NTT DATA Business Solutions
Nick Gibson | February 7, 2023 | 7 minutes

How Digital Humans Could Solve University Staff Shortages

Digital humans are gathering pace as the next generation of in-person customer service. In this blog we explore how universities could be using them to alleviate the burden of staff shortages.

Digital human in a lobby.

The UK is in the midst of a huge staff shortage and the higher education sector is showing it is not immune to recruitment difficulties.  Institutions are struggling to recruit staff following the effects of the pandemic, Brexit and the loss of up to 1.3 million foreign workers who have left the UK over the last two years, leaving the country with a significantly smaller talent pool.

In addition to this, The University and College Union (UCU) earlier this year warned of a staff exodus from UK universities after two-thirds of staff said they are considering leaving the sector within five years over cuts to pensions and deteriorating pay and working conditions.

Woman looking on a smartphone with a digital human.

What is a Digital Human and how might they help?

Over the past ten years, chat bots have become a standard part of the customer experience.  Self-service portals also gained in popularity in places like shopping centres, where they are points for people to go to when seeking information.  But time and technology has moved on and now digital humans are gathering pace as the next generation of in-person customer service.

Digital Humans provide personalised digital customer experience using human avatars and combine natural human interactions with up-to-date knowledge. Imagine a customised, AI-powered digital human in a university reception area; it can respond consistently to the queries of students, staff and visitors. It can also speak 120 languages, and it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – never needing a day off. It has a short training period, it informs staff members when visitors arrive for meetings and it accepts deliveries whilst acting as a powerful brand ambassador.

They are ideal for use as information hubs in libraries or student union buildings, and visitors can even transfer a digital human from a big screen to their phone, which means they are also perfect as museum or library tour guides. For students whose first language is not English, a digital human could even take on the role of English language teacher in their preliminary year.

The most important feature of a digital human of course, is that they can also do things self-service portals and chat bots cannot do – they can communicate emotions. They can read human body language and interact using tone of voice and facial expressions. And that’s one of the most significant aspects of this new generation of AI – the emotional connection – its personality and ability to detect and mirror moods ensures a personal experience for visitors and students at all times.

This also makes them ideal for universities to offer to students as individual personal assistants. It’s always available on their phone to provide information about their course, the university, or the city in which they live, and because they build an emotional rapport with the student they are a great way of keeping in touch with alumni. After all, this kind of technology meets the needs and expectations of the next generation of students, who are coming into universities already digitally aware, social savvy and expecting instant access to information.

What benefit does that emotional connection bring?

There have been several studies over the last few years that show that emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. They will come back again and again, so their lifetime value is higher.

More than 90 percent of emotional communication is non-verbal. It’s about body language, micro expressions, and emotional feedback.

Digital humans can:

  • See and recognise peoples’ faces and emotions
  • Speak in a natural tone and sound empathetic or excited
  • Use their appearance to express these emotions on screen
  • Remember facts and previous conversations

Building the Knowledge Base

There are two elements in building the knowledge of a digital human. The first part is static information, which does not change over time. This part is similar to a traditional chatbot, where questions and answers are hard coded. A good example would be the opening hours of the university, names of members to staff or directions to other places on campus to guide people if they are lost.

The second part is what we call dynamic information, which changes all the time. This is like the weather or directions to the nearest petrol station. And for collecting the dynamic, the AI will use the internet to try to find the best answer. In fact, it’s very quick and easy to get a digital human set up.

Digital humans are transforming the way people communicate with technology and lifting customer service to the next level. AI was originally developed in universities and now isn’t it time for them to reap the benefits of their own technology?

NTT DATA Digital Human
Watch on NTT DATA Digital Human

Key Takeaways:

  • Digital Humans are powered by AI and are the next generation in customer service
  • They could be a solution for universities hit with staff shortages, as they can perform various roles in university settings
  • They are able to make an emotional connection with users
  • They meet the needs of the next generation of students entering HE
  • They are quick and easy to set up

Get in Touch

If you would like to discuss Digital Humans with me directly, please email [email protected].


Digital Solutions for Higher Education