Virtual agents need to understand and respond accurately to customer questions. That’s a given. But the day’s coming when our virtual agent friends will need to be able to express emotion. In a previous post, I wrote about research into the importance of avatars and how an agent’s physical representation can influence how people interact with it. Research is underway into embodied conversational agents and how to enable them to express human-like emotions.
But what about simple emoticons? We use them so often these days and depend on them to help us convey, or understand, how the friends we interact with are feeling. According to a recent article in Popular Science, Facebook believes enough in the importance of emoticons to invest in emoticon research and development. Working together with UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner, Facebook experiments gauge how emoticons affect a person’s response to specific messages or requests. For example, experiments show that friends are more likely to comply with a request to remove an offending photo or comment when the requester includes an emoticon that gets their feelings across. Facebook is trying out different expressive representations and adding them to the collection of available Facebook Stickers.
It’s not clear how emoticons might be used in junction with virtual agents. Perhaps a customer-facing agent could learn to include appropriate emoticons when replying to customer questions. Maybe a sad or sympathetic face if the customer says that an item didn’t work for them and they need to return it? Or maybe I should leave that decision to the professionals! Either way, it’s a pretty sure bet that emotional expression will play a role in virtual agent interactions of the future.