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Building Better Bots - Why a Limited UI Doesn't Mean Limited UX

Tags: Bots , User Experience

If you’ve been keeping tabs on the Cardinal Solutions blog, you’ve likely noticed that a large amount of our time is dedicated to coaching our clients on emerging technologies including Mixed Reality, Chat Bots, Internet of Things (IoT), and the positive impact those technologies can have on their business and customer experience.

With the increasing interest in bots and conversational UI, our User Experience teams are often asked “How can we improve the overall user experience when a bot’s user interface is often times so limited?” In a recent post, “Want to Build a ChatBot? It Takes Technology and UX”, Adam Deardurff provided an outline for leveraging a proof of concept to refine bot use cases and introduced the concept of “designing” the experience. Knowing that the term “design” can be ubiquitous, we wanted to elaborate on a few of the often-overlooked non-UI areas a UX team should be engaging on a bot project by compiling a few tips and tricks to help your teams and clients build better bots.

Have your bot introduce themselves and clearly state why they exist/what they can help you with. Is your bot there to help with FAQs, access to phone numbers, or bus schedules? Similar to the web, strive to help users avoid spending large amounts of time trying to find the specific information only to frustratingly discover it doesn’t exist. 

Give your bot a name, but avoid using your brand/company name, or even a human name (we all know we aren’t talking with Karen, Susy, or Jeff). This a chance to add a little whimsy and subtle hints to the user about the personalized experience they are about to have while aligning with your organization’s desired brand perception. If naming your bot makes you nervous, grab someone from your marketing team to help. A fun (and well promoted) recent example is “Dot”, Akron Art Museum’s new chatbot.

Even a bot needs a great profile pic, and it’s important to remember that this is another touchpoint to represent your brand and positively impact your user’s first impression. Skip the logo icon or customer support stock-photo in favor of building a narrative around your bot’s character. This is a great opportunity to market your new bot and give it life. Using an illustration allows you to create a character and still provide a “face” for the profile picture a user expects to see. An easy and popular choice is to use a robot, for some inspiration take a look at the examples we pulled from google images (bot profile icon).

*Source: Google

While your character may look like a robot, your writing shouldn’t sound like one. While you’re still in the planning phase, it’s ok to focus on identifying your conversation map (initial prompt and response options) but revisiting those touchpoints to identify your bot’s voice and tone before a user interacts with your bot will go a long way to making a good first impression. If you’re new to considering voice and tone and how to use it in your products, MailChimp does an excellent job explaining their own guidelines and distills the concept as follows:

“What’s the difference between voice and tone? Think of it this way: You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You might use one tone when you're out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone when you're in a meeting with your boss ...”

For example, look at the subtle differences between these 2 conversations:

With the popularity of texting, you can also consider adding in emojis (if your brand allows) to increase visual feedback and help convey the sentiment behind your statement. We’ve all experienced sarcasm gone wrong in an email or text, and if your bot serves an international customer base the use of jargon, references, and colloquialisms may get lost in translation. This is where an emoji may help give added context.

If you don’t have support from marketing and don’t consider yourself “creative”, you can always do a quick message architecture exercise with your team to help define who your bot is and isn’t. Take a look at this blog post from a few years ago to learn more about this exercise and grab a free template here.

Journey isn’t just a band, it’s the planned and unplanned path your user may take to engage with your bot. Users frequently complain they get “stuck” interacting with bots, or that a bot is “dumb”, when in reality it’s not the bot’s fault at all – the blame resides on your team’s ability to guide your user through a journey.

Leverage journey-mapping and task-flow techniques to ensure each prompt and response option is covered. Mapping out these possible decision-trees will help you and your team identify dead ends and anything that strays from the “happy path”.

An easy way to keep users on the happy path is to use leading questions (I know, I know, anyone who does user research is cringing) and provide affirmation when they choose the option you were intending.

Outside of journey, the form factor will play a large part in matching or exceeding a user’s expectations. A few guiding questions to consider:

  • Will our bot only be used on a mobile device or do we need to consider desktop users? What about voice?
  • What type of inputs are easiest for the user at the time of use (multiple choice, open text, number entry, voice, etc.)?
  • How can we mimic any channel specific (Facebook, Skype, Teams, Web, etc.) nuances to help reduce on-boarding friction and provide a seamless experience?

With each of these areas covered, don’t forget that users still might run into a situation where your bot just can’t help and need an escape hatch. In this case, don’t forget to give them an option to get help outside the bot experience and reach a real human via phone, email, or integrated customer service chat etc.

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later. Your bot has done its job and your user is satisfied ... so now what? This is an often-overlooked opportunity to engage with your user for your benefit (and theirs). A few great ways to sign off or set up future engagement include:

  • Check to see if the user is done with the session and explain how to reengage
  • Ask the user to rate their experience
  • Direct them to your brand’s social media
  • Offer them a discount or incentive in return for simple data mining

Wrapping up, we hope these tips and tricks will provide a few conversation starters for teams building their first bot and the ways a UX professional can help improve your user’s overall bot experience. Just remember, even though a bot may not include the typical UI design focus that other digital products do, there are several experience considerations to help your bot stand out in a crowd and increase both user adoption and satisfaction.

Interested in learning more about creating a bot or how our UX teams can improve the customer experience? Contact us today or check out our events page to find an upcoming “Bot In A Day” workshop in a city near you!


About The Author

User Experience & Design, Practice Manager

With a user centered design approach Ryan's role is a blend of User Experience competencies including User Research, Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Interaction focused Visual Design and Front-End Development. Well versed in delivering UX artifacts in an Agile (or iterative) manner, Ryan works side-by-side with the development team in Cardinal's Nashville office to implement elegant design solutions into the development environment while still balancing user needs and business goals for both Web and Mobile Applications.