Content Creator To AI Architect: The Changing Face Of eBay Customer Experience

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


In wake of mass layoff impacting over 1,000 eBay employees last month, recent promotions and title changes among remaining staff reveal increasing importance of AI and the changing face of Global Customer Experience at the company.

Senior Portfolio Manager Global Customer Experience Luke Handman and Senior Content Strategist Daniel Todd were both promoted to the role of AI Architect earlier this month, tasked with "deploying AI to revolutionize CX" in both the US and UK.

Handman has an MBA from Western Colorado University and held a position in operations at before joining eBay's Global Customer Experience team in 2017 handling merchant support, speciality services, managed payments and more throughout his 6+ years at the company.

Todd has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, as well an MBA from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and held positions in customer service and knowledge base content management for multiple gaming companies before joining eBay in 2013, where he has spent 10+ years creating and managing self-service help content strategies and initiatives.

Management consulting firm Gartner defines the job of an AI Architect as the glue between stakeholders in AI initiatives with a wide array of responsibilities such as collaborating with data scientists and engineers to identify and pilot use cases; translate the vision of business leaders into realistic technical implementation; audit AI tools and practices; assess AI services, support model recalibration and retrain models; and work closely with security and risk leaders to foresee and overturn risks.

Who are AI architects?
“AI architects are the curators and owners of the AI architecture strategy. They are the glue between data scientists, data engineers, developers, operations (DevOps, DataOps, MLOps) and business unit leaders to govern and scale the AI initiatives,” says Arun Chandrasekaran, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner.

They work closely with enterprise and solution architects, but unlike the enterprise architecture team, which is responsible for a broad set of functions, they are laser-focused on building a robust enterprisewide architecture for AI.

Source: Gartner

Neither Handman nor Todd appear to have the kind technical education and professional background one might expect would be needed in their new roles as AI Architects, so what's the story behind the changing titles?

eBay's 10-Q filing in July 2023 revealed the company incurred $12 Million in increased customer support costs in the first half of 2023, but frustrated sellers wondered where it all went as the support experience continued to go downhill - specifically calling out the lack of callback options and increasingly being routed through labyrinthine automated phone menus or online self-service resources.

At the time, we speculated that $12 Million increase was a one-off situation as eBay may have been deploying more automated and AI driven support systems with the hope it would drive future cost savings.

CEO Jamie Iannone and CFO Steve Priest also expressed a newfound focus on "expense discipline" and confirmed they had been deploying more AI into their global customer experience (GCX) operations on the Q3 2023 earnings call.

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As Steve talked about the cost structure, one of the things we're looking at is how do we leverage AI and technologies so that our costs don't grow as our volume grows?

So I'll give you an example of, one of the areas we've been investing a lot in is our customer support. And so if you look at like our GCX expenses, our customer support expenses, we've been rolling out conversational help bots over the course of the last few quarters, really advancing what we're doing there so that we can, focus a lot of our efforts into handling more calls and greater volume with higher customer satisfaction.

As an example, we just launched that as a trial in Germany. We've had that live in some of our English markets. An example of some of the initiatives that we're going to do next year to manage the business and make sure that as Steve said, we're going after the growth opportunities in the business, while being prudent about our expense structure.

However, despite Iannone's claim of increased customer satisfaction, sellers who pay a premium for Anchor and Enterprise level Store subscriptions have been frustrated with the increased use of chatbots replacing the dedicated higher tier support they are supposed to receive.

That frustration has only continued to grow as buyers and sellers are increasingly finding their attempts to report listings that clearly violate eBay policies or have unfair feedback removal requests stymied by AI-based enforcement decisions that often miss the mark.

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As eBay looks to ramp up the use of AI, machine learning and large language models in their trust and safety and support operations, they'll need experts in policy communication and help content creation to assist with training and testing these new models - which is likely where Handman and Todd's promotions come into play.

eBay is also lagging significantly behind in their AI initiatives, continuing a years long history of unfulfilled tech innovation promises.

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Their image recognition capabilities for product search and discovery continue to provide inconsistent results, the AI description generator had rough launches on both mobile and desktop, and the promised "take a picture and let AI do the rest" Magical listing experience has yet to be seen live in the wild, apparently stalled in employee beta testing.

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Meanwhile smaller competitor Mercari has already deployed their image based listing tool, Poshmark appears poised to beat eBay to the punch as well and both Shopify and Amazon have introduced conversational AI shopping assistants for buyers.

Is eBay handing out new titles to stack the org chart with more supposedly AI-oriented roles in an effort to obfuscate and distract from the lack of meaningful technical progress?

We'll see what Iannone has to say about the company's AI initiatives when eBay reports Q4 and full year 2023 results on February 27th.

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Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of online marketplace sales experience, providing commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & more at Value Added Resource!

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