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Google in Asia

How AI can enhance customer service

virtual avatar of a woman in a room with desks and a television

Virtual assistants with a conversational presence have been shown to increase trust — and consequently also engagement — compared to purely text-based chatbots. Virtual agents can provide more personalized and authentic customer service for automated experiences, whether as virtual influencers or personalized shopping assistants.

The growth of virtual assistants in Asia-Pacific

The market for these virtual assistants in Asia-Pacific is projected to grow at a rate of 51.3% in 2030, driven by the steadily increasing number of smartphone and internet users. Asia’s popularity with online gaming also presents the opportunity for people to use this technology to interact and express themselves during gametime. They can also present a creative solution to societal challenges — for instance, supporting Japan's rapidly aging population by enhancing the quality of life for the elderly.

According to recent data from the Japanese government, 40% of the country's population is expected to reach age 65 and above by 2050. This, coupled with its emphasis on omotenashi — a unique concept of extreme hospitality focused on anticipating needs — makes Japan an ideal place for testing virtual agents. While current technology limits virtual agents' ability to deliver true omotenashi, their 24/7 availability offers a compelling solution to address the shrinking workforce and increasing need for elderly assistance.

Creating a conversational virtual assistant with KDDI

During the Google Cloud Next event in April this year, the Google Partner Innovation team demonstrated our virtual agent technology through a partnership with one of Japan’s leading telcos, KDDI.

In the demo, a customer engages with Metako — a virtual customer support agent — via a messaging interface. Seeking assistance around an out-of-stock notification received after purchase, they ask Metako for help.

irtual customer agent Metako assisting a user exchanging a Pixel 8 smartphone

Metako is an incredibly helpful virtual agent, but to make Metako truly interactive, we employed a new machine learning model for audio-driven facial animation. This model translates voice input into pre-defined facial expressions like “left eye brow lift,” “mouth smile” that can be mixed together to control facial and lip movements — ensuring Metako's expressions sync with her speech.

The next step was deepening intelligence. We gave Metako a knowledge base and the ability to understand conversational flow by using Gemini 1.0 Pro, allowing for more meaningful interactions. With Metako, we can see the incredible potential of next-generation virtual agents.

Future opportunities

With the flexibility of AI, there’s ample opportunities to create customer assistance platforms like Metako and adapt them to any industry. As we think and plan for the future, virtual agent customer experiences can enhance the way we live, work, and interact. With the power of AI and by embracing evolving technologies, Japan could lead the way in shaping a more connected, inclusive, and helpful society.

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