We’ve become accustomed to having voice assistance at the touch of a button through our devices. Siri, Google Now and Cortana are getting more powerful; they are now able to search for specific answers, control your phone’s functions, and offer up contextual and personal information. It’s predicted that up to 50% of our searches will be voice-operated by 2020. Conversational interfaces aren’t a new concept, though; we’ve been sold the idea of computer–human relationships through film for decades.
However, there is still a real societal barrier to overcome – people just aren’t comfortable talking to their phones, especially when in public places. Society has a long way to go before we are chatting away to our phones and computers in a truly natural way.
The voice of UX
Voice-activated search and conversational interfaces have created a new breed of UX in our digital world: the text-based virtual assistant, which uses either artificial intelligence (AI) bots or real humans to generate responses. People feel at home within messaging apps. They are familiar. There is something inherently comforting about a good conversation. We know what to expect from them and how they work, especially in comparison to their vocal counterparts.
We’re starting to see a movement among the big tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, towards enabling external companies to sit natively within their messaging apps and deliver personalised services to customers.
The brands’ opportunity to have a chat
This presents an amazing opportunity for many brands, as they now have a channel via which they can directly communicate with their customers and really make an impact on their everyday lives. A genuinely useful resource at the end of a phone message – the phone line fully evolved.
For example, we recently integrated WhatsApp into our Careline offering on Aptaclub.co.uk. Mums-to-be and new mums are now able to contact a dedicated support network of midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors via their phones. Aptaclub made it really easy for mums to get trusted advice during any stage of pregnancy and post-birth. As a result, Aptaclub saw a 50% increase in the amount of chats started by its users.
Crucially, the context of these interactions does require a human response at the end, so that mums-to-be get the best possible advice tailored to their personal concerns.
But we’ve also seen a rise in bots that allow brands to offer their services at scale to even more users.
Poncho is a simple bot that pushes weather updates based on location data. You can interact with further questions, such as ‘Will I need an umbrella today?’ and the bot understands that you are asking about rain, which allows it to serve back the correct answer.
Crucially, in the battle to make it habit-forming, the tone of voice is chatty and friendly. Creating a character that is appropriate and unique to your service is now almost mandatory. Just like Matty Mariansky said, ‘Your content is your style now.‘ This proves a unique challenge to UX/UI designers: getting all functionality and brand essence within a few lines of copy.
When bots and chat combine
Google had an interesting take on the trend with the release of Allo. It’s just like any other messaging app, but it has the Google Assistant built into it. You can ask the assistant in any conversation any question, and it will search the web for personalised results. It’s at bot level 2.0, so you can ask a follow-up question, and it will be able to respond appropriately. Google has been able to harness the power of AI in an attempt to become more personal, targeted and relevant.
For example, Google Assistant could see that I was talking about pizza to Oli, so offered up some restaurants that served it nearby. I could then refine these results with a follow-up question about which ones would deliver that cheesy goodness directly to me.
Ultimately, these brands have understood that context is king in the complex world of instant messaging, bots and AI. Their ability to deliver exactly the right content at precisely the right time helps to build a connection between them and their consumers. This relationship can only be strengthened by the increased personalisation and humanisation of previously static, automated content.