In this three-part series, you’ll learn how to design a conversational UI and craft a unique voice for your brand. I understand the desire to jump right into design process. But first, ask yourself these eight essential questions, to make the process less daunting and get more efficient results.
What is a conversational UI?
Conversational UI (CUI) is an interface that lets you interact with various applications in the most natural way possible, by talking to them.
There are three main variations of conversational UI:
- Chatbots for Telegram and other messengers.
In 2016 Facebook opened its Messenger (billion+ users) to chatbots. In just a year, developers managed to create more than 100,000 bots. Conversational UI future looks pretty promising as Messenger bots are growing 70% faster than mobile apps during the early App Store boom.
Slack, a popular messaging platform, boast over 300 bots.
- Talking apps for voice assistants.
After Amazon Echo became available to the public, the company sold over seven million of its smart speakers.
Voicelab predicts that in 2017, Google and Amazon together will have shipped over 24,5 millions of their AI-driven voice assistants.
In July, Alexa hit 15,000 skills. These lightweight voice-based apps allow you to control your smart devices, listen to the news, hitch a ride, find your phone, and much, much more.
- Conversational websites.
These are still a rare thing on the Internet. But everything’s about to change as Facebook announced a Customer Chat plugin that can make any website conversational. Now users will be able to talk to your Messenger bot without leaving your site.
If you’re completely new to the world of chatbots and conversational UI/UX, check out this simple introduction to the topic.
Sadly, the majority of conversation interfaces offer an extremely poor experience. Why?
Firstly, they are stil relatively new and there are no conversational UI best practices to speak of.
Designing such an interface is completely different from building the traditional Graphic User Interface.
Forget everything you’ve learned about graphic design! There are no flows, no icons, no menus or colors. All you’re left with is the conversation itself.
The second problem is that texting is, in fact, a terrible way to convey information.
As you know, communication can be verbal and nonverbal. While talking to a chatbot you can’t use intonation, facial expressions, posture, gestures, eye contact, and all the little non-verbal things that make human conversations exciting.
According to the seminal study by Albert Mehrabian, what we speak conveys only 7% of the information in the face-to-face conversation. How we speak represents another 38%. The remaining 55% are purely nonverbal.
This means you’ll have to accept the medium’s limitations and adapt accordingly. You’ll have to do what writers have been doing for centuries – create engaging copy.
What to ask yourself before designing a CUI?
Before you decide to design a conversational UX, you have to think it out and ask yourself eight extremely important questions. The answers won’t only show whether your idea is worthwhile but will help you determine what kind of conversational UI is right for you.
1. How can your conversational UI provide value to the users?
This is the most important thing about your chatbot or a voice app, the thing that will define its functionality and personality.
Don’t create a chatbot just because you can. There should be a good reason for it, some preferably unique value you can provide to hungry users.
Look for the existing behavior. If users already have a reason to interact with you, they’ll be more likely to explore your bot.
There are dozens of conversational UX examples that follow this suit. 1-800-Flowers had a blooming floristic business by the time they’ve created their bot. Domino’s Pizza bot was an extension of a successful fast-food chain.
Just don’t blindly copy the functionality of your app or website. If you don’t have one, make sure that chatbot is actually a more convenient way to solve the user problems.
There aren’t that many people who search for “bots to chat with”. But there are lots of clubbers who’ll gladly use a bot to discover the upcoming gigs and see the artist lineup. They could stumble upon such bot via the club’s website or by scanning the QR codes in the club’s building.
Don’t make a bot that does everything. Start with a single clearly-defined function and build your conversational UI around it.
Remember, when it comes to chatbots, specialized trumps Jack of all trades!
Madbot: Is there any value in the bot that insults you and refuses to play games?
Ebay bot provides a convenient way to buy goods without leaving the messenger.
2. Is conversational UI really the best way to solve the problem?
You should look for the things that a conversational UI can do better than all other solutions. Is your weather bot that much better than hundreds of other apps, websites, or the almighty Google itself?
But what if instead, you delegated a part of your customer support to the chatbots? A rules-based bot could handle the repetitive and ‘boring’ tasks and escalate to human managers when encountering a tough case.
In such a way, American businesses could automate 30% of tasks done by customer support managers and save up to $23 billion a year!
Just remember that in the majority of cases, the users will want to solve their problem in the fastest way possible.
3. Is your bot utilitarian or entertaining?
Why will people interact with your bot? Will they come again and again to solve a specific problem or return for entertainment’s sake? The first case may warrant a simple rules-driven bot with a couple clever answers for the people who like to ask silly questions.
Meanwhile, the entertainment-driven bot will require a strong personality, AI backing, and near-perfect copy.
Ervin: horses and names. Serious stuff.
Get your news from Digg’s bot.
4. Who are your users?
You should have a pretty good idea who your users are. Research the potential audience, discover their needs and desires.
To make your life easier you can use the user-centered design canvas. It’s a little neat tool that allows you to discover and arrange the users’ problems, motives, and fears in order to discover the ways to solve them and come up with your unique value proposition.
Identify all the ways users can arrive at your conversational UI. Depending on whether they were invited by their friends, clicked the link on your blog or arrived via a paid ad, users will have different goals and expectations.
Such context will definitely affect the whole chatting experience and you should create multiple scenarios for your conversation flows.
5. How can you make your bot stand out from the competition?
Some categories and services are uncharted waters for chatbots, so there is no real need to be different. Just deliver the best experience you’re capable of and you’re golden.
At the same time, other areas are extremely crowded. Just look at this list of weather bots! If want to compete with 100+ other bots, you’re going to need something truly special. In case of Poncho, it was the weather cat’s playful personality and impressive conversation skills.
WorldWeatherBot doesn’t joke around.
6. Will your bot personify your business?
It’s alluring to answer yes to this question but think twice.
Add too little personality and you’ll become another faceless corporation. Add a bit too much and you’ll sound like you’re desperately trying to pass off as someone you’re not.
But if you, after all, decide to go for a strong personality, the payoff is totally worth it!
To make your life easier, use your corporate brand or website style guides when shaping the bot’s character.
To achieve consistency, write a personality guide for your bot. Think of it as a fictional character who has his own backstory and personal info.
The more detailed and specific this guide is, the more believable and engaging your bot will be for its users.
Share this list with all the people working on the project so that everybody stays on the same page.
Apart from the copy itself, your personality may also be reflected in the bot’s name and avatar (faces work best for this purpose).
And don’t forget to use some emoji 😉 !
Whatever your bot’s personality is, remember that people should actually enjoy interacting with it. This means being friendly, patient and helpful. Also, remember that it’s very easy to offend a person when all you’ve got at your disposal are the printed words. So look out for all the things that can cause misunderstanding and avoid sarcasm.
7. How skilled is your team?
You can make a simple rules-based chatbot in a couple of hours without any coding skills.
So do your competitors.
At the same time, creating a believable and engaging conversational experience is a formidable task. Not only should your technical specialists be up to snuff with their AI skills. You’ll need to combine their technical expertise with some exceptional writing.
Сonversations can branch into hundreds of different paths so you either have to account for all of them or limit your users in some clever and subtle ways.
Sorry, Anna the companionship bot, your AI isn’t up to task, yet.
8. What means success for your bot?
Identify the key metrics you can use to gauge the effectiveness of your conversational interface. The metrics themselves will relate to the purpose of your bot.
Want to bring more traffic to your website? Count the visitors. Want to boost the customer satisfaction? Look at the product returns. Want to increase the engagement? Calculate the time users spend with your bot.
This way you’ll get insight into the demographics of your userbase. You’ll see the number of sessions and their length, user engagement and retention, and the key points at which people abandon your bot.
Use this data to improve the weak spots of your bot.
And remember to ask for direct feedback. If done gracefully, this will give you plenty of useful information.
Remember, the real stories of the dissatisfied users are the gold mine of insight for developers.
With those questions answered, you are ready to start designing your own conversational UI.
And here is our step by step guide on how to do just that.