Why Digital Humans Are About to Make Things Very Interesting

This isn’t your Nana’s chatbot — digital humans are very much set to disrupt the customer service industry, and will have wide-reaching effects in contact centres around the world. Let’s take a look at what these digital humans are, what they can do, and how they’re likely to upend traditional customer service models.

What Is a Digital Human?

In short, a digital human is a realistic digital representation of a human being that appears on your device’s screen and interacts with you via speech. These digital humans, sometimes also known as avatars, are created using a combination of 3D modelling, computer graphics, and artificial intelligence.

In some cases, they will be an artist’s realistic representation of a person, or it might be a direct digital scan of a real human actor who permitted their likeness to be replicated. Digital humans listen to your words and convert them to text which is then run through an AI chat platform. The AI chat platform then converts its text response to audio, and the digital human answers your question with speech.

The ultimate goal is that digital humans can look and act just like real people, and can therefore be the next generation of chatbot, extending their capabilities to complex customer service, marketing, training, and even therapy.

What Do Digital Humans Do and Where Are They Used?

Digital humans can, in theory, be used in any industry. Programmed with the right parameters, AI can be tailored to any specific industry for training or support, and even offer empathy in a rudimentary form, opening it up to the customer service industry in particular.

This means that in the contact centre realm, digital humans can provide a more natural customer interaction than traditional automated systems. Ultimately, this will mean that organisations will use them to replace live customer service agents, freeing up human staff to focus on more skilled tasks.

In fact, you may have already spoken to a virtual human with a company operating in New Zealand. Brands like ANZ, Noel Leeming, Southern Cross Health Society, and Vodafone all use their own distinct digital humans for their customer service interface. ANZ unveiled in mid 2018, a virtual assistant named Jamie who is programmed to answer customer questions on its website. Developed by Kiwi tech company Soul Machines, Jamie was able to reply to queries relating to 30 frequently searched-for topics.

What Are the Benefits of Digital Humans in a Contact Centre?

Digital Humans Make Phone calls, but better

While most customers have become very comfortable, or at least adept, with self-service options like web forms and automated phone systems, more complex customer service inquiries still often prefer the human touch of a phone call.

According to Forbes internal data, “call volumes either held steady or rose for many industries during the first half of 2020 and through 2021”, which is quite remarkable given the world’s gravitation towards algorithm-led automation channels during Covid-19 and beyond. In essence, it shows people still want to communicate their fears and desires during the customer service journey.

In this scenario, digital humans shine. You may have heard the saying that communication has almost nothing to do with the words chosen (communication is thought to be 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words only) — so this means digital humans can add layers of expressions like human body language and facial emotion, even if it is a bit rudimentary for now. This will help customers feel heard, understood, and appreciated during customer service interactions.

This can only be a good thing for contact centres, as digital humans could help to reduce unsatisfied customers from reaching out repeatedly to the same services — thereby reducing costs associated with long-term customer satisfaction issues.

Digital Humans Don’t Need Cookies

Internet browsers Firefox and Safari have already phased out cookies (Chrome is thought to do the same in the next year) in an effort to protect user privacy — but this will make it difficult for organisations to track user data, a key factor in gathering customer insights.

Digital humans should be able to step in here and collect anonymous first-party conversation data that can be used to create insights for the organisation and drive better customer experience with targeted ads, content, and products

Digital humans don’t need breaks… or pay cheques

Digital humans won’t exactly be known around the office for being slackers; they don’t get tired or need days off, meaning they can be available 24/7 and provide consistent customer service to all customers. This is invaluable for businesses that have a high volume of customer support calls that come in at all hours of the day.

The capital required to deploy digital humans is obviously a bit cost prohibitive right now, but given a few years of progress, they will become extremely cost-effective to organisations of all sizes. Once activated, they won’t need holidays, sick leave, or even pay cheques.

Why Digital Human Technology Isn’t Quite Ready… Yet

While promising, digital humans still have a few limitations. The first issue is trust — customers need to feel comfortable interacting with a digital human, and this won’t happen overnight.

The second issue is emotion — digital humans have definitely come a long way in terms of understanding basic emotions like sadness, happiness, and anger; however, more complex emotions still require further development.

Curiously though, those two issues relating to non-human contact might have their benefits — for example, some people might feel more comfortable talking about sensitive topics like health or debt with a digital human. We’ll have to see how that plays out in time.

Another thing to consider is the ethical and legal implications of using digital humans in customer service. Customers will need to know that they’re interacting with an avatar and that their personal information is being handled appropriately.

We’re also not really sure what happens when digital humans make decisions or take actions without human oversight at a large scale. Organisations will need to create policies and procedures to ensure their use is reasonable, ethical, and compliant with laws and regulations.

But the Future Looks Promising for Digital Human Technology

While not strictly the same thing, Mark Zuckerberg is famously pumping US$36 billion into the metaverse, so it’s clear the whole digital human interaction industry is on to something. New Zealand company UneeQ is making giant strides in developing digital human technology, and competitor Synthesia will even let you make a digital human version of yourself. In other words, things are moving a lot faster than you might imagine.

It’s important to note, though, that digital human technology isn’t going to replace human contact centre agents overnight, or even at all, at least completely. It will take some time for the technology to mature and for businesses to fully adopt it, not to mention for customers to become comfortable with it.

In saying that, it’s important to start preparing for the shift now. By investigating the technology now, businesses will be better equipped to take advantage of the benefits of digital human technology when it becomes more widely adopted.

If you’d like to learn more about how AI, chatbots, and contact centre optimisation can help improve your customer experience (CX) execution, please contact us. We’d be more than happy to help you find out how your contact centre operations can be improved with game-changing technologies that are fast approaching.