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The chatbot playbook: What they should offer, how they should work

(TECH NEWS) With the rise of the chatbot, let’s pause to put forth what will be a consensus on what they should offer, and how the interactions should work.

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What’s all this chatbot goodness?

Chatbots are computer programs designed to talk to you as if it were human, and you’re probably already using them whether you know it or not. Some are even positing that chatbots will replace webpages.

True or not, they’re increasingly relevant and many of our readers are (a) developing the next generation of chatbots or (b) considering how they should be used in their own businesses.

So in that spirit, the following is a piece by Sebastian Krumhausen over at Chatbots Magazine, the best place for learning about chatbots. Krumhausen has put forth “The bot playbook” and of the endless attempts at a manifesto that we’ve found, his is by far the best.

In his own words below, Krumhausen’s Chatbot Playbook:

The bot playbook

Organizations create style guides to capture the rationale of their design decisions and help other teams build great experiences. You might have read gov.UK’s service manual or the U.S. Digital Services Playbook. I wanted to do the same for chatbots build on the Facebook’s messenger platform.

At Sure, we are creating an online assistant that helps you find food and drinks that are better for yourself and the planet. It is still very early days for bots, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of our early learnings.

Chatbots should make life easier

Computers should know things. With a minimal amount of input from the user, the bot should be able to provide value by leveraging stored information. The bot should be aware, even anticipate the needs of its users and meet those needs with minimal friction. It should automate the kinds of tasks users would normally do on their own like make a dinner reservation, add it to the calendar and share it with friends.

A bot should save time and relieve stress by reducing friction and effort. Otherwise it is not much better than the website or app that came before it. Integrations and contextual relevancy are key elements to the experience.

The bot should introduce itself

A bot should always introduce itself and explain what it can do. As with any other experience, there is a slight learning curve so you will need to onboard new users. You cannot expect your users to figure it out themselves. Use the first message to tell the users what they can do and suggest a first task.

sure-screenshot

Short introduction and call to action.

Continuous support

Continue to provide information and useful actions for a continued positive experience. Help and documentation should be accessible via the bot itself. Commands like “help”, “settings”, “start over” and “stop” seem intuitive to most users, make sure your bot responds to them.

Always suggest the next step

A bot should drive the conversation forward and at times even restrict it. Consider suggesting things to do; this will help users discover additional functionality.

“Hey bot, book a table.”

“Table reserved. Would you like me to order an Uber?”

Bot interactions are a bit like the traditional e-commerce flows. We should constantly keep the user updated and help them move forward, while avoiding overwhelming the user with a wall of information.

Start simple, but quickly add power features

Not showing all features up front will make the interaction less wordy and faster for new users. Every extra bit of information competes with the relevant units of information and reduces their relative visibility. Once the user start to understand what the bot can do, you can gradually remove the training wheels and reveal more functionality.

Continuously showing expert features will make the experience more efficient for power users. You can help users discover power moves by proactively providing small tips about additional functionality.

Interactions will be short, and that is okay

Screen real estate is very limited on a mobile device so you will want to keep messages short and concise. Also, users tend to skim if they read at all. The bot should mimic human behavior. Long messages sent too fast are very hard to comprehend and will quickly become overwhelming. You do not want the user to have to scroll back up to read the whole message.

Chatbots are part of the transitional journey from graphical UI to no UI. Contextual and previously stored information means that chatbots will be able to shorten complicated flows. Purchasing products and confirming appointments will be as simple as a single click or message.

short-interactions

Short user flows.

A hybrid experience is the way forward

Messaging apps let us remove most interface elements and reduce the experience to a simple message thread. Chatbots live within messaging apps and users are already accustomed to communicating with friends using text, but text input is not efficient for all use cases. The GUI replaced the text-based terminal for a reason and some tasks like browsing and selecting is faster with touch or click.

Images and structured content is an excellent way to present information in a more interesting way. Over-reliance on structured messages, however, will feel artificial as you lose the conversational element.

dual-screens

Left is text only. Right structured messages.

Interactions should be simple

The number of paths a conversation can take increases the potential for dead ends. It is better to limit the functionality and nudge the user down a particular path. A simple solution is to use structured messages to guide the users. Rather than asking the end user to type “yes” or “no,” show a structured message with two buttons.

Personality makes the experience more pleasant

The content can stay minimal, but the medium does not have to. There is a clear distinction between the content and the delivery; the what and how. When users chat with the bot, they expect clear answers. However, you can use the opportunity to add a bit of flavor to the message. Adding different versions is also an easy way to add a bit of personality.

Brands often have a bespoke tone of voice; an e-commerce site might sound friendly whereas a lawyer would probably be more professional. Know your audience and choose a communication style that fits with your customers and brand. Messaging apps also cater to different types of communication.

Users of Sure have sent pictures, audio messages, and emojis. They share their feelings and emotions, positive and negative, they also use humor when chatting. Bots exist in the same space where you would normally interact with a friend. If you remove the text and personality, are you not just left with a simple, inefficient mobile app?

Start off with a focused chatbot

A bot needs a clear value proposition. Why else would you use it? A focused bot that does a few things right is more useful than ones that barely breaches the surface. Also, natural language processing is hard. We still have long to go before machines fully understand the complexity of human communication. In the meantime, it is better to build a focused chatbot. Chatting to a dumb chatbot is no different that using an automated telephone service?—?nobody likes those.

Reply, always

The bot should always respond, even when it does not understand the user. Saying “Sorry, I did not understand you” is better than ignoring the user?—?adding a bit of humor to the message is even better. Backend services might delay the bot’s response, in that case the typing indicator or a message like “Hey, still thinking about this…” is a delightful micro interaction and a simple feedback mechanism.

#ChatbotPlaybook

Kiri Isaac is the Web Producer and a Staff Writer at The American Genius and studied communications at Texas A&M. She is fluent in sarcasm and movie quotes and her love language is tacos.

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Tech News

Want to save snippets of a Zoom meeting? Listener makes it possible!

(TECHNOLOGY) Listener lets you screenshot or bookmark important sections of live meetings, as well as curate a playlist of snippets, to share or playback.

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Listener for Zoom tool landing page on laptop.

We live in a very computer-mediated world where the bulk of communication is done virtually. Many of us spend a great deal of time – whether for work or pleasure – on video calls connecting with people that we’re unable to meet with in person.

Zoom became the unofficial mascot for the pandemic and has shown no signs of going anywhere. So naturally, people are looking for ways to put this to even more of an advantage – like by creating messaging extensions to utilize in lieu of live meetings.

Now the folks behind Listener are getting in on the action by creating Listener for Zoom.

The new tool allows users to bookmark important moments of Zoom calls in real-time and easily turn long recordings into bite-sized video clips.

As founder Nishith Shah puts it, “Zoom meetings just got more productive!”

Listener allows users to do a myriad of things, including live bookmarking to create short video clips; ability to transcribe your entire meeting; edit video clips by using transcripts instead of struggling with video editing tools; share video highlights with your team; create playlists from video highlights across different Zoom meetings to tell powerful stories; use projects to organize your meetings and playlists.

Founders say that Listener is designed for pretty much anyone who uses Zoom. In early testing, the founders found that it is especially helpful for product managers and UX researchers who do customer interviews.

They also reported that early-stage founders have been using Listener to add powerful customer videos to their investor pitch decks. It is also helpful for recruiters and hiring managers who search transcripts across hundreds of hiring interviews to remember who said what and to pass on important clips to other people in the interview process.

The tool is also beneficial for teams and hiring, as customer success and sales teams create a knowledge base with Listener to train and onboard new employees. They also use it to pass on customer feedback to the product teams.

This could also be great for clipping video elements that are appropriate for social media use.

On January 11, 2022, Listener was awarded #3 Product of the Day on Product Hunt.

Listener for Zoom is free while in Beta. The tool works only with licensed (paid) Zoom accounts.

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Opinion Editorials

Job listings are popping up left and right, so what exactly *is* UX writing?

(EDITORIAL) While UX writing is not technically new, it is seemingly becoming more and more prevalent. The job titles are everywhere, so what is it?

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UX writing

The work of a UX writer is something you come across every day. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints these writers work on are interface copy, emails, and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find these writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must-have. Excellent communication skills are a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post. But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater user experience design team. In larger companies, some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of the writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User-centric design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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Tech News

How Apple is trying to combat the AirTag backlash (hint – its not working)

(TECHNOLOGY) Apple’s weak-kneed attempts at fixing their AirTags issues aren’t working. They can be placed on anything (or anyone), and it is detrimental.

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Apple airtag being held between two fingers.

A few weeks ago, I wrote up an article on how the Apple AirTag can be used to stalk and track people, and now it’s happening. Unfortunately, not all stalkers have the same glamour as Joe from the hit series You.

Engadget reported that model, Brooks Nader, says someone used an AirTag to track her. Per her account, she didn’t receive the notification until she was walking home, alone, at night. If that’s not scary enough, now imagine she was an android user. The only way for her to know someone was tracking her would be if she had installed the Tracker Detect app.

As stated by TechCrunch, “Apple has made its own post-launch efforts to tighten up how AirTags that don’t belong to a certain user can be detected, but these notifications have proven buggy and have often waited far too long to alert users. Add in the fact that Apple has seemed to treat Android integration as an afterthought, not a necessary partnership in order to ship a device like this, and Apple’s incompetence looks a bit more severe.”

The app itself, which was released on December 11, 2021, is getting a lot of negative feedback. One issue is that to see if you’re being tracked you have to manually scan to find the AirTag. How often and when you do that is up to the user. Whereas with the Apple Find My app, it alerts you automatically without the user having to scan anything. It’s not perfect, however. It’s buggy and can take hours to notify the user that an AirTag is tracking them. However, it’s still better than the android app.

Another dreadful scenario that hasn’t been factored in this equation is children. Not all kids have devices, much less Apple devices, nor should they necessarily, but if someone was going to track them, they would be easy targets.

Apple, for the love of all that’s decent, pull AirTags and reconsider how they function. Examine the ways an AirTag could be used without using the mesh network of all iPhone users so that it doesn’t continue to emit a location or, I don’t know, give up. If it doesn’t mean anything to you to risk other’s lives with this product then consider the possible dangerous consequences as a reflection on Apple.

Contrary to popular belief, not all publicity is good publicity.

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