Will customers embrace humanoid chatbots?

What do you picture when you think of a chatbot?

Your mind has likely jumped to a pop-up box that appears in the bottom right corner of a website. The ‘chat’ side of the bot is probably text-based – you enter messages and the bot returns responses. Meanwhile, the ‘bot’ you’re picturing is likely an avatar inside a chat or messaging window.

This generic picture we all have of chatbots is set to evolve. Now, we’re looking at the potential for humanoid chatbots. Soon, that chatbot image in your mind might change from a text box to a real-looking, digital human agent.

So, what are humanoid chatbots, how do they work, and will customers embrace or shun them?


What are humanoid chatbots?

Also known as video chatbots, humanoid chatbots are chatbots with ‘artificial’ human avatars. That is, chatbots that have human faces and names, capable of simulating emotion and learning over time. You interact with them as you’d interact with a person on a video call.

In other words, a humanoid chatbot can appear as visibly human on a video. It comes complete with a digitally rendered face, body, and voice.

Humanoid chatbots work using artificial intelligence and deepfake technology. Some human avatars, known as NEON, have already been developed by Star Labs, a California-based Samsung subsidiary. They also use voice recognition technology, natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning.

NatWest’s financial video chatbot, “Cora”, serves as another example of a humanoid chatbot. Her avatar came from Soul-Machines, a company based in New Zealand.


The cons of humanoid chatbots

Why might customers reject humanoid chatbots? People often fear the new, but chatbots themselves aren’t new anymore. So, why else could they flop?

1.       Deepfakes

One reason customers could keep humanoid chatbots at arm’s length is current concerns surrounding deepfake technology.

Deepfakes are materials created through deep learning technology, along with artificial intelligence, in order to create fake images and/or videos of a target person. Once the computer program has learned to mimic the person’s likeness, voice, and mannerisms, it’s possible to create an entirely new video or image of someone. This artificially generated content could then be rendered to say and do things that the real human target has never done.

Many people fear and dislike this technology use for obvious reasons. Namely, the power and possibility for deepfakes to mislead the public and potentially cause reputational harm to those being mimicked.  

This is relevant because deepfake technology is behind the human avatars used by humanoid chatbots. As such, the concern goes that this kind of chatbot further blurs the lines between real and fake. Worse, it could be used maliciously to mislead others and share misinformation.

2.       Job loss

The traditional worry that comes with almost any discussion about automation/AI-powered technologies is job loss. Humanoid chatbots are no exception.

This next wave of evolution sees chatbots able to appear human as well as handling (some) conversation. So, it’s natural that people — including customers — may have concerns about their impact on jobs.

Some customers may not want to embrace humanoid chatbots in favour of trying to support human agents and their job security.

3.       Uncanny valley

Another reason why customers may not embrace humanoid chatbots is simply that they find them ‘creepy’ or unsettling. Knowing that they are not talking to a real human, despite it looking like a real human, may put humanoid chatbots in the uncanny valley for some people. That is, the life-like avatars may make people uncomfortable.


The pros of humanoid chatbots

For all the reasons customers may shun humanoid chatbots, the technology also presents key benefits. So, customers may yet embrace the new face of bots.

1.       More human-like experience

Humanoid chatbots come with all the benefits of chatbots — 24/7 service, ease of access for quick queries — and add more of a human touch to the experience. Specifically, the digital humans used as avatars enable these chatbots to supplement automated messages with facial cues and tonal indicators.

This means that your chatbot will be able to inflect some empathy and emotion in their interactions. (Note: they would not be truly showing either, only mimicking it.) This, in turn, contributes towards a better customer experience.

2.       Less fear of judgement for minor issues from a bot

It can be embarrassing to ask for help when it seems like an answer or solution should be obvious. These kinds of queries around quick, minor issues are precisely the kind of thing a bot might reasonably handle.

Here, humanoid chatbots allow customers to save face, while still getting a friendlier and more personal-feeling interaction.

3.       People are used to chatbots; this is a natural progression

If they get effective help from a good experience, customers are not likely to complain about a chatbot.

If a humanoid chatbot provides a good experience and a solution or answer to their query, there’s no reason a customer wouldn’t be fine with them.

There’s also no reason why customers couldn’t get used to humanoid chatbots (and thus come to embrace them). After all, they’ve gotten used to traditional text-based chatbots and voice assistants. Humanoid chatbots are a natural progression for the technology.  


How to help customers embrace chatbots

When it comes to chatbots of any kind, there are a few things that companies can do to help their customers embrace them. These apply to the emerging humanoid chatbots, too.

  • Don’t hide what they are

Never try to pass off a humanoid chatbot as anything other than a chatbot. Don’t pretend it’s a real person. Doing so will make customers feel deceived when they find out they’re speaking to a bot. It can also lead to excess frustration should the bot stumble and make an error.

  • Don’t replace human support

Humanoid chatbots are still chatbots, even with improved AI capabilities. They cannot and should not fully replace a human team.

  • Give customers a choice about whether to interact with them

Ensure there’s a clear escalation option or another way for a customer to get in touch with a human — both instead of the bot and through the bot. This freedom of choice can help customers feel less trapped into using the chatbot technology, meaning they are less likely to have a negative mindset going into the chatbot conversation.


Humanoid chatbots: future, or flop?

Humanoid chatbots add more nuance to chatbot conversations, and they have the potential to level up the chatbot experience.  

There are positives and negatives to humanoid chatbots that will impact consumers’ decisions to either embrace or shun the technology. Encouraging their adoption follows much the same rules as encouraging the use of traditional chatbots.

Only time will tell what the future has in store for this new kind of chatbot.


Useful links

Chatbots: what are they good for?

The Mehrabian myth, non-verbal communication, and live chat software

3 chatbot pitfalls to avoid