How to create a great chatbot

Your guide to creating authentic-feeling conversations that improve customer service… and sales completion rates.

When it comes to helping solve your customers’ problems not all chatbots are created equal, says Tess Tettelin, Conversation Designer at Chatlayer by Sinch…

Whether they’re engaging with banks, retailers, healthcare providers or telcos – today’s customers expect round-the-clock service. With the emergence of chatbots it’s now possible for businesses and organisations to meet these customer service demands head on. Unsurprisingly, the chatbot market is forecast to grow rapidly over the next few years, from $17.17billion in 2020 to $102.29billion by 2026

But building a chatbot is only part of the solution. For bots to provide a truly personal and effortless customer experience, the interactions must be authentic and feel as natural as possible. 

This is where conversation design comes in, using human conversation as a guide for designing natural-feeling digital interactions between humans and chatbots. Gone are the days that we had to understand computers; they are now learning to understand us.

Good conversation design makes sure that these digital systems are easy and intuitive to use, providing not just a functional, but also emotional user experience. It’s an opportunity for brands to establish a deep and long relationship with their customers.

So how do you build an efficient conversation? Read on for some key conversation design principles to make your next bot project a success...

1 Have a clear scope

Conversation design starts with a simple question: What is your chatbot going to be used for? In other words, what problems will it solve for your customers? Keep in mind that your bot can't do everything, so it’s better to pick a few use cases and do them well, rather than trying to do everything but doing it poorly. One way to state the bot’s capabilities (and manage user expectation) is by providing a clear introduction:

The bot on the left provides little context to what it’s capable of, setting itself up for failure. The bot on the right clearly states what it can do for the user, providing a clear framework for questions.

2 Put the user first

A good chatbot experience revolves around the user. When someone uses a chatbot to solve their problem, don’t push offers and discounts on them. Anticipate their needs and help them resolve their issue quickly and without distracting them. If you really want to use that conversation to ask a customer to sign up for the newsletter, or showcase new products, politely do so only after the customer completed their task. When a user seems upset, use empathy to make them feel heard and defuse the situation.

The bot on the left doesn’t acknowledge the user’s frustration, causing even more frustration. The bot on the right does use empathy and offers a promotion on top.

3 Keep moving forward

One of the most important principles of conversation design is to guide the user to the next step of their journey. Remember, they are interacting with your chatbot to successfully accomplish a task, but they may not know how to get there on their own. So, keep the experience conversational, take turns, and end each of your bot’s turns with a question, prompt or any other call to action.

The bot on the left answers the user’s question but doesn’t provide a follow-up prompt. The bot on the right does, by offering the option to buy a ticket straight away, providing a seamless experience to the user.

4 Be context-aware

Your chatbot needs to have contextual awareness if it wants to adequately resolve a problem. The more context-aware your bot is, the more conversational it can be. When a user is searching for hotel rooms available tonight in New York, for example, they don't want to see rooms available in Boston, or special flight deals. It’s clear that they’re already in New York and are trying to find a place to sleep. 

The bot on the left picked up on the location but didn’t understand the keywords ‘hotel’ or ‘room’, which caused frustration. The bot on the right did recognise the context and could provide an excellent answer to the user’s question.

5 Prepare for errors

People make mistakes. We’re only human, after all. In a system interaction, how easy (or difficult) it is to recover from an error affects the rest of the user experience. People will only try so many times before getting frustrated and giving up. Make sure your chatbot can quickly resolve misunderstandings or is able to offer an alternative way to help. Avoid the dreaded “I don’t understand.”

The bot on the left repeats the same error message repeatedly, causing the user to get frustrated. The bot on the right has a cleverer way of not understanding the user’s input, offering an alternative way out.

So what does all that add up to? 

Great chatbot experiences are those which enable you to resolve a problem or perform a specific task as quickly and effortlessly as possible. 

Therefore, good conversation design plays a vital role in connecting intelligent bot design with positive customer experiences. Knowing how to channel your customers to their desired outcomes, or when to use humour and empathy, all help to create a customer experience which feels natural and authentic. 

So when it’s time for you to build a chatbot, be sure to hire in a good conversation designer to ensure your project delivers maximum ROI.