Corona lockdown? Time to embrace a digital human | Customer & Marketing | Deloitte Netherlands


Corona lockdown? Time to embrace a digital human

AI technology elevating the human experience

In these times, we rely more than ever on digital communication. While technologies for this have steadily improved in recent years (chatbots, virtual assistants), what people crave - now more than ever - is the human touch. This is the time for your organisation to elevate the human touch in digital interaction by upgrading to a digital human.

Written by Stephen Ward

As the COVID-19 pandemic drives us inside our homes, organisations need to reshape their offerings around our radically changed lives. A first step could be humanising the way they connect with us online. While digital communication technologies have steadily improved in recent years (chatbots, virtual assistants), what people crave - now more than ever - is the human touch. This is the time for your organisation to elevate the human touch in digital interaction by upgrading to a digital human.

In the old days, people served people. Your doctor, your bank manager, you customer support were all people. They solved problems with empathy and a smile, positively representing the brands they worked for. 

With the arrival of internet, efficiency-driven organisations routed more and more of their interactions with clients online. Clients were asked to provide information and ask questions by filling in forms. Efficient for the organisation, but cumbersome and often frustrating for clients.  

Losing the human touch

In the nineties, the first chatbots were introduced to handle routine helpdesk conversations. From limited, robot-like tools, they have over the years evolved into real virtual assistants. Using artificial intelligence and natural language processing,  they can determine the context and the user’s intent, leading to a more life-like conversation. A lot easier for clients than filling in forms – especially for more digitally challenged ones -  but something was lacking. In the race to go digital, where did the empathy, the experience, the brand and the smile go? 

The problem is that the average virtual assistant cannot make an emotional connection with users, while this is vital to successful communication, engagement and brand loyalty. In a human face-to-face conversation, only 7% of the message is in the words we speak. Tone of voice accounts for 38%, and more than half of the message is conveyed by facial expression and body language. Can a digital tool ever “get” this non-verbal communication?

Digital humans vs virtual assistants

The answer is yes. The latest leap in technology has given us the digital human. An avatar that can produce the whole range of human body language. Backed by artificial intelligence that can interpret clients’ input and give back to them not just the facts they need but the appropriate non-verbal response as well. Empathy. Comfort even. Although clients do know on a conscious level that they’re conversing with a computer, they’re impacted on a subconscious level by the digital human’s tone and expression. They feel truly “heard” and emotionally connected.

An increasing number of organisations are already experimenting their way towards a more human-centric future by harnessing the benefits of digital humans. The best place to start using them is for guided conversations (FAQs, straightforward questionnaires). One telecoms company uses them on their in-store customer service terminal to deal with routine requests like topping up phone cards. An insurer is introducing one to help their customers choose the right health insurance package. A hospital with the great work of Marie Johnson and Centre for Digital Business has introduced personal cardiac coaches that heart patients can consult online for questions regarding their condition.


Making Aimee | A UneeQ digital human for Southern Cross Health Insurance


The possibilities are endless, but digital humans are by no means a one-size-fits-all solution. Besides avatar and AI, the third element that truly delivers an effective digital human is co-design. The organisation needs to sit down extensively with users to get essential input for determining the digital human’s purpose and role, the information to be conveyed and the ethical considerations. Co-design creates the rich conversations and knowledge that breathe life into the otherwise dormant avatars and AI technologies. A richness that steadily improves with training and then with use.

Supporting healthcare

In today’s immensely overwhelmed healthcare situation, digital humans could offer practical support to understaffed hospitals, engaging with incoming patients and doing the basic intake. A use case for this is already underway, and our team is involved. On an emotional level, with people – especially the elderly - increasingly driven into their homes by COVID-19, the comfort of human interaction is more in demand than ever. Comfort that digital humans can help provide. 

Elevating the human experience

The digital human movement fits in with a growing sense of purpose among organisations - a purpose with a deeply human component. While a few years ago it was enough to deliver a flawless customer experience, organisations nowrealise that they exist to elevate the human experience. To connect emotionally with their clients and be sensitive not just to their practical, but also to their emotional needs.

Digital humans bring back the human dimension to servicing, and scale it. Today, with lockdown measures tightening, human staff in short supply, and our window on the world narrowing to our computer screens, digital humans are more relevant than ever

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