Why Chatbots Don’t Suck, but A.I. Does (Most of the Time)

Most companies today develop their own AI-based chatbots. Not only do they look good, they raise millions from investors; potential economic advantage is a large driver of the current trend for chatbots.

However, there are a number of ways in which Natural Language Processing (NLP) falls short of the requirements of a good user experience by comparison with more traditional user interfaces (UI).

For one thing, people are lazy — it’s easier to click a button, as we do on apps and websites, than to type out a whole sentence that the bot may well not understand.

And people don’t write well. The text they input may be full of grammar and spelling errors and colloquialisms that are bound to confuse the hapless AI.

As a result, many users get frustrated with bots that simply can’t understand their requests, and even does the opposite of what they’re asking for. Consider these situations, for example:

  • You type “please stop sending me news”, and the NLP reads “send me news”. Then it sends you more news.
  • You search “Turkey” and the NLP sends you information about the animal rather than the country.
It’s far more difficult to orientate conversations when the user has the lead.

Chatbots should make use of buttons to orientate the user — like with traditional UI — thus making it simpler for them to execute their decisions — say, find and purchase a product, retrieve the information they need or sign up for an account.

Instead of just using free-text communication with a bot, a proper user interface should present options to the user and guide them through a decision-making process.

Say for example the user is browsing for snowboards. The interface can suggest a few of the company’s latest boards, rather than waiting for the user to type “I want to buy a snowboard” — something which may not happen.

Thus a good user interface (UI) is more important to the functionality of a chatbot than good Natural Language Processing (NLP).

As of yet, AI is not completely ready to speak with users. Orientating conversations with the use of good UI will make bots more successful.

When it come to chatbots, UI, not AI, is key.

For a satisfying and easy user experience, the use of good UI remains a developer’s best bet.

EDIT 1: I’m working on a new project that will help to create chatbots with great UI. Follow me on Twitter to get the latest informations about it.

EDIT 2: Matthieu Varagnat also wrote a detailed article about UI vs AI, to read here.