The future of branded interactions
The way we communicate has transformed beyond all recognition over the past decades. Today, we as customers have the potential to communicate with brands in the same way we do with friends and family. The use of speech is the most natural form of interaction in most applications. Advances in artificial intelligence and speech recognition and synthesis technologies have driven the development of text-based chatbots and voice-based virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant in recent years.
Such systems are now also relevant to brands for booking tickets, selling products, answering support queries or making new services available to customers. However, a conversational user interface only makes sense if it really makes life easier for the user. A related question for brands is to what extent they should develop their own voice assistants or use an existing platform provider (e.g. Amazon with Alexa) for their voice-based services.
Are branded conversations the right thing for your brand?
Ultimately, this question can only be answered by considering the customer journey and the specific usage situation. In general, conversational user interfaces are useful if the user requires advice, assistance, support or encouragement. Text- or voice-based chatbots can be used for frequently repeated questions, medical anamnesis or consulting – giving the user the information he or she needs, step by step, in dialogue form. Voice user interfaces are particularly suitable when users want to keep their hands and eyes free for other tasks such as driving, cooking or typing and quickly require a piece of information, want to set an alarm or hear the weather forecast. That’s why voice interfaces fit better into everyday routines than graphical user interfaces, and why voice assistants continue to gain momentum . Now’s the time to consider the benefits of branded conversations for your users and ultimately, for the future of your brand.
Why your chatbot’s personality should fit your brand
Conversational user interfaces provide plenty of scope for shaping a brand's personality. The same applies vice versa: If the behaviour of a chatbot or voice assistant doesn't reflect the expected brand behaviour, the application doesn't contribute to the forming of a consistent brand image. It's important that brands remain authentic in the conversational domain. To this end, brands must expand both their design principles and their UX strategy to remain distinct with a strong, independent character that responds to the user’s context.
Chatbots and voice assistants involve the user more than other means of communication and can therefore appear extremely personal and approachable. More than with any other medium, with chatbots and voice assistants the brand personality is the user experience. How do we encounter the brand as a chatbot? As a friend? An assistant? A challenger? A trainer? At think moto we usually derive the conversational personality from a brand's archetypical role on the market, which it has to relate to, although in many cases it will not be identical with the brand's overall personality.
In 2017, we developed our first messaging chatbot as a concept and prototype for the e-travel startup flyiin. Our emphasis was on the contextual guidance of dialogues according to previously-defined personality traits.
Dialogue scripting and prototyping
Last year, we began working with a leading German automobile manufacturer on the development of its voice assistant's personality and a conversational design fiction. In a series of four stakeholder workshops with a multidisciplinary team of business and brand strategists, UX and UI designers as well as service and interior designers, we analysed the requirements and needs from the customer, brand and business point of view, defined competence domains for the assistant and, finally, a series of user stories. Assuming our voice assistant had empathy and the ability to learn, we also defined a corridor within the personality profile that determined the degree of adaptation of the assistant to the user. On this basis, we developed and recorded prototypical dialogues together with a screenwriter and professional speakers. Given that we were creating a design fiction for conversational design, the result was a hypothetical vision of the possibilities of human-machine interaction in the next five years.
5 steps to your first branded conversation
- Discover: Identify your users and their requirements and prioritise use cases. Understand your business objectives and see if they can be achieved with a conversational interface.
- Define: Develop a branded conversation persona that is aligned with the brand and transfer it to relevant design dimensions including voice, style of speech, actions, sounds and visualisation. Don't forget to define the domains of knowledge and skills as well as the touch points where the chatbot or voice assistant should be reachable. Performance KPI help you measure your success later.
- Design: Define actions and develop exemplary dialogue flows as well as sounds, visualisation and if necessary the voice(s) of a language assistant. Test the interactions with users and refine them accordingly.
- Deliver: Deliver: Implement your dialogues in tools like Google's Dialogflow, LivePerson's LiveEngage or IBM's Watson, and integrate them on the relevant platforms.
- Distribute: Continuous testing, measurement and optimisation is just as much a part of chatbots and voice assistants as it is in any other digital project. AI-based systems are constantly learning, but also make sure you actively expand their skills and to regularly review their brand fit as well as the performance of your branded conversations and iterate continuously. Guidelines help ensure the quality of responses.
Conversational UIs are changing the game
Conversations are here to stay. And it goes further: while e-commerce and online customer service have generally reached their limits, conversational experiences will push the frontier in commerce and customer service.