The Nepean Rep Report – On The Rocks

Eat Rocks, Sophia

Lots of us are very excited about AI. Why, then, let little things like accuracy, integrity or authenticity get in the way?

AI is certainly making our lives easier. Hunting for reputational missteps has never been simpler, with recent months seeing companies and institutions come undone by hastily cobbled together AI (or ‘different intelligence’) gambits. This stands to be a rolling segment: taking the ‘I’ out of ‘AI’.

In the latest in a series of customer service bot mishaps, Air Canada was recently forced to fork out in a small claims court after a grieving customer claimed to have been misled by its chatbot – referring them to a non-existent bereavement fares policy.

While the $812.02 might not cause too much turbulence within Air Canada’s balance sheet, reliance on an overly creative chatbot – particularly in cases of such a sensitive nature – is sure to put a dent in consumer confidence.

Elsewhere, at D’Youville University in Buffalo, New York, 1,600 students signed a petition requesting a human commencement speaker after Sophia – a ‘humanlike robot’ – was invited to take the stage instead. “A gimmick!”, “A PR stunt!”, they cried. On a day supposed to celebrate very human achievements, they claimed it dehumanised the event.

Sometimes, you really do need somebody with that human touch – somebody to chew the fat (or eat the rocks) with. Haphazard implementation of AI risks alienating customers, employees or other key parties – a result that, despite apparent cost-savings, may have a much more long-lasting impact on reputation.

Fully Consistent, Always?

The FCA has been under the spotlight recently, with Chair Ashley Alder noting, understatedly, that the relationship between regulation, competition and growth “has attracted a lot of interest”.

The regulator’s recent ‘name and shame’ proposals found few advocates, with the City, trade bodies and the House of Lords all coming out against it. Jeremy Hunt took a particularly aggressive stance, and shadow City minister Tulip Siddiq – deferring to the City – claimed that a Labour government would push for fewer barriers to competitiveness and growth.

In an attempt, perhaps, to demonstrate some balance, the FCA came out batting for the private equity industry in the face of purported Bank of England fearmongering. It was a position, though, they quickly tempered with threats of heavy regulation should the sector not play ball on data-sharing.

Alder was right: regulators are under a particularly high level of scrutiny. At a time when opponents are eager to fuel the fire, and the media hangs on every word, the FCA has struggled to effectively make a case for its headline ambitions. Consistency has been lacking and detractors have found it easy to pooh-pooh proposed regulation intended to favour consumers.

In times like this, strategy is king. Punchy plans will necessarily force others to swing and, without consistency and clarity, you might easily find yourself stinging like a butterfly, dancing like a bee.

Who can drive all their customers away and still make money?

Taxi drivers…

Moving quickly on – Aston Martin’s losses rose almost 90 per cent in the first three months of this year, but Lawrence Stroll has promised shareholders a turnaround. Thus far, though, Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois has described the company’s transition as painful…

The £1.15 billion debt refinancing this year, incurring interest of 10 per cent or more, is part of the carmaker’s plan to transform its balance sheet and accelerate growth. Unconvinced, Alistair Osborne commented that the wannabe ‘performance brand’ is not performing. Its share price has been driven off a cliff, trading down by nearly 100 per cent since its float in 2018.

The business is clearly facing some challenges. Transformation takes time and audiences need to hear and see indications of progress. Stroll has claimed that the company is now ready to hit the gas and navigate towards the execution of its brand and product strategy.

Part of the problem, though, is that – not only has the business struggled to perform on production – it has also failed to deliver a coherent and investable story. Distractions, such as that around Stroll’s position on electric cars, have hogged the headlines, leaving little space for the types of proof points and demonstrations of value that would-be investors are actually interested in.

The wave of new launches in the second half of this year may help to boost sales. This represents an opportunity but also a moment of risk: Aston Martin must weave its commercial stories effectively into a wider demonstration of its transformation story. Failure to communicate a long-term vision might risk seeing it fall further behind the pack.