“It will be a game changer,’ says CIO Udo Neumann
Udo Neumann, global chief information officer for Daimler Financial Services, standing next to Sarah, the ‘digital human,’ at 2018’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Photo: Daimler AG
Udo Neumann, global chief information officer for Daimler Financial Services, is exploring how digital assistance could go even further.
An assistant with a human-like “face,” with instant access to helpful data and programmed to detect how people are feeling and respond accordingly, could help gain customer and employee trust, Mr. Neumann said. “It’s clearly the next step in the development of an evolving technology, (where) emotions come into play.”
Daimler Financial’s Sarah can react to spoken and typed words as well as non-verbal queues. Photo: Daimler AG
Daimler Financial Services, a division of Daimler AG, announced this week it’s partnering with New Zealand startup Soul Machines on a proof-of-concept project to see how a digital assistant with a face and a name could give personalized help to employees and customers.
The companies, which have worked together for several months, are developing a “digital human” built with AI software from IBM Watson that can be programmed to answer questions related to car financing, leasing and insurance, and capabilities to recognize non-verbal cues using face recognition technology.
“It will be a game changer. I think we humans love to have interactions on an emotional basis,” Mr. Neumann said.
Neural networking and machine learning tools lets an early version, named Sarah, react to spoken and typed words as well as non-verbal queues such as a loud noise or a nodding head in agreement.
Sarah can be programmed with highly specialized knowledge about, for example, the latest Mercedes models and information about leasing options, said Greg Cross, chief business officer at Soul Machines.
“They learn to recognize you, learn about your personality type and respond and create conversational content that matches you,” Mr. Cross said.
The project is in the early stages of development, with no date set for when Sarah could be deployed to employees or customers, Mr. Neumann said. “We want to combine artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence and see how these capabilities come together,” he said.
The digital human could eventually act as a “companion” for employees at a call center or training center, he said. For customers, talking to such an avatar might increase purchases among those who feel intimidated by high-pressure sales staff, said Mr. Cross.
“Some people don’t feel comfortable in a sales room. They will have a conversation in their living room,” he said.
Then, when a customer visits a dealership for a test drive, the customer and the salesperson could converse with the avatar at a kiosk, sharing information, Mr. Cross said.
Unlike humans, Soul Machines’ digital assistant can be programmed only with traits that help it perform a job, he said. Anger and frustration, for example, will not exist. “The digital sales person simply will not have these traits,” he said.
The goal isn’t to replace a human salesperson, though. “It becomes another way a customer can interact with the company,” he said.