Quick Read

What It Takes To Become A Conversation Designer

By Hans van Dam
Conversational interfaces are hot. Every company is working on new exciting use cases and is exploring the latest technologies to engage with users in a conversational way. 

For years, companies have tried to improve the user experience and make it easier for people to get jobs done. Now the technology is finally ready to engage with users through real and natural conversations: the Holy Grail of user experience. It is made possible through great advancement in natural language understanding, a subfield of artificial intelligence, which allows us to understand the user’s natural speech or written input. But understanding your user is only half the battle. We also need to talk back in a sensible way. We need to engage in conversations that are helpful, natural and persuasive.

A Conversation Designer needs to understand technology, human psychology and copywriting. He or she is now working mainly on chatbots and voice-assistants, but soon he will work on all kinds of intelligent robots. Think of receptionists, waiters, and smart cars. That’s why designing good conversations is a key component of the sci-fi future. But what are the skills you should master? What are the tricks of the trade that are going to set you apart from the self-proclaimed gurus out there?

Natural language understanding

When we say that bots should speak more natural, we don’t mean that they should speak the way humans do. What do we mean by that? Think of it as characters on TV or in the movies. Nobody speaks the way humans usually do, but it’s conversational dialogue that seems natural. It’s polished dialogue, created with a purpose, brought to live by a strong character. And that’s the second thing you need to understand.

Understanding character

Creating a good persona is mandatory to a good conversational experience. Whenever humans hear a voice or chat with someone, within one and a half second they infer a persona from it. Within one and a half second they will create a sense of age, gender, locality, educational level – and how the person on the other side relates to them hierarchically. A solid persona that makes sense for your brand helps you take control of the conversation, build trust, and allow you to use psychological principles to boost your conversational experiences.

Understanding scenario

So writing conversation is a bit like writing a scenario for a film, novels or play. Somebody wants to achieve something, and this somebody has to overcome certain obstacles to come to a resolution. Only when the obstacles are overcome, and the situation has changed, the scene ends. When we translate this to conversation design we are dealing with a user that wants to accomplish something. For example, someone wants to change his address. The bot requires certain parameters (obstacles) to make this transaction happen. It needs to know the current address, the new address, and then the user will likely have to confirm the new address.

Or when we want to persuade a user to book a sales meeting with one of our consultants, then we need to know the user’s name, his availability and probably his phone number and email. This is a rational journey. But there’s also an emotional journey that takes place. There is an emotional component that needs to be addressed in each and every scenario. How motivated is the user to get to resolution? Is he upset, or excited? Is he or she feeling anxious, maybe?

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Conversation Design for service, sales and emotions

A good Conversation Designer understands both the rational and irrational components of the scenario and designs his conversation around both components. There are different types of scenarios and they all require a different approach.

When a user is very motivated, then you should show empathy and help the user get to a resolution as fast as you can. You can keep the dialogue itself rather transactional. Getting the job done is the best medicine in this scenario. But when your user is not very motivated because you are trying to sell him something, then you will have to use more persuasive principles to increase his motivation. You will have to use techniques like social proof, simple questions, commitment, choice architecture, to get the user in the right mindset and get him motivated enough to get to a resolution.

Then there are the true emotional conversations that we have to design for. This is particularly useful for customer service. Users can be angry, sad, or fearful. Negative emotions can lead to undesired behavior – someone who’s angry might post negative comments on your Facebook wall out of revenge. To prevent this undesired behavior from happening, we need to use certain copywriting principles to get users with our program.

Learn analytics and optimization

When you design conversations and put them in your conversational framework, you are ready to go live. But that doesn’t mean that your job is done now and that you can sit back and enjoy the show. Now it’s time to go over analytics and learn how to optimize your conversations.

Look for drop-offs in your designs, write hypotheses of how to improve it, run tests and try and make it better every day. The more data you collect, the more you can improve. But having a lot of data also makes it tricky to keep the overview. That’s why you need to learn to prioritize your drop-offs and focus on improving the most valuable elements of your designs.

This should give you a good understanding of what it takes to become a Conversation Designer. So get trained, put in the hours, and get better every day! With a quickly developing technology landscape, you will be updating your skills on an ongoing basis. It’s exciting to be part of an ecosystem like that.