Not all companies that offer a virtual agent elect to have an avatar. However, many companies choose to make cartoon, 2D or 3D renderings of a human to personalize the experience, support the brand, and reinforce the conversational nature of the interaction.

 But what should an avatar look like? Here are some considerations for eBusiness professionals who are designing a virtual agent avatar. Your avatar should:

  • Resonate with your audience. Pam Kosta, CMO at VirtuOz advises, “It’s key to make the user feel like this is someone they can get help from.” Marketing & Creative Services Manager at Next IT Jennifer Snell agrees, “When it gets right down to it, if your consumers don’t like it, they aren’t going to trust it or use it.” Here are two examples of avatars designed to appeal to their respective audiences: The Army’s “SGT STAR,” which reaches 18- to 22-year-old potential Army recruits, is a 3-D animation while AT&T’s “Charlie” looks warm and caring, with a vague ethnicity and age to appeal to a broader demographic base.
  • Have a look that reflects your brand. Sometimes a company has a prominent brand persona like the Michelin Man. Though less common, others may take elements from their logo. Most frequently, brand will influence what an avatar is wearing, hair style, etc. For example, a brand appealing to a younger segment should choose edgier clothing, while a conservative brand should dress its avatar in a more button-down fashion. eGain suggests companies model their avatars after their spokesperson in other media.
  • Take geography into consideration. There are cultural variations that will influence avatar gender, clothing, and style. Pam Kosta of VirtuOz notes, “In one European country, the agent started out more provocative. As she has been expanded into additional global geographies, her dress style has been changed to something more conservative.” 

Finally, be mindful of an avatar that is too lifelike because this increases the likelihood that consumers will be confused into thinking they are speaking with a real person. Also, be wary of the “uncanny valley.” The “uncanny valley” is a hypothesis around robotics that refers to human reaction to an anthropomorphized computer or robot. If the computer or robot is made to seem too lifelike, it engenders revulsion rather than attraction in people.