In July, we were part of the first ever Digital Humans Day, with the panel hosted by UneeQ’s SVP Marketing, Daryl Reva.

One of the experts we were delighted to share a screen with was Jabari Simmons, VP of Customer Experience Innovation at Verizon. Jabari gave us a masterclass in customer experience innovation using digital humans, including the technology developments that make great digital interactions now possible, a word of caution about the power of emotional connection and why ethical decision-making should be a priority in the age of AI.

Daryl: So Jabari, I wanted to just kind of get your your insight here. You know, why haven’t we seen digital humans take off before? I mean, why now? What do you think has happened in the world or the dependencies associated with it that would allow us to be successful in the next three to five years?

Jabari: Not having the machine language learning models really available to us, problems with NLP, and really we’re kind of in an interesting place where, as stated, we have these devices in our homes where an Alexa or a Google or a Siri is talking to us, and that has, in a lot of ways, increased our expectations of what’s possible. And so a lot of companies who have tried to make the transition from sort of chatbot-based interfaces to NLP-based interfaces have encountered a whole bunch of problems and pushback because they haven’t really performed that well. So I think it’s really been the technology together with the networks that these technologies are running on. We’re now in a place where we have edge computing where we can have a lower latency and the ability to deliver more content through the pipes that are available to us. We might be on the cusp of being able to do that through a lot of places, but I think it really is the inability of the models up to now to really do complex conversations where there’s a lot of implicit context embedded within that conversation.

Daryl: Right. Good point. The intent of the user has to come through very clearly in order for them to have a better engagement with those digital humans.

Jabari: Exactly. So it’s not being able to just simply ask Alexa to “show you a black dress”. It’s being able to say to this device, “I’m going out tonight” and Alexa being able to say, “oh, well, you know, here are some black dresses that you might want to try”.

Daryl: Excellent. [Verizon are] obviously one of the largest brands in the world, you’re on the innovation team – how do you see what we’ve been going through as an opportunity to create competitive advantages?

“A lot of times, brands believe what they say about themselves is really important. When really the truth of the matter is your brand’s identity is based upon what a person can do with you”.
– Jabari Simmons, Digital Humans Day 2020.

Jabari: Listen, there’s no doubt that the pandemic has created opportunities for us and accelerated some things that we were already doing anyway. And I think applications like UneeQ’s give us an opportunity to provide both additional utility to our consumers while continuing to delight them. I think that every company that has a direct consumer interface – particularly those of us that have consumer touchpoints like retail – are looking for ways to bring digital products and digital services to bear and helping them both meet our customer expectations and to meet them – frankly – where they are. I think one of the challenges that we have as retailers is that people simply aren’t showing up at stores in the same way they were because of the pandemic. And, you know, things like UneeQ and other digital tools can help us to bridge that gap for them.

Daryl: It’s really interesting to see the shift from the brick-and-mortar type of environments to creating some of those same experiences online in the digital environment. So obviously having that emotional connection being pulled through with some of the technology is really, really key.

But let me sort of set the stage for you, because I think obviously overall customer engagements and brand loyalty are probably as fierce as ever – particularly in the mobile space – so talk to me a little bit about what you see as “why does emotional connection matter” when you’re building brands such as Verizon.

Jabari: Earlier today we had a conversation around brands talking at people as opposed to with people. I think a lot of times brands believe that what they say about themselves is really important, when really the truth of the matter is a brand’s identity is based upon what a person can do with you. Right. And so part of that conversation, a part of that interaction is certainly based in emotionally bound human needs; and when you can bring that as a brand to your conversation with your consumer, to your interactions with the consumer, you’re simply underlining what you actually stand for – what you’re actually all about. It’s a way that you can underline your authenticity to them and double-click on the emotional depth of that particular connection. So, I think it’s critically important in the ways that a brand can actually differentiate itself, particularly when you’re not talking about simply a value play.

Daryl: As a marketing person myself, I love that so many different aspects of the business are still thinking about brand and relevance and customer engagement. I think it’s fantastic. All right, let’s move on. And I want to kind of go around the horn and just hear some of the thought process of where we think digitally humans are going to be and where we think they’re going to be most impactful in our daily lives.

Jabari: So I agree with my fellow panelists, but I will throw out a caution. I think that the danger that some companies are going to find if they do this incorrectly is they’re going to create emotional experiences that are either inauthentic or that are so deep that it limits what they can actually do in the world. They stand themselves up as a trusted friend, they come with all of the sort of expectations that we as humans have for our friends, including betrayal. Right? So I think it’s going to be very fine line that brands and companies are going to have to walk, and what they want that emotional connection to be, how deep they want it to be and how far they want to reach into that psychology. But other than that, it’s great.

Daryl: I think it’s a very interesting point of view, because just to reference and coin the term “with great power comes great responsibility,” I think we are going to follow those same paths, and making sure that we can integrate ethical decisions and choices into a lot of the NLP that’s being created is going to be extremely important – for us to first and foremost set those expectations, but more importantly, help drive where artificial intelligence goes into the future. So great, great cautions and a lot for everybody who lives, eats and breathes within this marketplace to consider.

CX innovation happens today

Truly innovating with the customer experience is never easy – but always worth it. You need to experiment and test before launching head first into an innovation.

So, to help you do that in your innovation journey, we launched UneeQ Creator. Creator lets anyone design, develop and deploy their first (or next) digital human user experience – for free.

From there, you can build a use case, plug in your conversational platform and test to your heart’s content. We hope you enjoy!