Don't Waste Money on AI. Unlock Its True Potential By Treating It Like a New Hire. Businesses using artificial intelligence will get the best results if they onboard a new AI agent and make it a member of the team.

By Mike Murchison

Key Takeaways

  • Over 80% of tech executives struggle to derive value from AI investments due to a "set it and forget it" approach.
  • Proper AI integration requires onboarding, goal-setting and coaching, similar to new employee procedures.
  • Successful AI application can lead to substantial productivity gains, reduced response times and increased customer satisfaction.
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I call it the AI merry-go-round. So many businesses have embraced artificial intelligence tools as a way to improve productivity and performance. But as the weeks and months go by, the promise gives way to frustration. In a recent survey of tech executives, more than eight out of 10 execs said they're struggling to realize value from investments in AI and other new technology.

Lurking behind this disappointment, however, is a critical misunderstanding — one that I see play out far too frequently. The No. 1 mistake companies make when they start working with AI? They set it and forget it.

Most businesses treat a new AI agent as a tool that should just work "out of the box" and run on its own, like a fancy version of Microsoft Office or Photoshop. In reality, what companies need to do is approach AI less like a piece of software and more like any new employee.

Onboard it. Set and monitor goals. Coach it. No different than any other staff member. Only then do you truly start to experience the benefits.

I know, calling AI an "employee" can sound like a stretch. We're talking about zeroes and ones, after all. But we're fast approaching a time when, for many managers, the first team member they oversee will be an AI.

As the leader of a company that specializes in AI customer service, I've seen firsthand the return that businesses get by treating an AI agent like a member of the team — greater productivity, cost savings and happier team members, to name a few.

So, how do you treat AI like an employee? To me, it comes down to three steps.

Related: AI Is Coming For Your Jobs — Anyone Who Says Otherwise Is In Denial. Here's How You Can Embrace AI to Avoid Being Left Behind.

1. Onboard your new hire

The typical AI arrives at a company as a really keen intern, with solid foundational skills but new to the world of work and your industry. As a first step, that intern needs onboarding so they can start learning about the organization and their role.

For most people, day one on the new job involves that obligatory slog through the company manual. No free pass for AI here. For an AI customer service agent, that reading might include absorbing every single article in your customer support center, studying your standard operating procedures and reviewing your marketing team's brand guidelines.

Whether it's a new email address or a Salesforce login, every employee needs to be connected with company systems — after all, that's how work actually gets done. The same goes for an AI agent. Real productivity happens when smart tools are fully integrated with other company platforms, like Zendesk for customer support ticketing or Shopify for processing ecommerce refunds.

Meeting fellow team members for lunch or drinks after work is a rite of passage for new hires. With AI, making introductions is just as important. Often, this means sending out a link so everyone can chat with the new agent and start to understand its capabilities. I've noticed that people often even give their new AI workmate a name.

2. Set goals and measure performance

At the start of a new job, many of us can remember a boss taking us aside to explain, "These are your goals and this is how you'll be measured against them" — the classic objectives and key results (OKRs) talk. In the weeks and months ahead, those goals probably got tracked through regular check-ins and performance reviews.

For an AI agent to thrive, it needs something comparable. Take the world of customer service. For an AI employee, the two goals that really matter are business impact and quality of customer experience. Both move up and to the right with what's known as automated resolution.

Automated resolution doesn't mean shunting callers off to bots, leaving them frustrated and annoyed. It means the customer actually gets what they're looking for — an accurate, safe, relevant experience that solves their problem.

Likewise, it's important to continually "check in" and assess the quality of their interactions. Fortunately, AI can help here, too: Rather than sifting manually through recordings of calls, for example, the latest tools can gauge performance and suggest fixes nearly in real-time — less nerve-wracking than that quarterly performance review with the boss, and a lot more productive.

Related: Is All This AI Hype Worth It? Here's What Leaders Can Do to Capitalize on AI

3. Coach your AI employee

We probably all fondly remember that one manager who took us under their wing in our early days. Coaching is a key step for bringing any new recruit into the fold. Traditionally, this might take the form of regular one-on-one meetings. For each of my direct reports, for instance, I keep a running document where we can flag things to discuss, highlight urgent topics and track the progress of their career.

With AI, it's much the same. Coaching and improvement are directly correlated. A manager coaches an AI agent on how to improve by sharing guidance. If an AI customer service agent achieves a 30% resolution rate in the first week, the manager might guide their AI agent to offer customers a new plan or better respond to refund issues.

All of this might sound complicated and time-consuming. But good managers know that coaching even a single employee is time well spent. Now, imagine if that same effort could translate to improvements across hundreds or even thousands of employees, simultaneously. Plus, AI agents are getting better and better at self-learning — just like the most capable human employees — so managing them will become less prescriptive and more strategic.

For any manager, there's that magic moment when you trust a new hire enough to start delegating things to them. Once they've come to you with three good ideas, you won't question them on the fourth. Ultimately, that's the goal with AI: building enough trust between the business and the agent that it's able to continually improve on its own.

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Still Need To Leverage People (Even With AI)

The payoff for companies that make the effort to develop an AI employee? Consider these success stories. Retailer H&M reduced response times by up to 70% versus human employees. Renewable electricity provider Octopus Energy saw AI-drafted emails yield almost 20% higher customer happiness scores. And when Slush used an AI agent for its annual startup conference, it saw 55% more conversations with participants than the previous year.

Ultimately, there's nothing like watching a bright intern grow into an outstanding team member who exceeds your expectations. For companies incorporating AI today, it's important to remember that fundamental HR truth — what you get out of your new employees is directly related to what you put in.

Mike Murchison

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO and Co-Founder of Ada

Mike Murchison is CEO and co-founder of Ada, the world’s leading customer service AI platform. Founded in 2016, Ada automates billions of customer interactions for brands like Meta, Verizon and Square.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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