A case for conversational UI for disaster situations

We are in a miserable period, at least in Europe, where we have the anti-terrorist measures that often affect our daily routine of commuting.

Checking her mobile next to the crashed train

On top of the security measures, we also have the result of global climate change, where the transportation system gets stalled with floods, winds, and snows. I remember in Tokyo, whenever there was a strong typhoon coming, there you see a swarm of people at the train stations with no way to get home.

New normal in typhoon season
New normal in typhoon season

I must say, since the earthquake in 2011, Japanese people are equipped with all the alerts apps that are designed specifically to cater users in disaster. Mobile operators, of course, they have implemented such service on all devices. If you go to Japan, do not forget to download Yurekure app.

Yurekure Call app

In France, it has started as a government initiated app for alerting about terrorist attacks. Because not everybody uses Facebook or Google, so it makes sense to have a Tech platform independent solution.

Saip app

I would say if it were that important, they should have obliged mobile operators to have it implemented like in Japan. There were articles on how it did not work at the time of Nice attack last year…

France has the app as a major government initiative. In the USA, it is a private, not profit organization who helps citizens all over the world. Google Alerts app is from Google.org, so I assume it is a non-profit organization. Two different approaches, two different cultures.

Showing respect to the victims as a company

I am a dinosaur who survived the dot.com fall. Probably, the current generation of UX designer does not even know what the dot.com craze was. It was a time we had these giant phones without the touch screen.

Back in 2000, I had designed an emergency web page for United Airlines while working at Sapient New York. The website was the main face of the company. No Twitter. No Facebook. People were just getting used to eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo.

United Airlines was an award winning website and was the first to launch online ticket sales. They were prepared to build the website as an extension of the company. Prepared to show how much they cared and responded to their customer to give up-to-date information.

At that time, we never thought that would appear publicly. It was part of a protocol to create a website that testify their attitude to response. As you know, 9.11 happened. I had this uneasy feeling to see that just-in-case page appearing publicly.

Changing the front-page to feature the disaster, and directing other customers to the e-commerce site by a link is an appropriate way to express the sorrow and apology in the case of disaster.

I believe if we were to redesign this kind of functionality nowadays, we would have the company’s website, twitter, Facebook, chats and social accounts’ changing at the same time to respect the customers. That is right, RESPECT the victims and customers, I believe all corporation’s touch points shall synch on time with their customer experience strategy for disaster incidents.

I suspect some transport service companies’ app is not taking into account the emergency situation content. The information is not up-front. It is a secondary information with a link to alerts usually.

I may be completely wrong, as I do not check all the times the transport business websites when I hear fatal accidents. Please let me know if you see ones. I just hope that they had designed their website to integrate emergency protocol.

Going beyond respect via conversational interface

At the beginning of a disaster, the transportation company’s website is a first information outlet where you seek details of the accident or travel company through which you bought the ticket. It is normal.

If you have purchased the ticket, you get the notification. But if you are related to the victims, you will not get such notifications. Google Alerts is just for natural disaster related, and it depends on whether the country has adopted Google platform or not.

For the people related to the victims, I believe the customer experience would be more authentic by approaching with personalized up-to-date information via SMS or major public Chat platforms.

The conversational UI with AI can extend the emergency response for these close circle of people closely related to the victims. Don’t you feel more valued, when you get a personal message instead of a public update?

If there is a barebone intelligence in the app engine, it could have a more therapeutic response to lower the anxiety of the victims’ relatives. It is a known history for the natural language processing research that it has started with a psychotherapist named “ELIZA” .

It is excruciating for untrained humans to calm people gripped with high anxiety, which is more than being late to go to a place. I see flight attendants skill to calm people, but in an emergency, you cannot assemble skilled people so why not share the work with a smart conversational engine?

There is already a chat app for treating depression. There is a recent paper claiming how conversational UI helped relieved people’s depressions [Delivering Cognitive Behavior Therapy to Young Adults With Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Using a Fully Automated Conversational Agent (Woebot): A Randomized Controlled Trial]

It is a matter of time to see appropriate customer response app by transportation companies in their conversational UI in case of disaster.


Some engines for implementing empathic response I found on the web

https://itskoko.com/
An empathy engine by MIT that helps people in distress in social networks.

https://www.affectiva.com/
A facial recognition engine to recognize human’s emotions

Applications coming out with claims in helping people in emergency

Depression therapist
http://woebot.io/

24/7 Help Line
https://www.crisistextline.org/

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