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Teach your Chatbot some Manners: a Lesson in Etiquette

If you’ve ever had a bad customer service experience at your local store, you’ll know how damaging a bad first impression can be.

It will be tainted, and the likelihood is that you’ll tell your friends and family about your negative experience. Their impression of said store will probably be affected, too.

It’s much the same with chatbots, and how they are used on websites. Chatbots exist to facilitate your online experience, and to do their utmost to convert you from a visitor to a lead. Today, with websites being a business’ virtual storefront, chatbots should be polite, obliging and happy to help.

However, according to Paul Adams, Vice President of Product at Intercom this couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s a recent statement from Adams: “Today’s bots have no manners. They don’t take no for an answer, they keep spamming and are generally frustrating”.

Strong words. That said, chatbots can serve your purposes quite well. In fact, it’s predicted that by 2035 such AI will boost labour productivity by 40%.

With this in mind, we at Digital Media Stream offer a few pointers on brushing up on your bots’ Ps and Qs so they’re optimised for lead generation success. Polite lead generation success, that is.

We think that some parts of Adams’ statement are true, but for the most part it glosses over the potential chatbots possess. Done well, they are the perfect nudge some visitors need for them to convert.

First, to get a clearer picture, we should briefly go over just how chatbots work.

How Chatbots Work

There are two kinds of chatbots: rule-based chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots. The difference between the two is very much down to their sophistication.

You’ll likely have seen rule-based chatbots on your mobile phone - for example, say you get text alerts from your local cinema advertising their latest deals. When you receive a message that says ‘Text ‘241 MOVIE’ to our number to take advantage’ and you send the text, the application will recognise the ‘241 MOVIE’ as a command and will process your offer. The developer behind all this will have created a ‘rule’ for the bot to recognise your message, most likely sending you a confirmation email in the process.

By contrast, if the same premise were to be applied to AI chatbots then you could have replied with “I’ll take the offer, thanks!” or, “yes please, I want to see a film”, and the chatbot would understand.

It’s all part of their natural language processing. The processing behind AI chatbots register certain strings of words that are linguistically significant, using them to direct the course of your enquiry.

Chatbot Essentials

Tone of voice

Positive chatbox implementation begins with tone of voice, as it quite literally sets the tone for the whole interaction. Whether your chatbot uses audio or it’s purely a text application, the way in which the character and voice of the ‘person’ comes through counts for a great deal.

The tone of voice has to sound human, and it’s this human aspect that you’re aiming for throughout. The last thing you want is for your chatbot to sound like R2D2!

By giving your bot a human voice, you’re mirroring the natural conversations we have on a day-to-day basis, and recreating it for your website. Talking to a (good) bot should feel like a conversation with a friend or close family member.

Emotional responsiveness

Ensure your chatbot is as responsive as possible to emotional cues. It should be intelligent, able to spot and respond to a user’s emotions. This can be incredibly charming, and can take users aback by how intuitive bots can be.

Explore the English language

In moderation, of course. We’ve seen more than a few bots go rogue with potty-mouthed rants and, due to some fault or other be put out of operation.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely important for your bot to communicate with a varied lexicon so that it doesn’t repeat itself. Again, the human element prevails.

Your bot should speak from a ‘bank’ of assorted vocabularies, so that it doesn’t come off too robotic. This goes a long way in making your bot sophisticated and as far away from ‘super-clever-but-still-a-robot’ as possible.

Ensure the bot doesn’t break out of character

This is about consistency. It’s important your bot is consistent in its tone of voice and mannerisms, and that it stays a positive representative of your business.

The ‘Tay’ bot rolled out by Microsoft should serve as a reminder of when chatbots can go catastrophically awry - of course, this wasn’t so much a break of character than a gross, offensive and damaging lapse in conduct on Microsoft’s part.

Offer actual guidance!

While this should be a given, far too many chatbots offer advice that goes only half the way. Most bots are specifically designed for transactional processes, and users can sense when they’re being sold to. Instead, they should be directed with clarity.

Give your visitors enough options, and a clear picture of your services. Don’t just ask ‘how can we help you today? - give your visitors a selection! Direct them accordingly! Web design success depends on how much you assist the visitor.

Chatbots are one of our industry’s crowning achievements, yet so many aren’t using them to their full potential. You can take the above tips and ensure your chatbot is primed, polite and ready to engage your visitors. 

Time to get chatting!