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Finding your bot’s voice in a world of conversational interfaces

06 Mar 2018

Article by Rurik Bradbury, global head of conversational strategy, LivePerson

Conversational interfaces like messaging apps have become the default way consumers connect with each other. Compared to voice, they’re used as much as 90% of the time.

The realisation of these consumer preferences, coupled with a growing appetite for new technologies, has led to the rise of conversational commerce — and an industry of people focused on the design, development, creation, and management of conversational interfaces, including the bot and human agents behind them.

Recent research from Deloitte suggests that Australian businesses are accelerating their work with bots and machine learning.

In the same way that the advent of the web and the rise of apps created a need for new jobs and skill sets, this conversational business paradigm is already stimulating demand for people who can teach bots to ‘speak’ like humans.

Training bots on the art of conversation

As popular messaging apps and voice assistants like Alexa and Siri become the primary consumer touchpoint with businesses, brands urgently need to ramp up their capabilities to meet customers through conversational interfaces.

But before opening the floodgates, brands must ensure their human and bot agents are capable of having effective conversations.

If they fail, they risk damaging the consumer experience and losing customers along the way. Nearly half of Australians would switch brands if they received poor customer service, as highlighted in LivePerson’s latest report.

Bots must be helpful and speak naturally if brands are to limit consumer frustrations, retain customers, and generally succeed in their conversational strategies.

Giving bots the tools to speak

Teaching a bot to speak like a human is no mean feat, but it’s critical to the success of any conversational platform. There are a number of factors that must be addressed in determining how, and how well, a bot will interact with customers.

Establishing brand voice and authenticity: In the initial stages of bot development, it’s essential both business and conversational designers align on brand voice to establish how the bot will ‘speak’.

For example, will it have a formal or casual tone? Prefer verbal or visual communication? Is it quirky? Authoritative? Funny? Does it have a clear ‘opinion’, or is its demeanour largely neutral? The bot must be ‘on brand’, demonstrating that it embodies the traits and values intrinsic to the company, before it’s put in front of customers.

Developing natural dialogue flows: Bots that can’t communicate effectively and build rapport will ultimately fail consumers. It’s therefore critical to construct natural-sounding conversations, making sure the line-by-line flow is coherent.

The people who can provide guidance at this level may not come with the kind of résumés usually sought out by tech companies’ hiring departments; they may be actors, poets, screenwriters, or others who have mastered the nuanced art of dialogue.

But what they lack in traditional backgrounds they make up for in the expertise necessary to develop seamless conversations both true to the brand and valuable in achieving a consumer’s desired results.

Injecting empathy: Bots have multiple functions. Their primary purpose may be to solve issues and handle inquiries, but bots also have the capacity to gauge and empathise with a customer’s emotional state.

Like human agents, bots are brand representatives that deal with customers on its behalf. When a bot says it cares, it means the company cares; when a bot ‘listens’, the company shows it’s listening.

Bots can create an emotional connection with customers, forging a more inviting digital space that fosters a real relationship between consumer and brand.

Getting conversational platforms right starts with the right people

In a few years, conversational design — and related areas like conversational architecture, conversational analytics, and AI journey management — will be as well-known and widespread as the skills that we associate with today’s internet, like web design and development.

Having experts on board who understand human speech, emotions, and conversational patterns, from programmers to playwrights, is central to achieving any of the above factors in bot success.

With conversational messaging platforms the future of brand-to-consumer communications, companies need to think seriously about how they will apply these interfaces to form mutually beneficial relationships with customers.

Brands’ reliance on technologies to handle consumer interaction will only increase with time.

It’s important to get an early start on employing the right people to train and steadily develop bots that will effectively solve problems and achieve a consistent brand voice that resonates with customers.

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