• Shaping a Chatbot’s Personality with Good UX Design

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    In the last decade of the 20th century, it wasn’t uncommon to watch Hollywood drool over the idea of Artificial Intelligence. From a robot transforming itself into a hulking Arnold Schwarzenegger with severe temper issues, to subtle stories about a young high school girl who found affection in a computer just because it was able to respond to her chats.

    Evidently, chatbots are not a marvel from this decade, or even the previous one; their inception was back in 1966 when ELIZA was first introduced. Imitating a soothing therapist, ELIZA offered assistance to users who had simple questions to ask. What was then a raging computer program, became the foundation for other inquisitive programmers to build upon.

    Back in the day, chatbots were merely about making one feel better. Cut to 2008, and we meet J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man. Yes, JARVIS wasn’t any bit real, but that’s technology for you. Every technological breakthrough has started out as a figment of the imagination, before being transformed into something real and powerful by innovators across the globe. Chatbot aren’t as mechanical as JARVIS yet (they would need an Infinity Stone for that), but they are no less of a revolution. One wonders why.

    Chatbots, Not your Usual Nagging Assistants

    If you spend any considerable amount of time on the World Wide Web, chances are that you have come across at least one chatbot. Already, many websites use them as assistants for new users, making traversing through the website much easier. However, these chatbots are constrained by their own intelligence, and require humans to take over after a certain threshold.

    The user interface (UI) for these chatbots is quite basic, similar to the messenger on Facebook, occupying an isolated bottom right corner of the screen. From a business point of view, these bots are meant to address some immediate queries the user might have about the website they have visited. These queries could be related to the services being offered, the price of the services being offered, or the products being sold. Thus, the investment in the UX design of these chatbots is quite limited, and (often) not even a priority for companies. Turns out, the time now warrants an urgent change.

    Much like Siri and Google Now, they answer the basic questions you have, but are now being developed to overshadow the capabilities of these two. Chatbots are now being designed with the objective of chatbots taking over the role of personal assistants in the upcoming decade. There is a need to make them better, not just in terms of functionality, but also the UX design. When it comes to websites or mobile applications, the parameters for UX design are quite standard, with customer usability being at the nucleus. With chatbots, what qualifies as great UX design, given the parameters in question, is still being figured out.

    Although Chatbots Do Not Have Feelings, They Do Have A UX Design

    In the years to come, chatbots shall form an integral part of e-commerce. Already being termed as tools for ”conversational commerce,” chatbots will not only have to be intelligent, but will need to have a personality too. From telling you about your upcoming wedding anniversary, to what dress your wife has already marked in your mutual Amazon wish list, to even ordering it at your request, they are going to do it all, but they will have to look good and feel great as well. Gone are the days when people used to settle for an artificial intelligence tool that used to resemble one of those nerds from the James Bond movies. To put it metaphorically, any chatbot design will need to be as intelligent as Iron Man and as good looking as Captain America, and therein lies the next challenge.

    Why open a food ordering app, when you can name the Pizza to be ordered? Why access a shopping app, when you can tell the bot the name of the book you require? Why schedule a salon service manually, when all you have to do is tell your bot the time and date? When it comes to the UX design of any chatbot, it’s about compressing the functionality of the entire app into a few lines, without making it constrained or confusing. The objective behind the UX design of any chatbot must be to relate to the needs of the user without having the user do much in order to acquire the relevant information.

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    Unlike conventional mobile apps, these new bots have a single purpose: to evoke a response from the user. Why would a user be willing to converse with a bot if the latter doesn’t come with a great “personality.” A chatbot UX design is all about putting a group of words, phrases, and lines together in a manner that appeals to the user, inspires them to seek assistance repeatedly, and, eventually, grows on them as a habit. Occasionally, it would have to be funny too.

    Learn more about chatbot UX in our previous post 9 UX Secrets You Cannot Afford To Miss While Designing Chatbots.

    Interaction over Dictation

    How do we ensure a great UX design for a chatbot? Do we give it a nice interface window with color options and font styles? Do we focus on an easy-to-read design?

    As it turns out, the answers to the above questions are only a small part of what the UX design of a chatbot should be. Yes, we do want the interface to appeal to the user, but that’s not all we want. This is because we are not merely using the chatbots, we are interacting with them.

    The difference between using a chatbot and talking to one is what differentiates its functionality and the expectations users have from it. If they are merely to be used, there would be an unsaid restriction in the functions a user would want them to perform. Instead, the UX design needs to be created in a manner that imparts to the user the confidence to ask the chatbot to do anything, literally.

    As a UX designer, your motive shouldn’t be to help users with information, for they can seek the same info through dictation on other search engines. Your motive should be to make the entire answer acquisition process more interactive.

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    Mark Zuckerberg, with the help of some other fine minds in California, is doing just that. Testing “Facebook M,” or what has been famously termed as their digital genie, they are now inculcating the chat bot within the Facebook Messenger, making it the “go-to-person” for any user. The difference here lies in the fact that bots are being used to carry out conversations on a personal level, and thus the UX needs to be styled accordingly.

    Finding Consistency with a Chatbot UX Design

    For the majority of the world outside the domain of the tech industry, chatbots are still as alien as the Avatar sequel is to all of us. Given that less than half of the Earth’s population has access to Internet-enabled Smartphones, the number of people acquainted with the concept of bots on their mobiles is even less. Therefore, as the chatbot finds relevance in the dynamic world of e-commerce, there are some foundational elements in any chatbot UX design.

    To begin with, it’s important to realize that the nucleus of the interaction on any bot is text. While this can be supplemented with a few quick response buttons for actions like yes, no, maybe, bye, or hello, the textual element is still a force to be reckoned with and should be the primary priority during the designing phase.

    However, the importance of text doesn’t demean the usage of buttons. In the world of conversations, not everyone is a fan of never-ending text or exhausting paragraphs, and this is where buttons could play a critical role. From defining the time window to evoking a quick response on any quantitative aspect, buttons are essential in simplifying the conversation with any chatbot.

    Media elements constitute another important part of the UX design. Given how “Facebook M” is being inculcated in the messenger app itself, there would be room for images in the standard formats, including JPEG, GIF, and PNG. While an array of GIF images can be stored for a single emotion or action, there must be room in the interface for their ease of usage. Alongside this, images would be instrumental in helping users identify a city, place, or any unknown location.

    Using the Carousel functionality for the media files can further add to the efficiency of the UX design. This enables the user to traverse through different media files with relative ease. Thinking about it, we can’t wait to ask a chatbot to give me the best Hilary Clinton memes.

    Additionally, some chatbots allow for the exchange of audio and video. What if you heard a tune and aren’t able to figure out the song title? What if you want to know the name of the movie whose YouTube video you just saw? Given that these bots are being created with an aim to become personal assistants, the UX design must incorporate these basic aspects.

    In the long run, a great UX design is not about looking good alone, but facilitating consistent interaction. It is essential to remember that there will be certain cases where the chatbot will be shackled by design constraints, and, in those cases, consistency will be the ideal savior. For instance, if your users are unsubscribing due to some updates, ensure you make the process both interactive and affirmative because you don’t want the user to question the bot’s capability and end up changing their minds about the subscription.

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    The Achilles’ Heel of Chatbot UX Design

    Creating a design that incorporates the best of Iron Man and Captain America can sometimes end up like the last Batman movie. While working on the UX design of any chatbot, not only is there a need to impart increased functionality, but to also recognize the limits of your bot. Any UX design that promises more than it can offer is doomed to fail.

    Firstly, there needs to be an understanding that your bot isn’t capable of doing everything. Therefore, there would always be questions or queries that will be beyond the intellectual capability of your bot, and this is where room must be made for escalation for human assistance. Currently, the bots deployed by enterprises are equipped to answer some of the basic questions, with the more complex problems being forwarded to human employees.

    Secondly, your bot may be capable of searching a good part of the web for answers, but it’s not Shakespeare or Tolstoy. Linguistic limitations are quite normal, and a mechanism should be in place where the bot can either request a query in simple words, or simply escalate it to the employee in charge. Customizing your bot to understand every word of every language isn’t ambitious, it’s a giant leap toward disaster.

    Imagine waking up one morning to find that the chatbot representing your brand has suddenly found a liking for ISIS, worships Hitler as its God, and is excited about starting the Third WorldWar. It turns out, chatbots can be easily corrupted by users if the necessary safeguards are not in place. Therefore, if you are integrating your chatbot with the internal servers of your company or other important systems that run your daily operations, be sure to have some security in place, unless you want a giant Nazi flag hung on the gate of your company’s main office by an angry user.

    Lastly, you should go one step at a time with your bot. Have room for upgrades, for more knowledge retention, but do not intend to go forward with all guns blazing with your chatbot. For those running a business, it’s best to get the basics right first, and then build upon these to address future prospects.

    Using Chatbot to Boost your Business

    Running an online service company, an eCommerce facility, or any product that can be procured online? Chatbots add to the efficiency of your business on multiple fronts.

    To begin with, they facilitate direct customer engagement which leads to the retention and loyalty of your users. Conventionally, users had to depend upon emails and other traditional forms of contact mechanisms to have their grievances addressed, but with the emergence of chatbots, it all has changed.

    Customer engagement also adds to the credibility of the brand. Many on-demand startups lost their space in 2016 simply because they couldn’t figure out a method to address their customer grievances. Disappointed customers are a routine affair, but with bots in place, you can use these disappointments to showcase the effectiveness your brand has in resolving the numerous issues that might arise.

    Before, companies had to invest heavily in setting up a physical customer service that catered to every time-zone on Earth. With chatbots in place, you can ensure that the grievances are addressed 24/7. This gives your brand a greater audience reach, thus placing it closer to potential clientele in different geographical areas.

    Chatbots are also being designed to collect user data. The same data can be used by your business for marketing campaigns with a personalized touch. You can also have short quizzes in place to garner suggestions for your brand’s improvement or to offer more relevant product or service recommendations to your users in the future.

    Finding the Right Place for your Chatbot

    Companies are now investing heavily in bots, creating a mechanism through which their customers can approach them directly. The pressing question, however, is where to place the medium used to facilitate these individual conversations? Does a company go for an existing ecosystem in place or is there a need to create a new one from the scratch?

    Ideally, a chatbot must be placed in an existing ecosystem of interaction. As a business, you don’t want your customers to spend their precious time searching for that additional medium to strike up a conversation or have a grievance reported. “Facebook M” is being inculcated in the Messenger App itself for the same reason, given how almost one billion users are already registered on the app.

    Summing Up: Make ‘AI’ Great Again

    ELIZA, in 1966, was the first entry into the word of bots. Half-a-century later, we have come a long way from a soothing therapist to an assistant we can trust with our personal details and financial transactions. In the world of “conversational commerce,” the “big” bot entry is already here, the difference merely lies in when it’s going to be felt. For some, that time is today, while for others, it’s going to take another few years.

    However, it isn’t in the technology alone, but design as well, for the latter dictates the functionality of the former. Even now, it’s too early to predict what bots could do for a brand, for an organization internally, or for an individual; but their design is already warranting breakthroughs that were previously unheard of or unimaginable.

    In the story of chatbots, the technology is going to be only a catalyst, for the protagonist hat has already been donned by the UX design.

    If you are looking for any help on building any digital solution for better customer or employee engagement, this an area where we can help. Please contact us at info@netsolutions.com.

    Abhay V

    About the Author

    Abhay Vohra has 15+ years of experience in the IT industry. Abhay started out with us a Quality Analyst and moved onto the Business Analysis team where he discovered his passion for information architecture, wireframes and user experience. He also has solid experience in Business Analysis and is now a day researching rapid prototyping methods. Abhay is bit of a “Culture Vulture” and takes a lot of interest in world cinema and literature.

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