Beyond the hype: what is the real potential of conversational AI?

For a long time, chatbots stood out primarily for what went wrong. Much has been quietly improved. Registered patents indicate an imminent leap forward. With better trained AI, real-time interaction, and more personalization, conversational AI can be implemented in more and more ways.

With all the current violence in the metaverse, things now seem calm on the conversational AI front. Still, a lot of things happen in the shadows. A surprising number of patents have been filed pointing to a broader and more advanced application of conversational AI in the near future (Deloitte, 2021). Now that we’ve gotten past the hype, we also have a better look at the real potential of this emerging technology. Conversational AI, if technically and creatively well designed, leads to human and dynamic interfaces. This contrasts with the second generation of static and instrumental interfaces that we are now gradually leaving behind. One (voice-) the conversation is a natural interface, because the response is in real time and the information is presented in a focused way.

Customer demand as a starting point

To fully understand the potential of these emerging technologies, let’s go back to the early days of advertising. In the second half of the previous decade, chatbots became fashionable. The Dutch insurer asr even dared to replace its entire website with a conversational user interface (Emerce, 2017). In the past, visitors had a lot of trouble finding the desired information on information-dense pages. With customer demand as the starting point, the conversation led to personalized information. As a result, the traditional navigation and content pages became obsolete. The content was intertwined with the chat and appeared in dialogue with the visitor at logical moments.

Less is more

The asr chatbot is now surrounded by more traditional UX elements, such as a navigation structure and small walls of generic content panels. This best practice was way ahead of its time and at the time already provided a good insight into a third generation of websites.

This new generation of websites is characterized by more personalized user experiences, thanks to the use of machine learning and AI. The way the user interacts with the interface is reflected in the response in real time. Thus, the graphical (typographic) user experience is giving way to the conversational user experience. The content forms, so to speak, naturally around the user’s intentions and wishes. Content in the customer journey that is superfluous at the time is left out. In this sense, conversational AI is the digital embodiment of the well-known credo: less is more

conversational commerce

Another remarkable thing happened in the period of the chatbot boom. Customer support and the purchase of products and services moved in part from the traditional context of the website to chat applications. You most likely remember that about five years ago, KLM started sending boarding passes via Facebook Messenger and Suitsupply started giving personal outfit advice on WhatsApp.

Shoe retailer Van den Assem recently launched a pilot where purchases on WhatsApp can be paid for with a Tikkie. The payment flow that currently takes place outside of the apps may soon be integrated. Although we’re not as far into the West as we are in China, where e-shopping through apps like WeChat and Douyin are the norm, e-commerce is slowly but surely becoming a conversation here too.

Patents and Customization

Although chatbots are now widely used, they generally only cover a portion of the average website UI and the radical asr example described above has yet to be widely followed. Consulting firms, however, are indicating that chatbots will be used on a large scale and in more mature ways in the near future. This is evidenced by the particularly large number of patents pending in the field of AI for conversational purposes (chatbots, virtual agents and voice assistants).

Many patents relate to chatbot training innovations that will greatly improve the quality of responses, which are often still rigid and biased. Then more complex conversations are also possible. For example, consider doing tasks like booking a meet or greet, updating your schedule, and booking a taxi. The chatbot then becomes your personal assistant. Personalization is particularly effective in all forms of marketing. Chatbots that can tailor communication style based on a customer’s characteristics, for example age or mood during the conversation, are a popular category within patent pending.

Voice interfaces are now primarily used in the home. The development of filters that can reduce background noise will soon lead to wider application. Illustration: Ewout van Lambalgen.

For voice interfaces, background noise still leads to a broken user experience. Behind the scenes, people are hard at work on filters to recognize and neutralize ambient noise. This means that voice devices can be used on a larger scale: for example, in offices and on public transport (Deloitte, 2021).

Bad reputation

Despite all the positive developments and the expected large-scale breakthrough, conversational AI has a reputation problem. This is caused by the wooden and poorly designed chatbots of the early days. After all, every organization wanted a chatbot on their website as soon as possible. Adformatie publishes the sometimes hilarious series bone talk in which various bots are tested with varying degrees of success.

The technological innovations described above will undoubtedly lead to a better user experience. But perhaps even more important are the design requirements that underlie a good conversational user interface. What are the factors that 3rd generation web designers and digital marketers need to focus on to make conversational user interface a success?

Success factors

A chatbot as a first step, but the range of applications is now much wider. How can creative agencies and marketers successfully implement conversational AI in digital experience design?

  • Personality
    Personality is a key concept when designing conversational interfaces. As in real life, personality and style have a great influence on decision making and the degree to which people are attracted to a person or brand (as Erika Hall in her book conversational design He showed).
    Translate the brand into conversational principles that fit well with the organization’s identity with style. That way, even in environments like Messenger, where as a brand manager you have little control over how your brand manifests, you can bring the brand to life, simply by focusing on the style of the conversation and the language used.
  • Empathy
    Every well-designed chatbot or conversational user interface is preceded by research in which anthropologists delve into the perspective, daily routines, and language of the ‘other’. How do consumers talk about products or services? What words are used, in what sentence structures and in what tone are they pronounced?
  • conversational ecosystem
    The application of conversational AI is not only limited to the chatbot on the website and the applications in the chat applications. Online ads can also be conversational by placing a conversation or setting in the banner. The conversation or setup continues on the landing page so the ads and platforms flow together seamlessly (Cavai). Design a conversational layer that runs like a thread through your brand’s digital ecosystem and makes the user experience more personal and effective.
  • conversational commerce
    The web store is moving in part from the traditional context of a website to chat applications. Messenger and WhatsApp, applications used by almost everyone, are full of shopping opportunities. The payment flow that currently takes place outside of the apps may soon be integrated. The popular Chinese apps WeChat and Douyin show how intimately intertwined commerce and conversations are. Together they form a model for digital products and services on Web 3.0.

In this third generation of websites, the interaction between the user and the interface will change dramatically. Static user experiences give way to a more natural feel (voice) user interfaces that respond in real time to user interactions. While there are few barriers to moving away from the current website paradigm from a technology perspective, the famous wall of images and conversations, there is a particular challenge for web designers and online marketers to embrace the craft and art of design. of conversational interfaces.

Other sources:

  • jeff Stone, Is conversational AI the future of mobile apps?UX Magazine, 2021
  • Jordan Ratner, Disrupting the customer experience: how conversational AI is improving UX and CX standardsUX Magazine, 2021
  • conversational AIIBM Cloud Education, 2020
  • cathy Pearl, Voice User Interface Design: Principles of Conversational ExperiencesO’Reilly, 2016
  • Conversation24 and TikkieLinkedIn, 2022

About the author: Henk Haaima is Creative Director at Havana Harbour, a Candid company.

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