Japan's Hokkaido Bank has deployed an animated online virtual assistant on its Web site to help customers complete loan and credit application forms over the Internet.
The online agent - believed to be the first of its kind in the Japanese banking market - is generated using software from eGain Communications, and supports the bank's Rapido Branch online outlet, which specialises in individual loans and offers.
As well as answering general customer questions in natural-language format and supporting new applications over the Web, the online assistant also monitors the fluctuation of card member Internet applications for the bank.
During the interaction between user and virtual agent, eGain Assistant maintains a dialogue with the customer, and projects animated facial expressions on the screen that reflect the flow of each conversation. The online assistant is displayed as an anime-like virtual agent with large friendly eyes, wearing an Hokkaido Bank employee uniform, and has been customised to reflect the company's culture and personality.
The agent's expressions have also been optimised for the Japanese market, says eGain. For example, compared to a Western facial expression, the agent appears almost giddy when happy, but breaks eye contact and looks away when upset.
The bank believes the introduction of the agent will encourage and help more people to apply online, and relieve pressure from routine queries on branch and telephone channels.