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Daimler Financial Services has made a strategic investment in Soul Machines, the New Zealand start-up that is a world leader in digital avatar-based customer service.

The investment will help Daimler Financial Services to develop ‘near human’ digital services based around on-screen avatars that display ‘emotional intelligence’.

The company brings technology to life by creating incredibly realistic, emotionally responsive, artificial humans with personality and character that allows machines to talk to humans face-to-face.

Daimler is the first premium brand in the automotive sector to develop emotional intelligence use cases based on Soul Machine’s technology.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, the companies presented Sarah (pictured), a digital avatar that will act as the new face of digital customer service.

Sarah is different from today’s voice-based assistance technology and will be programmed to recognise non-verbal behaviour in real-time using face recognition to engage in more natural conversations with customers.

Since the technology was unveiled, Sarah has been able to successfully answer the most frequently asked customer questions during an internal pilot at one of the finance company’s call centres in the USA.

Daimler Financial Services plans to use Soul Machines' technology and Sarah to provide customers with a personal concierge.

Daimler says that for customers, this means communicating with a convenient, voice-controlled and emotionally intelligent touchpoint.

Furthermore, Sarah will be able to retrieve information much faster than a human operative and will be available to offer consistent service 24 hours a day.

Benedikt Schell, chief experience officer at Daimler Financial Services, said: “Customers expect intuitive, time-saving services that are available 24/7 through the channel that is most convenient for them. With the investment in Soul Machines we are laying an important foundation to not just meet, but exceed these customer expectations.”

Udo Neumann, global CIO of Daimler Financial Services, said: “After successfully testing how artificial intelligence helps our employees better service customers, we are now investing in a disruptive technology to further enhance the customer experience.

“Emotional intelligence will play a crucial role in adapting services, such as car financing, leasing and insurance, car-sharing or ride-hailing to customers.”

Greg Cross, chief business officer, Soul Machines, added: “As we continue to lead the world in advanced AI technology and development of digital humans across a broad spectrum of industries, this strategic investment from Daimler Financial Services puts us in an even better position to quickly develop and test our disruptive technology in the automotive sector together with our great partner.”

Financial details of the investment weren’t disclosed.

Daimler sold around 3.3 million vehicles in 2017, with group revenues of €164.2 billion.

Delegates at the White Clarke Group Auto Captives Summit 2018 were able to see the technology first-hand during a presentation by Toby Woolfe, industry solutions business development executive at IBM.

You can view a demonstration of the technology here.