Digital humans bringing a friendly face back to self-service video

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand has taken the next step in customer digital interaction by deploying a digital human to answer customers' questions about New Zealand.

Chatbots, apps and automated call centres have taken the human touch away from customer service, but one company is set to bring it back. 

Auckland-based Soul Machines builds computerised humans that can be employed as customer service representatives. 

Soul Machines chief business officer Greg Cross said people craved human interaction in an increasingly digital world where self-service through screens were the norm. 

Cross said chatbots were efficient but their impersonal, transactional manner was decreasing customer satisfaction. He said digital humans were more engaging than chatbots. 

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Having a chatbot answer your questions about a company's service online is pretty impersonal.

Having a chatbot answer your questions about a company's service online is pretty impersonal.

Air New Zealand used one of Soul Machines' digital humans, named Sophie, as its ambassador for its marketing show in Los Angeles last week.

Sophie wore an Air NZ uniform and was trained to answer customers' questions about the airline's offerings and what to do in New Zealand. She even spoke with a New Zealand accent.

The airline did not employe Sophie permanently.


KFC's new Auckland city store is the first in the company's global chain to introduce self-service kiosks.

Last week, Restaurant Brands opened its new $1.6 million KFC Auckland branch featuring four self-service kiosks for customers to order and pay independently.

Restaurant Brands New Zealand chief executive Ian Letele​ said not having to approach the counter and speak to a staff member was convenient for customers in a rush. 

It also freed up the staff's time to cook rather than serve, turning over more orders and more money, Letele said. 

McDonald's introduced self-service kiosks to its restaurants in 2015.

McDonald's introduced self-service kiosks to its restaurants in 2015.

Fast food chain McDonald's introduced self-service kiosks to its stores in 2015, allowing customers to select their own burger ingredients.

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Auckland Airport launched a self-service check-in version last year. 

Callaghan Innovation national technology networks manager Jesse Keith said lots of companies had started experimenting with self-service screens but they were yet to find the right balance of technology and personal interaction. 

He said more companies introducing digital service offerings would reduce the number of customer service workers.

However, he said the job would change to a customer insights specialists role. Data would help them suggest new offerings for their customers and they could contact them ahead of time, he said. 

They could spend their time helping customers when something went wrong, rather than answering quick fire questions. 

"It will become a really powerful role [for humans]."

Cross said digital humans could read faces and notice if a customer was getting frustrated with it. In those cases, it could refer the customer to a real person, he said.

 - Stuff


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