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Vodafone Promises ‘Unique Personality’ With AI Digital Human Assistants In Stores

The New Zealand arm of telecommunications giant Vodafone will take the plunge into the world of artificial intelligent branding and customer service, working with Kiwi firm FaceMe to create an “intelligent digital human” to deal with customers’ inquiries in stores.

The company has previously been behind futuristic plans at organisations like UBS, which has created a digital clone of its Swiss chief economist Daniel Kalt, and Commonwealth Bank’s New Zealand subsidiary ASB, which has created “Josie”, a digital assistant to help business owners set up a new company.

Vodafone NZ director of customer operations Helen van Orton told The Australian Financial Review, that its first AI-powered digital human, would appear in stores around Auckland in late 2018, and that it was likely that other markets like Australia would follow in using AI creations to promote their brand.

She said Vodafone would be revealing the gender and personality of its digital human in coming weeks, but that it would definitely be a Kiwi.

Our digital human will be human-like, but isn’t designed to ‘fool’ people into thinking it’s human. Empathy, personality and rapport will be built into the design of the experience so that it’s an enjoyable, efficient interaction,” Ms van Orton said.

Designing the appearance and personality has been hugely exciting, we have embarked on a journey to bring our brand to life in human-like format. This meant working with customers to understand what appeals to them from a personality perspective and build a unique, warm and engaging persona.”

AI acceptance

The company worked with FaceMe to design Vodafone’s digital human’s appearance from scratch, and its chief executive Danny Tomsett said he expected most top retail brands to have embraced AI within the next five years.

He said digital humans provided the opportunity to embody a brand, while delivering frictionless, personalised and omni-channel customer experiences through conversation and emotional connection.

We know that emotional connection is the No.1 influencer in customer loyalty and purchasing decisions,” Mr Tomsett said.

“Today we know that these experiences are best where the conversational domain is more narrow and specific to a role or task, as opposed to an all-knowing generalist.”

Ms van Orton insisted existing Vodafone retail staff had nothing to fear from its move into AI, saying the virtual humans would not replace their flesh and blood colleagues.

She said AI would enable “role redefinition,” not role replacement … through customers self-serving with the AI assistant, it is intended that human staff will be freed up to address more complex customer needs.

Staff empowered

“One of the biggest misconceptions about AI is that it is designed to replace humans,” Ms van Orton said.

“Great AI should be designed to enhance what humans do. Vodafone understand this, and we’re leveraging the technology as a tool to support to empower our staff.”

Mr Tomsett said it was still early days in the industry as marketers work out how to best use artificially intelligent assistants to sell and promote their brands.

It opens up the possibility for virtual incarnations of celebrities and influencers to be created to interact in a much more personal way than has previously been possible, and he said FaceMe was already working with some organisations looking to deliver AI celebrity experiences.

“We’re now able to capture a person’s appearance to produce a digital double of them, rendered in real time with AI trained animation and speech to sound and behave like that individual,” Mr Tomsett said.

“In future, celebrities could attend events and not have to actually be there themselves. They could lend their brand to far more causes than they do now, simply by virtue of their virtual extension. We see huge potential for celebrities to monetise their digital double on our platform.” – Financial Review

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