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Sounds of Silence
Brian Richards
Encoding the best of our humanity to enhance the digital experience
Digital humans have arrived

Working across many brands and categories has proved to me that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level. It's proven we can do only so much over the telephone or online. Open up the power of conversation through body language, tone and expression and the level of engagement lifts significantly. The ability for artificial intelligence to supercharge a brand's real-time interactions based on tailored content using memorable personas will strengthen the emotional connection with customers using the power of the human face. 

These unique breakthroughs where neuro-linguistic methodologies enable digital humans to emulate real people’s behaviours – along with their nuances – will make the experience of interacting with them more natural. Customers these days love the speed and convenience of digital channels, but the absence of personal interaction makes it harder for businesses to differentiate themselves. Brands are just beginning to create life-like digital humans who respond to spoken inquiries in a natural way, providing help, advice and the all-important "human" touch.

Soul Machines, a Kiwi company on the cutting edge of this brave new world, have engineered a ‘Digital Nervous System’, allowing their digital human avatars to better emulate real people. Click on the image for a demonstration.

Today’s customers expect to be known and want a personalised interaction. 

The solution can be found in our humanity and the power of conversation. Conversation enables so much more than just a transaction because it can be friendly, personalised, informative and most importantly, through conversation, we can show we value someone just by remembering who they are and what they like.

Experts say that within ten years, 85% of the interactions between businesses and their customers will happen through digital channels. While these channels offer speed and convenience at low cost, substituting a digital interaction for a personal one creates a less differentiated customer experience. Research has indicated that 73% of customers rank quality of experience alongside price and service as a key influencer of brand loyalty, so can businesses really afford to give up the opportunity to stand out from their competitors? With this newest round of technology breakthroughs, the stakes are high: churn and revenue loss are the natural consequences of poor customer experience.

Now there is a way to bring the human element into digital interfaces to create compelling interactions.

Customer experience is the new currency in terms of brand loyalty. If you can engineer the ability to understand customer emotions, express empathy and converse naturally over digital channels, you will have achieved the dream that Arthur C. Clarke wrote about and Stanley Kubrick made films about.

Digital humans are applicable across a wide variety of industries and sectors, a promising one being healthcare. Click on the image for a short video.

Digital humans will have the ability to handle routine work in order to enable people to concentrate on more interesting and challenging tasks, including managing any questions that the digital human cannot answer. 

Crucially, customers who choose the digital route will still get the benefit of an emotional connection. Already deployed in a number of customer-facing roles worldwide, including interactive kiosks in bank branches, digital humans process and respond to questions in as little as 100 milliseconds, making the interaction seamless and natural. By running biometrics on video data from cameras in the kiosks or in users’ smartphones, a digital human can learn to recognise customers by sight and greet them by name – if this functionality is included – making customers feel more valued. 

Digital humans can also create a more comfortable scenario where people may not be confident interacting with a real human being. For example, when it comes to health, people may prefer to explain their feelings and symptoms to an interactive character. In the case of children, cuddly digital animals could well be the perfect medium to discuss a highly sensitive hospital issue with a stressed child. One in five people are affected by mental health, with some affected more seriously than others. A big first step is getting those most in need to simply communicate. 

ANZ’s Jamie is a live prototype of a digital human that you can test from your browser. Click on the image to give it a try.

A key metric already emerging is that 63% of people would prefer to talk to a digital human about mental health challenges in the first instance. 

Digital humans can provide an emotionally-rich customer experience that can be delivered at scale, 24 hours a day, on any device. This leverages all the collective work done to date to understand spoken natural language and emotions and provide accurate responses with the appropriate tone of voice and facial expressions. 

Digital humans can easily act as the first touch point for customers. 

In banking and insurance for example, digital humans could run through a series of standard questions and pass the applicant’s responses to a policy-decision tool. If the applicant qualifies, the system could then hand them to a real employee on a video link to complete the process. Customers are happy to find the answers to questions themselves online. Numerous studies show that when they go to a company’s website, it usually isn’t to find a phone number to call, but to find an answer to their question or problem.

But, they want that experience to be personalised and contextual, an experience that says, ‘you know who I am, so use that knowledge to give me a better, faster and more accurate experience.’ Failure to deliver is rewarded with frustration and the risk of losing a customer, fast.

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We are ecstatic to congratulate our very own Anushka Harrison, who has been recognised in Viva’s 20th anniversary issue as a rising star amongst a stellar cast of upcoming New Zealand designers.