Animated Characters Help Customers Online

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Talkie Inc. has debuted Electra and Ingeni, which are animated characters designed to work as online customer service representatives.

The characters use a system that answers text-chat questions with an automated voice response, which can be synthetic or human. The characters lip-sync the answers and are programmed to give appropriate facial expressions and gestures.

They can use up to 500 gestures to express everything from excitement to outrage. They can be programmed to make upsell offers, give PowerPoint presentations and act as newscasters.

They also have a memory that prevents them from answering questions the same way. If a user asks Electra how she is doing three consecutive times, she can be programmed to reply playfully, "If you keep asking me, I am going to be less fine."

The characters provide alternatives to traditional call representatives or text-chat formats, said John Tarnoff, CEO of Talkie, Venice, CA.

Tarnoff said the characters can calm angry customers and "follow conversational rules like politicians or somebody at a cocktail party.

"If a customer is upset, the character will try to change the subject to something discussed earlier that was more positive," he said. "Each character can act this way since they use a common system."

Reg, which is Talkie's first male virtual customer rep product, will be available in the coming weeks. The head-and-shoulders characters will be succeeded by full-body versions later this year.

Businesses can choose from the existing products or can work with Talkie to create a customized version. Pricing varies for the characters, but Tarnoff said, "They aren't cheap."

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