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3 pillars to plan your enterprise conversational experience.

Consumers are embracing conversational UI interactions at an alarming rate. You’ve probably seen the graph below. Messaging application usage now surpass social network app usage. What should be obvious to you is that consumers are hyper-engaged in messaging platforms. Many businesses that speak directly to consumers are experimenting with conversational UI’s on these apps. You should be too. It’s where your customers are living.

But, how does this affect the enterprise? Just like the days when our consumer interactions outside the workplace drove us to bring our devices to work, your employees and business partners will expect some intelligent agent to support them in their normal business operations.

“85% of executives report they will invest extensively in AI-related technologies over the next three years.” — Accenture Technology Vision 2017

To create experiences that support the needs of people in the workplace, begin with a thorough understanding of the people in your organization. Seems obvious right? This is what user experience design should have been doing for you for the past few years. The new interaction models presented by conversational UI’s are only successful with a disciplined approach to experience design at its core.

“80% of executives surveyed agree that organizations need to understand not only where people are today, but also where they want to be.” — Accenture Technology Vision 2017

Start Here!

Universal Mind’s lean and agile approach to enterprise conversational experiences has three pillars: user insights, conversational design, and assessment. We follow these general principles when working in the conversational UI space.

Universal Mind’s Agile Approach to Conversational UI Design

Insights: Start with People

To begin, consider the persona of the targeted user, understand their journey, and identify the points of friction, gaps, and opportunity (FGOs). FGOs will lead you toward your solution. Work to create solutions to FGOs that have the most potential value. For example, in the Four Use Cases for Chatbots in the Enterprise Now report (Gartner membership is required to download this report), Gartner has identified simple examples where chatbots could positively impact an enterprise.

  1. Call-center help desk — reduce the number of call center calls by handling routine requests via automated chatbots.
  2. ChatOps approvals — edits to data that trigger event sequences and deliver simple “approve”, “deny”, “defer” call to actions via chatbots to the end user.
  3. Equipment diagnostics and inventory management — when combined with IoT solutions, powerful autonomous workflows can be created.
  4. Chatbot scheduling agents — efficiencies can be gained in complex scheduling workflows through AI and bot-to-bot communications across platforms.

If you have a subscription to Gartner resources, this article is a good point of entry in considering possible conversational UI experiments in your company.

Having a clear and concise understanding of the challenge you will address for your user is table-stakes to any experience you intend to create. Clearly define this, or you will struggle to build something of value in any medium.

Conversational Design: Think About the Dialog

Next, work with a skilled human-centered design team to design the conversation and create the personality of the agent (chatbot, Alexa skill, et al.). There is a tremendous opportunity for you to create a new and very personalized experience between your brand and the chatbot entity. Imbue your conversational UI with a personality that naturally extends your brand. Use the chatbot as a means to develop a more personalized relationship with your users and your organization. You’ll need UX people and your marketing team to be heavily involved in this part of the process. Technical integrations aside, this will be the most challenging and time-consuming part of the endeavor. A chatbot that responds like wood or in the style of an automated phone-tree will not be valued. The key is to create an appropriate personality that represents your brand. An entity that feels familiar and expresses the values of your organization.

“Chatbots are entering the market rapidly and have broad appeal for users due to efficiency and ease of interaction.” — Gartner, Inc.

The opportunity with this type of experience is scale. It would be easy to have a highly personalized relationship between you and one customer, or your company and one employee. To scale that same level of personal connection with consistency and care is what a conversational UI can help to provide.

Assessment: Experiment and Iterate

Be sure to take a lean and agile approach to your conversational UI efforts. AI and natural language processing (NLP) services are gaining more and more capabilities each day. Users are just beginning to be comfortable with chatbot experiences to leverage interaction patterns that make sense to them. Designers and developers are just starting to comprehend the nuances of the medium and what best-practices to apply for successful implementations. In short, we are still very much in an experimental state concerning conversational UI.

But don’t wait! Now is the time to start dipping your toe into the chatbot waters. Gartner is recommending that “organizations deploy at least one bot framework internally and begin to actively develop bots to assess use in the enterprise with a focus on the current pain points in the use of business applications.” If organizations do not begin to investigate the potential of chatbots in the enterprise, they will see the same disruptions as the BYOD to work movement brought — consumer experiences and expectations will disrupt interactions inside your company.

“By 2019, 40% of enterprises will be actively using chatbots to facilitate business processes using natural language interactions.” — Gartner, Inc.

Take advantage of the interaction patterns and metaphors that are growing on the consumer side. Look to leverage the efficiency and ease of interaction chatbots present. The medium can be remarkably flexible and reactive to users. Conversation branches can be created and deployed in real time. Response scripts changed instantly. Dialog branches can be pruned and segmented based on user interaction with the system. The data and analytic possibilities of these experiences are profound. Plan to have active monitoring and iteration of conversation paths and ‘bumpers’. Iterate and test continually.

Erik works with some crazy-smart people at Universal Mind where he gets the opportunity to help companies design and build digital experiences that make a difference in people’s lives. Currently, he’s deeply involved with the creation of conversational UIs and can’t believe he’s having to unwind 25 years of GUI design experience to figure this stuff out.

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