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As a design leader with more than 20 years of experience, I can’t help but notice that even though we live in a golden age of technology, we still have to endure poor customer service, and poorly managed brand experiences.

With disruption coming from Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, Casper, Wheelys and so on, customers can enjoy convenience the likes of which we never thought possible. What’s more, customers now expect instant gratification (as a service), like never before. Yet with the explosion of on demand services to bring about this gratification, so grows the complexity of business systems, logistics, and customer service touch-point management. Most brands would admit that their customer services are disjointed and discordant, and their systems of record are even worse.

In the new world order, powered by disruptive digital technologies, business leaders know three things to be true –

  1. Customers want and expect more
  2. Current systems of engagement are missing the mark – consumers still feel like they are just a number in a queue
  3. It’s easier than ever for customers to take their business elsewhere
Your customers feel like 1’s and zeros

70% Consumers agree technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere.
64% Consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time, while 80% of business buyers expect the same.
67% Consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they’re treated like a number instead of an individual.

–Salesforce – State of the Connected Customer, surveyed 7,037 global consumers

Most enterprises deal with thousands of customer calls a day, capturing data that they hope will reveal insights that can drive incremental improvements. However, sorting through that data to find gold is a monumental task. What’s harder is taking any insights found in those daily customer interactions, and applying them rapidly to see immediate gains. Meanwhile, customers continue to come away from those interactions feeling like they are just a number that is being processed, and not a person the company wants a relationship with. The cost of replacing a lost customer is crushing some businesses, and the idea of customer loyalty is becoming more elusive for others.

As a business owner looking to leverage the power of data, cut costs, and carve out new space, where do you begin? In my humble opinion, everything starts with the customer, or in User Experience (UX) terms, the end user. Work backwards from your users to uncover their wants, needs and desires, and you’ll get a roadmap of where your service needs improvement, where you can leverage incremental gains, and even where you can forge a ‘paradigm leap‘ within your industry.

Today AI’s, like Echo or Siri, are typically tasked with low-level, mostly automated tasks with a voice interface on the front end (Interactive Voice Response systems – IVR’s); really, nothing more than a search engine that speaks. If AI is to expand its influence beyond  RPA (robotic process automation) tasks and positively impact other areas of business, AI has to stop operating like a robot and start behaving more like we human beings do. What does that mean? It means AI’s need to be able to navigate nuanced human conversations in the most natural and authentic human ways possible; only then will it start to deliver on the promise, and gain the trust of end users (customers) and business leaders to work on more complex human challenges.

The masses will adopt AI at scale when they can interact with it easily and seamlessly, when they see that AI can understand all of our idiosyncratic human quirks–and as history has shown, business will surely follow. Simply put, for successful adoption to occur, AI needs a zero-degree learning curve. It gets you, you get it. Out of the gate AI must demonstrate comprehension, be able to root out our true intentions, vicariously understand how we feel, and synthesize that understanding into meaningful and sincere action; anything less is mechanized automation.

CX drives revenue growth

With sophisticated AI agents like these on the front lines of customer service, they will literally become the ‘face of business,’ feeding data and insights into the enterprise systems of record, instantaneously giving the whole organization the oxygen it needs to innovate. Businesses can begin this journey by having AI agents like Amelia shadow live agents, listening in and learning, capturing best practices, and uncovering the most effective conversations for different audiences.

Why Give AI a face?

Unlike other artificial intelligence agents on the market, Amelia is different, she has been built from the ground up to resemble all aspects of what it means to be human; from the way she listens and observes, to how she learns and comprehends, the way in which she manages and displays emotion, to what she chooses to communicate. IPsoft is obsessed with leaving no stone unturned in its pursuit of creating the most human AI.

Without delving into the complex processes involved in creating a human avatar, let’s consider the question: Why would you want to give an AI a “human face” in the first place? Many well-known AI’s have abstract spinning atomic orb’s, wave-like lines, or colorful icons that dance and animate on screen. Why buck that trend and pick a face? It comes down to a simple thought: How can you best digitally represent innate human communication?

The hard business goal is to create a user interface (UI) that is so easy to use the customer doesn’t have to learn anything new; there is no barrier to entry. When an AI can communicate like a human would, including verbal and nonverbal communication, then it would be indistinguishable from a person, and therefore accessible to everyone, broadening the business audience and lowering the friction at every interaction.

If you are considering an alternative icon or avatar, consider this. Adopting non-human-like avatars and interactions, means users have to learn new methods of interaction, ones that are proprietary to your business.

Cortana for example has numerous “emotional states” that are represented by 2 different rings. IBM Watson has an atomic looking icon with thought rays above, while Siri has a colorful ribbons of light that float in a transparent orb.

 

 

Microsoft

 

 

IBM Watson

 

 

Apple Siri

 

While these designs are iconic and elegant, they don’t add value to the user in the true sense – they don’t enhance the communication of language, or deliver emotional context. If people have to learn that your spinning rings icon spin when it means ‘I understand’, or shrink when it means ‘I’m confused’, you’ll impress undue cognitive burden on your users increasing their learning curve, or worse you’ll alienate your audience all together. Users will simply become blind to the what the AI is trying to convey, because the iconography is so incomprehensible as to have any meaning. Whether you agree or not with the choice of face, people respond to people, and in certain circumstances communication can be dramatically improved when it’s had face to face.

Why not copy the ultimate interface?

“Emotional experience accounts for almost half of customer loyalty, while (rational) loyalty accounts for only about a third.”

Understanding The Impact Of Emotion On Customer Experience

With such high business impact at risk, why not make all your business touch points more empathetic and easier on the user, so that they feel connected to your service on a personal level?

By giving Amelia a “face”, and defined physical appearance, IPsoft has made an AI that is more expressive and empathetic with customers, making them feel like they’re being heard and understood – this is especially critical in healthcare, and even makes a significant impact in retail and banking. It’s this mirroring of human emotions and the human interface in responding to the customer that can make all the difference. Even when texting with Amelia, her ‘static’ avatar is dynamic and can animate to express a range of emotions. The CGI avatar generates natural responses in real-time, and is able to do so because it is sensitive to the human condition, (the customer’s intent, language, and emotional state). The AI brain controls every digital muscle in her face, her eye dilation, along with a multitude of hand gestures and mannerisms, overt and subtle, that are based on over 60 real human reactions and postures to different verbal or textual stimuli. To reach this degree of fidelity an extensive graphic art and animation process was used, along with a little help from a human model, Lauren Hayes.

–Behind the scenes – behavior markup language allows the AI to control the avatar in real time. Copyright IPsoft 2017

The hope is that when customers have more natural conversations with an AI that can fully express itself (with the use of BML behavior markup language), they will share more information, and thus give Amelia more insight into their goals and expectations. With this deeper understanding Amelia can do more, act on customer’s wishes, and better assess whether she is doing a good job. If Amelia picks up on a happy customer, she can mirror and reinforce the emotional state of that user by responding in kind with a smile on her face. That back-and-forth interaction alone can make for a truly memorable customer experience.

Your most human brand ambassador

Clearly a natural language AI interface that looks and sounds like a real person has huge implications for brands that want to take their customer services to new levels. Consistency alone is one reason to implement AI, it’s language is always on point, and the services it executes are done with digital speed, and precision. Humanizing the brand through an avatar means it’ll become your global ambassador, speaking with passion about the company’s beliefs, the core mission of the business, why the company does what it does, and so on–and all done in the most authentic way, coming from ‘someone’ that evokes our emotions in response. Every product and service can be brought to life with dynamic language, mirroring your best salesperson, leveraging content and copy that brand managers and copywriters have crafted and refined.

A half step into the near future

With the mainstreaming of machine learning it is becoming clear that static interfaces and services will soon outlive their value. AI systems will become smarter and more predictive, and will take on more and more of our everyday tasks, freeing us to focus on the things we really care about.

The next AI delivery method is already here in the form of VR and AR. What better way to help you in the real world than have an AI that has physical form, one that can represent you in the virtual world, gesturing, interacting, and manipulating the VR world as we would the physical one? Amelia will become an augmentation to our world, one who will work with us and for us, learn from us, and improve our quality of life.

It is our goal that Amelia will one day walk alongside you, talking with you, comprehending your intentions, communicating with you exactly as a human would, all with a fidelity that is indistinguishable from reality. She will no longer share data with us in abstract form, but will be able to tailor it into constructs that make innate sense to each of us as individuals. Communication will be so simple that children will be able to interact with her at their level, bypassing the learning curve we’ve all been through in using software.

Software as we know it will be a thing of the past.

 

 

 

For continued reading on the topic of Customer Experience:

The Importance of Customer Experience by Aphrodite Brinsmead, Senior Analyst Relations Manager, IPsoft

When Chatbots Fail, Virtual Agents Step In by Georg Huettenegger, Lead Architect, Cognitive Division, IPsoft