I’ve always been attracted to the power of empathy. That being said, I’m a longtime fan of “soft” skills — skills that are helpful in relationship-building, making me a better friend and (presumably) a more tolerable colleague. Empathy clearly fits squarely there. But a more savvy marketer? A more insightful executive? A veritable customer whisperer? Hardly.

Here at Forrester, analysts I admire always had a broader and, frankly, more accurate picture of empathy. Laura Ramos refers to empathy as the hallmark of the customer-obsessed B2B marketer. She partners with Jim Nail in naming practicing empathy to understand and connect with people as the first step (out of three) to modernizing marketing thinking. And Maxie Schmidt-Subramanian declares that AI needs empathy to succeed in CX.

Inspired by this elevation of empathy and determined to explore AI in the context of insights, I set out to connect three seemingly unrelated factors: empathy, insights, and AI.

Let me tell you off the bat: I interviewed a lot of folks for this research, and two observations stand out.

“The machine will be effective at knowing what triggers a response out of an individual, and sales teams need to be good at executing against that.” James Regan, CMO of MRP

“AI doesn’t deliver auto-empathy.” Atul Kumar, chief product officer at Mintigo

These quotes get real — real quick — about the incremental but valuable gain delivered by AI in the insights game right now. Undeniably, B2B firms need better insights into buyers to create personas, messaging, and engagement strategies grounded in empathy and emotional triggers. And yes, AI provides deeper customer acumen. But responding to customers in ways that exploit that acumen needs to be backed by human muscle.

In my report, “Humanize B2B Insights With AI,” I explore specific elements of the AI tech suite that help firms bolster customer understanding, get smarter about customers, and demonstrate more empathy.

Ironic? The irony shakes off when the logic kicks in. Of course a merger of human and machine aptitude results in sharper B2B customer insight. Why shouldn’t it? Those firms that harmoniously merge AI tech with humanity and empathy will assemble and manage customer data with increased ease, activate insights to power in-moment recognition and response, and infuse those interactions with empathy — including the language, tone, and imagery that is likely to engage and persuade them.

PS — This is the tip of the iceberg. What does it really mean to merge AI tech with humanity and empathy? My colleague J. P. Gownder talks about the robotics quotient (RQ), which measures the ability of individuals and organizations to collaborate with automated entities. You’ll want to check it out.