Zak Kidd Of AskHumans: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Develop a Strategic AI Roadmap: Implementing AI without a clear strategy can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities. Early on, we developed a strategic roadmap for AI integration, identifying key areas where AI could add the most value and setting clear objectives. This guided our investments and efforts, ensuring that the adoption of AI was aligned with our overall business goals and resulted in tangible improvements in customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Zak Kidd.

Zak Kidd is an entrepreneur and AI innovator with a rich background in technology, finance, and real estate. Graduating from Morehouse College with a BA and later earning a MA in Economics & Policy from Harvard University, his educational journey laid a solid foundation for a diverse career. He ventured into entrepreneurship as the technical co-founder of SwingSpace and further developed his niche in tech by founding DupontStudios, a Ruby on Rails development shop that specialized in software development and film production until 2022.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Myexperience in startups and appetite to solve pressing challenges across the enterprise brought me to my latest venture, AskHumans, which underscores my passion for innovation. AskHumans is a customer experience tool that enables businesses to replace traditional surveys with comprehensive voice feedback. Our AI-powered platform analyzes customer feedback to empower businesses with actionable insights that improve operations and increase customer satisfaction, helping drive revenue and strengthen the relationships between businesses and their customers. AskHumans reflects a seamless blend of AI, machine learning, and customer experience optimization.

Before my entrepreneurial leap, I gained valuable experience in private equity and finance, enriching my understanding of market dynamics and business strategy. Beyond my professional career, I am an avid kiteboarder and Jiu-Jitsu enthusiast, both of which balance my tech-driven career with high-energy sports that reflect my adventurous spirit and dedication to personal well-being.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

AskHumans distinguishes itself in the market through its AI-driven platform designed to efficiently collect and analyze customer feedback. This approach not only streamlines the feedback collection process but also unlocks deep insights through sophisticated analysis. The platform’s adaptability across various industries, combined with the ability to offer personalized responses to feedback, ensures that every customer feels valued and understood. Another standout feature of AskHumans is its visualization of insights, which simplifies the interpretation of data for decision-making.

A compelling example of AskHumans’ impactful collaboration is with Carnegie Higher Education. AskHumans has been instrumental in enabling Carnegie to provide its clients, including prestigious institutions like Washington St. Louis University and Findlay University, with sophisticated feedback tools. These tools are used to collect valuable feedback on campus tours, executive programs, and other curriculum and operational priorities. Through AskHumans, these institutions can gather in-depth insights into the effectiveness of their offerings, ensuring they can make informed decisions to enhance the educational experience and operational efficiency.

This underscores AskHumans’ ability to not only collect and analyze feedback across different contexts but also to empower businesses and institutions to make data-driven decisions. Whether it’s improving the product lineup based on customer insights, enhancing service quality, or optimizing educational programs, AskHumans stands out as a versatile and powerful tool that aligns closely with customer needs and preferences, driving satisfaction and success.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’ve always enjoyed James Baldwin’s writings. His quote, “Curiosity is a kind of faith, a kind of fight,” speaks to me and drives our team’s entrepreneurial spirit at AskHumans, especially in the application of artificial intelligence to decipher and act on customer feedback. This pursuit is not just about technological advancement but about continuously challenging the status quo to uncover deeper insights and solutions.

Empathy, central to our ethos, underscores the belief that understanding and connecting with others on a genuine level can transform the way we do business. Of course, as a startup, we also have to prioritize agility and the ability to learn quickly. And so we value our team having general skills in addition to specializations so that we can pivot in response to new information from customers.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

AI is fundamentally transforming the industry of customer feedback and experience. This disruption is largely positive, propelling businesses towards more efficient, insightful, and personalized customer engagement strategies. AI is reshaping the landscape through:

1. Enhanced Data Analysis: AI excels at analyzing vast amounts of data quickly and accurately. For AskHumans, this means our customers are able to sift through extensive feedback from their customers to identify trends, preferences, and areas for improvement. This capability helps businesses move beyond simple metrics to deeper insights into customer behavior and satisfaction.

2. Real-time Feedback Processing: AI enables the processing of feedback in real-time, allowing businesses to respond to customer reviews swiftly. This immediacy improves customer satisfaction and loyalty, as customers feel their voices are heard and valued immediately.

3. Personalized Customer Experiences: AI’s ability to understand and predict customer preferences enables AskHumans to offer personalized responses to feedback. This personal touch enhances the customer experience, making interactions feel more genuine and human, despite being AI-driven.

4. Predictive Analytics: Beyond analyzing current feedback, AI can predict future trends and customer needs. This predictive capability allows businesses to stay ahead of the curve, making informed decisions on product development, marketing strategies, and customer service improvements.

Overall, AI’s emergence in customer feedback and customer experience is beneficial for businesses that take advantage of all the technology has to offer. In our case, we help businesses improve their bottom line by:

  • Reducing costs, which automates the feedback collection and analysis process, saving significant time and resources and reducing operational costs.
  • Increasing sales by providing insights derived from AI analysis to inform more effective marketing strategies and product improvements, leading to increased sales.
  • Improving customer retention by empowering customers with personalized and timely responses to feedback that improves customer satisfaction and loyalty, which are key drivers of long-term revenue.

AI’s disruption in the customer feedback and experience industry, as exemplified by AskHumans, is helping rather than hurting the bottom line. It enables businesses to be more agile, insightful, and customer-centric, which are critical components for success in today’s competitive marketplace.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Large Language Models (LLMs) have revolutionized our industry by enabling precise analysis of customer feedback and offering targeted recommendations for operational enhancements. These advanced AI tools facilitate a deep understanding of textual data, allowing AskHumans to provide actionable insights for businesses to improve their services and customer experiences efficiently. LLMs are pivotal in driving data-informed decisions, significantly impacting operational agility and customer satisfaction.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

A pivotal moment that underscored the profound impact of AI on our sector occurred during DC Startup Week last year, when AskHumans was utilized to engage with event participants. The platform facilitated an unprecedented level of interaction, offering a conversational interface that allowed event-goers to share their experiences in real-time. This not only provided organizers with a seamless and scalable tool for gathering feedback but also delivered insights with depth and breadth that were previously unattainable through traditional methods.

The engagement from participants surpassed our expectations and showcased the platform’s capability to capture nuanced sentiments and preferences. The AI-driven analysis of this feedback enabled the event organizers to quickly understand and respond to the needs and experiences of attendees, highlighting the potential of AI to transform event management and attendee engagement.

This experience was a watershed moment for us at AskHumans, clearly validating the transformative power of AI in enhancing customer experience and operational efficiency. It was a vivid demonstration of how AI can facilitate meaningful conversations at scale, providing businesses and organizations with the tools they need to deeply understand and effectively engage their audiences.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

The team at AskHumans is leading the integration of AI into our customers’ customer experience and feedback analysis processes. As an AI-based company, we ensure that our expertise in AI, predictive analytics, and customer experience remains ahead of the curve to provide the most insightful and actionable platform for our customers.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

Upskilling a workforce for an AI-centric future presents several significant challenges. One of the primary hurdles is the rapid pace of technological advancement in AI, which necessitates ongoing learning and development to keep skills current. This can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive.

Furthermore, the transition to AI-centric operations requires a diverse range of skills, not just in technology but also in integrating it with domain-specific knowledge. Employees must develop a blend of technical proficiency and industry insights, sometimes posing a steep learning curve.

Change management also poses a major challenge. The introduction of AI can lead to concerns about organizational structure and the need to learn complex new skills, potentially resulting in resistance from the workforce. Addressing these concerns involves not only providing training but also implementing change management strategies that acknowledge and mitigate these concerns.

Accessibility and inclusivity in training programs are crucial yet challenging to achieve. Ensuring that every employee has access to learning opportunities and the necessary support to succeed calls for personalized learning paths and mentorship, which can be challenging to organize and finance.

Lastly, the ethical use of AI is an essential consideration. Training a workforce to leverage AI effectively also means instilling an understanding of ethical issues, such as bias, privacy, and security. This requires a comprehensive educational approach that covers not just the technical aspects of AI but also its responsible use.

Preparing a workforce for an AI-centric future is a complex endeavor that involves addressing technological, organizational, educational, and ethical dimensions. Organizations that foster a culture of continuous learning and adaptability, ensure inclusivity, and promote the ethical application of AI technologies are well-positioned to overcome the challenges associated with preparing and upskilling their workforce for an AI-centric future.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

In the context of leveraging AI for customer feedback analysis and insights generation, several ethical considerations come to the forefront. Privacy and data protection are paramount, given the sensitive nature of the customer data we handle. Ensuring that AI systems respect user privacy and comply with data protection regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA, is crucial. At AskHumans, we tackle this by implementing robust data encryption, anonymization techniques, and strict access controls to safeguard customer information.

Bias in AI algorithms is another significant concern. AI systems can inadvertently perpetuate or amplify biases present in their training data, leading to skewed or unfair outcomes. To address this, we prioritize the development of unbiased training datasets and regularly audit our AI models for bias to ensure fair and equitable treatment of all user feedback.

Additionally, transparency in AI decision-making processes also poses ethical challenges. Users and clients must understand how AI-generated insights are derived to trust and act upon them. We address this by developing transparent AI systems that provide clear explanations for their outputs, enabling users to interpret and validate the insights generated.

Lastly, there are concerns about AI’s impact on the human workforce. We approach this by using AI to augment rather than replace human capabilities, automating repetitive tasks to free up our team for more complex and creative work. This not only enhances efficiency but also allows our employees to focus on higher-value activities, fostering a symbiotic relationship between humans and AI.

Tackling these ethical considerations involves a comprehensive approach that includes technological solutions, policy frameworks, and ongoing vigilance to ensure that the use of AI remains responsible, fair, and beneficial to all users.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

In an era where AI is rapidly transforming industries, staying ahead requires strategic adaptation and foresight. Here are five essential steps for businesses facing AI-driven disruption, each illustrated with examples from our journey at AskHumans:

1. Embrace Continuous Learning and Innovation: The pace at which AI evolves demands a commitment to ongoing education and innovation. For instance, when we first integrated AI into AskHumans, the landscape was markedly different. By continuously learning about new AI developments, we were able to upgrade our platform with the latest NLP (Natural Language Processing) technologies, significantly improving our feedback analysis capabilities. This commitment to staying updated ensures that your business remains competitive and can leverage AI advancements effectively.

2. Prioritize Ethical AI Use: As AI began to play a larger role in our operations, the importance of using AI ethically became clear. We implemented rigorous data privacy measures and conducted bias audits on our AI models. This not only ensured compliance with regulations like GDPR but also built trust with our users, demonstrating that ethical considerations are not just regulatory requirements but integral to building a sustainable business.

3. Foster Agility and Flexibility in Your Workforce: The introduction of AI can lead to shifts in job roles and functions. We encourage our team to adopt a mindset of agility and flexibility, and we offer training programs to upskill employees to enable their continued development. This approach helped us navigate the transition smoothly, turning potential disruptions into opportunities for growth and innovation within our team.

4. Develop a Strategic AI Roadmap: Implementing AI without a clear strategy can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities. Early on, we developed a strategic roadmap for AI integration, identifying key areas where AI could add the most value and setting clear objectives. This guided our investments and efforts, ensuring that the adoption of AI was aligned with our overall business goals and resulted in tangible improvements in customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

5. Cultivate a Culture of AI Literacy: To fully harness the potential of AI, it’s essential for the entire organization to have a basic understanding of what AI can and cannot do. We hold workshops and seminars to demystify AI for our team, fostering a culture of AI literacy. Continued AI education has empowered our employees to think creatively about how AI could be applied in their areas of work, leading to innovative applications of AI that we had not initially anticipated.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

1. AI Will Replace Human Jobs: One prevalent misconception is that AI will render human roles obsolete, especially in data analysis and customer service. We address this by demonstrating how AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing them. For example, by automating the tedious task of data sorting and preliminary analysis, our team can focus on more strategic activities like interpreting insights and developing action plans. This approach emphasizes AI as a tool that enhances job quality and efficiency.

2. AI Is Infallible and Always Accurate: Another common belief is that AI outputs are always correct. However, AI systems are only as good as the data they are trained on and can inherit biases or errors present in that data. We tackle this misconception by being transparent about the limitations of AI and implementing rigorous data validation and model-auditing processes. Sharing case studies where AI-assisted adjustments led to improved outcomes helps illustrate the importance of human oversight in AI implementations.

3. AI Implementation Is Prohibitively Expensive: Many businesses assume that integrating AI into their operations will require significant financial investment. While this may have been true in the early days of AI, advancements in technology have made AI tools more accessible and affordable. We showcase our scalable solutions that cater to businesses of all sizes, highlighting cost-effective entry points into AI adoption and demonstrating the long-term ROI of integrating AI into customer feedback analysis.

4. AI Can Fully Automate Customer Engagement: There’s a tendency to overestimate AI’s ability to manage all aspects of customer interaction autonomously. While AI can significantly enhance engagement through personalized responses and insights, human touch remains crucial. We emphasize the importance of blending AI with human empathy and understanding, especially in handling complex customer emotions and queries. By sharing success stories where AI-supported solutions led to improved customer satisfaction, we illustrate the balanced approach necessary for effective engagement.

5. Setting Up AI Requires Extensive Technical Expertise: The belief that AI integration is complex and requires deep technical knowledge can deter businesses from adopting AI solutions. We counter this by providing user-friendly AI platforms that require minimal technical setup from the client’s side. Our support and training services further ease the integration process, proving that AI adoption can be straightforward and accessible to businesses without extensive technical backgrounds.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“You rent your reputation every day.”

Simply put, always strive to do what’s right, communicate what you think you can and cannot do, and avoid over-promising.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

The most prevalent thought I have is to make sure my team is well supported so they can do their best work, which drives our company to serve our clients in the best way possible.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that advocating for better environmental standards through distributed renewable energy projects would be incredibly beneficial for the world at-large, the myriad communities that stand to benefit from these initiatives, and for the future of generations to come.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.