Virtual Agent– Avatar, Gravatar… Virtual Work in Virtual World: Shaping the Future of e-Commerce, or Risky Minefield…

Virtual Agent– avatar, gravatar… as crazy as it might sound, is big business and their online business application is growing with the rise of– online virtual meetings, virtual training-learning, virtual businesses… not to mention social media… they are becoming common in the virtual workplace… Simultaneously, the processes for adapting-crafting appearance-movement are becoming more sophisticated, easier to use…

But, let’s start with the obvious: What is Virtual Agent? What is Avatar? What is Gravatar? Simply, Virtual Agent (sometimes called an intelligent virtual agent, virtual rep, v-rep) is a chat bot program that serves as an online virtual representative… they have human appearance and engage-respond to questions, comments…

Avatar (usually translated from Sanskrit as incarnation) is the graphical-image representation of a user-person-entity… or user’s alter ego or character… Gravatar is a globally recognized avatar… So, at the root, avatar is an image and gravatar is that ‘same’ image recognized globally– gravatar is an image that follows the user from site-to-site appearing beside the name as it interact with the virtual world…

Business avatars need to reflect the organization’s identity, culture… employees need to learn how to create-craft images such that they express– a unique identity… Just as virtual images-avatars are being touted as breakthrough in filmmaking technology, they also are being touted as potential game-changers for businesses seeking a competitive edge…

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Basic question: Should companies adopt avatars? Maybe; for some brands virtual image could work well, for example; their success in social media depends very much on– brand, audience… Here are a few pros and cons:

  • Benefits of Using Social Media Avatar:
    1. Branding: It’s good way to manifest brand values– it’s no different to finding a good-memorable actor to represent the brand..
    2. Relevancy: It removes complexity around using real people– a social media image is completely controllable by– marketing, PR…
    3. Attractiveness: It can be entertaining, clever, engaging…, but it must be kept fully in the scope of the brand…
  • Negatives of Using Social Media Avatar:
    1. Feel a bit trite: Especially in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, PR… customers often expect a more mature approach to a brand…
    2. Must work with company branding: If you represent a fun, perhaps technology driven brand, this could work really well– but  if not positioned properly it can tarnish the brand…
    3. Better with younger demographic: Younger customers might find it more entertaining and interesting, whereas; older customers might find it a distraction…
    4. Copy write needs to be good: Corporate copy write can be a really issue…

In the article Using Avatars in Business by Neville Hobson writes: Avatars are creeping into business environments and will have far-reaching implications for enterprises from– company policy, dress code, behavior, computing platform requirements… According to a report from Gartner Research; enterprises should have avatar behavior guidelines, dress codes… established for all employees who use avatars…

Gartner suggests several tactical guidelines that organizations should follow to make the best use of avatars in the business environment, for example; help users learn to control their avatars… recognize that users will have personal affinity with their avatar, responsibility for managing ‘reputation’…

Several other suggestions: Encourage employees to consider an avatar ‘how to’ tutorial that help employees with practicalities of their creation… Involve employees in different areas of the business in defining avatar usage, best practice. But, most important, focus on the virtual image’s impact on the organization’s– trust and reputation…

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In the article Avatars in the Workplace by Byron Reeves and Leighton Read write: Why would a company want employees to work as avatars? Some experts says– because it’s easier, cheaper, greener, healthier… to meet people in a virtual world… Also, you can do things online with an avatar that you can’t do in the real world…

Research at Stanford University shows people will enthusiastically occupy avatar bodies to– collaborate, communicate… in ways quite similar to real life… according to the study; they found that the ability to represent oneself within virtual media fundamentally changes psychology of interactive technology, for example; hearts of the people who control avatars beat faster, brains of the people who regulate avatar’s social interactions are more engaged, people care substantially about their avatar…

As result, avatars can create better social and emotional connections that are necessary for valuable business interaction… they can influence more constructive interaction for innovation by– open debate, expose passions, exploring how people win, lose… they can accommodate differing personal connections…

In the article Avatar– Virtual Agent– Can Help Companies by Jetty van Kooij writes: Obvious question: Does a business site need an avatar? If the Web site handles a lot of customer questions that are unique to the user and can’t be answered through a FAQ or a general search, then virtual agents can make a real difference in your Web site’s function… Could the same be said for business virtual agents?

Maybe, for example; even with an impressive 80% accuracy rate, 20% of customer queries still must be passed on to live chat agents… Is it really worth the cost of replacing human reps? Maybe not, but virtual agents can at least supplement the workload… According to Mark Gaydos, virtual agents can help companies in the following major ways:

  • Avatars are quicker than a live chat agent: Avatar are fully attentive all the time, and you don’t have to repeat anything…
  • Avatar are cost-effective: It costs money to employ customer service reps to operate live chats and call centers. It also costs money to lose customers who become frustrated and leave your Web site without answers…
  • Avatars are more engaging: Reading a FAQ section or using a Web site search tool leaves a huge gap in the intimate customer experience that creates loyal shoppers…
  • Avatars provide customer insight: Some highly intelligent virtual agents are able to more easily capture conversations and auto-categorize them into customer trends…

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So why is this silly little image so important? Well, there are few reasons. It’s branding: Branding is not just the logo… It is everything you do… It increases traffic… It develops relationships… It develops authority… According to BlogBloke; avatars or as some would say– buddy icon, gravatar… are very popular no matter where you go on the Internet and yet many people don’t use them, or worse don’t put any thought into their ‘public’ appearance… Maybe the most important reason to have your own virtual image is to help build– awareness, brand recognition, build relationships…

According to Robin Kobayashi; avatar is gaining popularity in the workplace, thousands of employees at companies are using them to interact with colleagues, customers… around the world...

According to Professor Byron Reeves; they are– (1) practical for today’s workplace when employees are spread out all over the physical world… (2) easy to use (quick learning curve)… (3) fun to manipulate…

According to Greg Cassar; after you’ve created virtual image, then ‘ask yourself’: Is this a person (i.e., your image) I would do business with? Presumably, you’ve done enough research to really create an honest and effective virtual image…

According to a study by Kori Inkpen of and Mara Sedlins; employees are generally open to using avatars, but prefer that they are not be too ‘creepy’…  Realism is delicate issue… Some realistic avatar– eerie or creepyThe results from this survey demonstrate that people are open to the idea of using avatars for workplace communication... however, the choice can significantly impact people’s comfort… we are a visual culture… we used to count ‘readers’… now we count ‘eyeballs’…

Even newspapers– ones that remain– are printed in color and the ratio of text to images has tilted heavily toward images. People want to read and hear what you have to say, but more important they want to see images, pictures, characters… Today, your friends, colleagues, competitors, customers… may see your virtual image more than they see you… What does it look like? What impression are friends, colleagues, customers… likely to get? Will they see a blurry photo, goofy image…

Here are three steps to make sure you make a good, consistent impression: Be intentional about image, brand you’re communicating… via social and other media… Don’t change the image, profile picture… from week to week. People associate your content with your image–more so than your name…  Use the same image in all media– business, social…

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The future of business is one in which companies will easily access– right mix of resources and expertise, wherever they reside… as they need them… how they need them… at the price they need to make them work… We need to rethink how work is structured with– no boundaries, better results… which also includes the use of speaking artificial characters for business services to automate conversations with consumers in an interactive spoken dialogue… using a variety of intelligent virtual agents– virtual assistant conversation technology, artificial intelligence characters, animated avatar… these characters are not only employed on business websites, but also in social networks, gaming environments, mobile platform… they will be everywhere!