Apr 25, 2023 - Economy

First study to look at AI in the workplace finds it boosts productivity

Animated gif of a blinking cursor between two halves of a brain

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Productivity improved considerably within the customer service department of a Fortune 500 company that used generative AI, per a new study from researchers at Stanford and M.I.T.

Why it matters: The researchers believe it's the first empirical evidence of the effects of generative AI — artificial intelligence that creates (generates) content, like text or images — on the workplace.

What they did: Researchers tested AI software with a customer service team of more than 5,000 agents at an unnamed Fortune 500 company that provides software to small businesses.

  • The AI monitored customer chats and gave agents real-time suggestions for how to respond, including ideas for wording — key to keeping customers from growing hostile — and links to technical information to help troubleshoot issues.
  • Agents were free to ignore the advice.

What they found: Use of the AI led to a 14% increase in the number of customer service chats an agent successfully responded to per hour.

  • Agents spent less time handling individual chats, and were able to take care of more customers per hour  there was also a small increase in the share of chats resolved successfully.
  • The AI had the biggest impact — and helped reduce turnover — among the lowest-skilled customer service agents new to the job. Experienced customer service agents saw only a slight lift.
  • That's because they already have learned the information the AI was sharing in this case, the AI basically serves as a way for more experienced customer service agents to transfer knowledge to newbies.

The bottom line: This is just one study of a single workplace, where the product (the software) doesn't really change much. Many more studies of more workplaces are needed to truly understand its impact.

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