you are a company or an organization of a certain size, you probably don't need quite as many editors, as you need writers, right. 

And so I think, in my prediction, for smaller companies, that's that's going to be less true, because I think, for smaller companies, they're always going to need all the human capital they can get, especially in this labor market. But I think that the human downsizing, fear is really the heart of the worry. And I really believe that the first humans that will be impacted, it's weird to talk about robots versus humans, it just feels like we're not even living in the same planet anymore. But the first humans that are going to be impacted by any kind of downsizing that might potentially happen, are going to be the ones who refuse to embrace this new tech for the game changer that it is. I said this in my CMSWire article. But history is just never kind to those who fight progress, especially if it's technological, and content creators. I mean, we're certainly not the first field to fall in the name of innovation, right? 

I mean, you look at history, you've got factory workers and switchboard operators. And it's hard to find those fields anymore, that that are not just completely automated. So I think it's human nature, first of all, to look to improve task efficiency over time. So there's just always going to be tech that's eventually going to come along. And it's going to threaten to pull the rug out from under certain industries that maybe have historically relied on human labor. But the main problem, and this is just my personal beliefs and opinion disclaimer, but I think the main problem is that we as creatives always thought we were just going to be above this kind of threat, right, this artificial takeover, because we're the we're 

Dom: Who’s gonna write a headline for CMSWire if Dom Nicastro is gone.

Embracing AI in CX

Brianna: But the thing is, and I think we're starting to see this, we aren't above that, you know, and, again, my own personal opinions, but the sooner we all start to get on board and figure out how to work within this new overall system. And when I say overall system, I mean, the marriage of the AI and the human element, instead of bemoaning it, the quicker we can kind of secure our own places in the future of CX and other creative endeavors. And I think that's kind of how you have to look at it, you know, good or bad. 

Dom: Yeah, and I think organizations are gonna have I'm sure they already do models for AI use, right, like bylaws, regulation policies and procedures. Because I wrote an article today, at the time of this podcast recording, early May, about the FTC issuing another warning, like they're constantly coming out with his blog post about, you can't be deceptive in your marketing, even though you use generative AI, just like you can't do it with search ads. You can't do it with generative AI, and you can't sneak in deceptive ads, you can't use generative AI to do a customer that's just trying to get out of their subscription, things like that. And also, they end with, Hey, you're gonna have to do more risk assessment internally, with your AI usage, you're gonna have to do more training. So this is going to create jobs, I think, you know, as much as it might take away jobs. You need people in there that are going to train people on ethical AI use as responsible AI use. Have you guys thought about that yet? 

Brianna: Yeah. And I've always said to my team, especially, I don't see this as really a threat. As much as an evolution. I think this is a natural evolution of the way our field is going to eventually go. Right? Because I think a lot of the concerns whether they be legal or ethical precedents will be set right? There will be at some point or another, laws that are set up, whether that's global or within an organization, or whatever that looks like there's going to be boundaries that become clear over time. The problem is we just have not had enough time to really make those clear yet. And that's not enough to stop this.

Brianna: This is not going to stop just because there are some people out there that are saying, you know, well, we need to be careful with this and that and it's true, we do. But that's legal stuff that will work itself out. The thing is, I think organizations have to take a good hard look internally, and make sure that they're using it as ethically as they possibly can. And you're gonna have to kind of hold yourself to a higher standard right now until those overall precedents get set. And, again, I think it's a matter of time, I don't think it's not going to be a slowdown by any means of the development of this technology.

But right now, it's, we're just in that really weird gray area. 

Dom: Yeah, that's true. Well, we've discussed such great topics, I mean, when we can bring our listeners into the office of CX practitioner, like literally inside of the organization, that's everything to us. So Brianna, can't thank you enough for that. 

Brianna: This is a very interesting topic to me. So I was very happy that this was what we decided to talk about today. 

Fostering Cross-Departmental Relationships for a Successful Transition

Dom: Yeah, and let's bring it all home. You know, for the CX leader out there, the marketing leader out there who might be a little behind Waste Connections, the innovator of generative AI, the first to ever use it, the summer 2022. The one that's, you know, totally scoop ChatGPT. So let's give them that one big takeaway. What's the big message? Like, if I want to get started with my CX team? You know, what do I have to do here? Am I looking at hiring? Am I looking at new systems only? Where do I begin? 

Brianna: Again, I think I'm gonna probably give a little bit more philosophical of an answer than maybe what you're looking for. But honestly, I think if you're gonna go down this road, first of all, I've never met a CX practitioner, or leader who isn't gregarious, and just incredibly good at relationship building. And so I think, taking that outside of the boardroom, and taking that outside of, you know, pitching a new idea, or whatever, and really using that skill, to break down those silos within your organization, if you need to foster a relationship with the legal department, or whatever it looks like right now, I think just the more you make other departments internally feel respected and valued and heard, as you know, your entire organization moves down this road, because ultimately, whatever it is that you're creating with these bots, again, is going to be representative of your entire organization, right. So it's just really important to have that mix of voices at the table. So I would really recommend just getting outside of your own team and encouraging your team to do the same. And reaching across some of those tables to other departments and growing that professional bonds so that you are aligned when it comes to the direction you want to take as far as generative AI is concerned. Or you could just ask ChatGPT what you should do? How should we start ChatGPT with generative AI? 

Brianna: Honestly, you probably get a better answer. No, just kidding. 

Dom: Well, this is awesome. I would love to say no, you know, not only I listeners know, now that they can follow you on You know, writing very frequent articles on CX marketing topics. Good stuff. They know that you exist on LinkedIn. But I think you do a little extra on LinkedIn, too. You have your own little personal brand that you want to share? 

Brianna: Sure, yeah, I have a newsletter. It's a weekly newsletter. It's called “Level Up” where we talk about business above the bottom line. And so just kind of all of that CX and marketing and all of that stuff that contributes to bottom line, but maybe not so much that people talk about all the time. That's kind of what we like to focus on. So if you're interested in subscribing, again, it's a weekly newsletter, I try to keep them pretty brief. Definitely go check that out, you can find that on my LinkedIn. I also write for Medium. So I don't know. I know I'm speaking a language from like, 2006 here, but if you are on Medium, please come find me. It's one of my favorite platforms. 

Dom: Awesome. Good. Well, I'm glad you're out there. We're certainly honored to be one of the forums that you chose to dispense your wisdom. So thank you very much. Brianna Langley Henderson. Thanks for being on CX Decoded. 

Brianna: Yeah, thank you, Dom, it's always great to talk to you. 

Dom: Thanks so much. All right, you too. Have a good one. Bye.

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