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Conversation design process: 5 important things to keep in mind when starting

If humans and AI will be living and working together, they need to learn to communicate with each other. This is where conversation designers come in. Conversation designers are copywriters that make chatbots and voice assistants more natural, helpful, and persuasive. They create trust between people and AI. They ensure companies can truly unlock the potential of conversational AI. If you look at all technological developments in the market today, then you know conversation design is going to be an important job going forward with the Internet of Things (IoT) also coming up. So let’s discuss some of the things you need to be thinking of when you start with the conversation design process.

We are going to discuss the following steps:

  1. Understand the balance between tech, psychology and language
  2. Design to establish support/trust.
  3. Have a human-centric conversation design process
  4. Use role-play and sample dialogue
  5. Keep it simple with edge cases

Time to buckle up!

1. Understand the balance between technology, psychology, and language

If robots and humans communicate with each other, two things stand out. The robot has an artificial brain and the human has a human brain. These brains are completely different from each other. They both have their capabilities and limitations, and they both have different triggers that make them function properly. The artificial brain needs structured data like intents, variables, and entities. Whereas the human brain needs empathy, guidance, and encouragement to function. Language is the thing that makes them both perform. As conversation designers, we therefore need to understand technology, psychology, and language. Only then can we ensure that we leverage conversational AI and create better experiences for our users – and that is ultimately the goal.

2. Design to establish support/trust

Communicating with something artificial is a weird experience if you think about it. If it is not designed properly, it can become creepy quickly. That is obviously not what we want. A way to deal with this is to design a bot persona. This is the personality behind your conversational experience. It's pretty much where the words of your chatbot or voice experience come from.

You want to develop a solid persona that allows for consistent vocabulary that resonates with your users and the journey they are on. The persona is not simply your brand, it's a fictional character in relation to your brand and your user. Designing a good persona allows for consistent language and that ensures likability, consistency, and trust. There is an entire process in the Conversational Academy dedicated to this, so make sure you check out the course later.

3. Have a human-centric conversation design process

Human centricity is at the heart of a good conversational experience. Most bots are currently being developed by engineers only, and sadly they do not always have the best track record when it comes to social skills. The experiences they create often lack human centricity. There is little empathy and this is causing the user to feel lost and unimportant. It increases the odds of a user dropping out of the experience. That's why we want to focus on a human-centric conversation design process. We want to figure out a user’s anxieties, motivations, and context. We want to get to the bottom of this and use it to develop an experience where users feel understood. This builds trust and allows you to take more control of the experience.

The user will let you guide him when he feels understood. This allows for a higher completion rate and altogether a better experience. The Conversation Design Institute Conversation Design Process offers a few canvasses that ensure human centricity is at the heart. Go through the steps in a structured way, and your bot is destined to be natural and empathic.

4. Use role-play and sample dialogue

During the conversation design process, sample dialogue and role-play is the trick to making your conversations natural. Once you have filled in the canvas that we mentioned in point 3, you should have a clear understanding of your user’s needs, and a good picture of your bot’s capabilities and limitations. Time for role-play. We're going to use improvisational theatre to figure out what the most natural flow of the conversation is. One person will play the user and the other will play your chatbot or voice assistant. They sit back to back from each other and have a conversation. This allows them – with a couple of iterations – to get to the most natural conversation. I's important that they can't see each other. This forces them to only use words to explain things. It gets rid of all the visual communication that people use when conversing.

5. Keep it simple with edge cases

It's very tempting to want to have an answer for everything. However, this is only good for getting a headache. You want to make sure that you don't waste too much time with solving situations that hardly ever occur. That's why you want to focus on the happy flow. The Pareto principle applies. Go 80/20 when designing conversations. In terms of the conversation design process, it means that 80% of your users will go through 20% of the conversations. They have regular situations without too much complexity or exceptions. You want to make sure you give them your love and attention and don't spend too much time on the edge cases.

Before you know it, you're going to spend 80% of your time on 20% of your users in all those weird exceptions. You want to avoid that. In complex situations, it's better to hand over to an agent or forward them to a website for more information. For example, we can easily make a nice conversation for a couple putting in a reservation at a restaurant. But it quickly becomes challenging when the reservation is for 9 people, with two people with gluten allergies and when 4 are in a wheelchair. Sure, we welcome them in our restaurant, but we don't have to design a conversation for this exception. It is better to advise them to give us a call so that we can set up their perfect table and ensure they have a great dining experience.

Wrapping up

There are many more things you can learn to optimize your conversation design process. These are just some fundamental concepts for you to think about before starting your next project. Read also our blog with important strategies in conversation design.

Happy designing!