Chat Bots Are Here To Stay…

How Do We Build Them So They Don't Waste Time And Money?

Most chatbots that you come across today have female names: Cortana, Alexa, Siri, Nina, Amelia and more. When they have a voice, it's often soft and somewhat seductive. If they have an avatar, it's cute. There are different design trends for bots: human-like (and often creepy), innocent cartoon-like or futuristic. A new profession called "a bot personality designer" is a hot thing now. A lot of time and money is invested into building these chatty machines.

Some people love chatbots, some hate them. Many people are skeptical or cautiously optimistic. My 12-year old daughter does not type requests to Siri - she talks to her iPhone like she would talk to her friend and gets quite mad when Siri does not get it. I heard their conversations many times while driving. Dasha asked for Siri's help with navigation, and when Siri would not get it right away, Dasha would repeat the same question with a rising level of agitation up to 10 times (last time I counted). Siri kept repeating the same thing and failed to read any signs of emotional distress. Dasha hasn't given up on Siri yet.

Let's look at the scope of this new technology and just imagine the mega amount of human hours that will be spent conversing with bots (VDAs), globally.

Here's a definition of this technology that's taking over the world:

Virtual digital assistants (VDAs) are automated software applications or platforms that assist the human user through understanding natural language in written or spoken form, are rapidly gaining traction in consumer and enterprise markets alike.

( "Virtual Digital Assistants: Virtual Agents, Chatbots and Virtual Assistants for Consumer and Enterprise Markets" report)

Today, they are on our smartphones and smartwatches, on enterprise platforms, in fitness trackers, smart home systems, and cars. The will be literally everywhere in a couple of years.

It's forecasted that "unique active consumer VDA users will grow from 390 million in 2015 to 1.8 billion worldwide by the end of 2021," and enterprise VDA users - from 155 million to 843 million. Over 20% of people on this planet will be active users of VDAs! How many human hours will it amount to?

Total VDA revenue will grow to over $15 billion. This is a lot of money to be spent and made from these conversations. Let's think how we can optimize the time and money investment and create a pleasant and useful user experience beyond giving bots cute names and voices.

First, step into the shoes of your customer and look at the world around you through her eyes (check out my old post about empathy). She is busy, stressed and often overwhelmed. The world is complex, and her brain can't keep up with this ever-increasing complexity. Can your VDA understand that when she drives, the last thing she wants is a list of websites to read? Can it learn that when the same question is asked 5 times, the answer is probably not satisfying and it's time to politely ask the user to re-phrase it?

Always aspire to hire UX designers with high Emotional Intelligence (EQ). People with high EQ could see the world from a customer's perspective and build great products. Research shows over and over again that teams can build EQ and retain it over time.

Understand what people feel when they talk about your apps in product reviews. Natural language is the best tool we humans have to express our likes, dislikes and to share a wide range of feelings with other human beings. Machines, by contrast, don't understand words so well - they understand numbers. App creators tend to look at "star" reviews and poke into verbatims for a few minutes. It's humanly impossible to read all 6,598,404 reviews for Google Now.

There are a few emotion text analytics tools that go beyond "star" reviews or positive/negative sentiment to understand all the emotions shared. This is how we @Heartbeat use app reviews to extract 100 secondary and 10 primary customer emotions.

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Finally, spend 20% of your team's time fixing bugs and addressing complaints, and 80% on designing delightful experiences. Here's a great talk by a bestselling author and Stanford professor Chip Heath about the power of “defining moments” and how UX designers can create meaningful experiences for users.


Putting Humans in the Center of AI