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.
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.
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?