Conversational User Interface Design
Introduction

Conversational User Interface Design – How to create branded conversations

Isabel Hillenbrand
by Isabel Hillenbrand

The way we communicate has transformed beyond all recognition in the last decades. Today, we as customers have the potential to communicate with brands in the same way we do with friends and family. The use of speech is the most natural form of interaction in most applications. Advances in artificial intelligence and speech recognition and synthesis technologies have driven the development of text-based chatbots and voice-based virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant in recent years.

Such systems are now also relevant to brand companies for booking tickets, selling products, answering support queries or making new services available to customers. However, a conversational user interface only makes sense if it really makes life easier for the user. A related question for brands is to what extent they should develop their own voice assistants or use an existing platform provider (e.g. Amazon with Alexa) for their voice-based services.

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Value of CUI

Are branded conversations the right thing for you to do now?

Ultimately, the question can only be answered by considering the customer journey and the specific usage situation. In general, conversational user interfaces are useful if the user needs advice, assistance, support or encouragement. Text- or voice-based chatbots can be used for frequently repeated questions, medical anamnesis or consulting – giving the user the information he or she needs, step by step, in dialogue form. Voice user interfaces are particularly suitable when users want to have their hands and eyes free for other tasks such as driving, cooking or typing and quickly need a piece of information, want to set an alarm or hear the weather forecast. That’s why voice interfaces fit better into everyday routines than graphical user interfaces and why voice assistants continue to gain momentum .
So there is no better time to consider the benefit of branded conversations for your users and ultimately your company than now.

Personality

Why your chatbot’s personality should fit the brand

Conversational user interfaces provide plenty of scope for shaping a brand's personality. Vice versa, if the behaviour of a chatbot or voice assistant doesn't reflect the expected brand behaviour, the application doesn't contribute to the forming of a consistent brand image. It's important that brands remain authentic also in the conversational domain. To this end, brands must expand both their design principles and their UX strategy to remain distinguishable with a strong, independent character that responds adequately to the user’s context.

Chatbots and voice assistants involve the user more than other means of communication and can thus appear extremely personal and approachable. More than with any other medium, with chatbots and voice assistants the brand personality IS the user experience. How do we encounter the brand in a certain chatbot? As a friend? An assistant? A challenger? A trainer? At think moto we usually derive the conversational personality from a brand's archetypical role on the market, which it has to relate to, although in many cases it will not be identical with the brand's overall personality.

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2017 we developed our first messaging chatbot as a concept and prototype for the e-travel startup flyiin. Our emphasis was on the contextual guidance of dialogues according to previously defined personality traits.

Dialogue

Dialogue scripting and prototyping

Last year, we started to work with a leading German automobile manufacturer on the development of its voice assistant's personality and a conversational design fiction. In a series of four stakeholder workshops with a multidisciplinary team of business and brand strategists, UX and UI designers as well as service and interior designers, we analysed the requirements and needs from the customer, brand and business point of view, defined competence domains for the assistant and finally a series of user stories. Assuming an empathy and learning ability of the voice assistant, we also defined a corridor within the personality profile that determined the degree of adaptation of the assistant to the user. On this basis, we developed and recorded prototypical dialogues together with a screenwriter and professional speakers. Given that it was a design fiction for conversational design, the result was a hypothetical vision of the possibilities of human-machine interaction in the next five years.

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How to get started

5 steps to your first branded conversation

  1. Discover: Identify your users and their requirements and prioritize the use cases. Understand your business objectives and see if they can be achieved with a conversational interface.
  2. Define: Develop a branded conversation persona that is aligned with the brand and transfer it to relevant design dimensions including voice, style of speech, actions, sounds and visualization. Don't forget to define the domains of knowledge and skills as well as the touch points where the chatbot or voice assistant should be reachable. Performance KPI help you measure your success later.
  3. Design: Define actions and develop exemplary dialogue flows as well as sounds, visualization and if necessary the voice(s) of a language assistant. Test the interactions with users and refine them accordingly.
  4. Deliver: Implement your dialogues in tools like Google's Dialogflow, LivePerson's LiveEngage or IBM's Watson and integrate them on the relevant platforms.
  5. Distribute: Continuous testing, measurement and optimization is just as much a part of chatbots and voice assistants as it is in any other digital project. AI-based systems are constantly learning, but also ensure to actively expand skills and to regularly review the brand fit as well as the performance of your branded conversations and iterate continuously. Guidelines help ensure the quality of responses.
The future

Conversational UIs will be game-changing

Conversations are here to stay. More than that: while e-commerce and online customer service have generally reached their limits, conversational experiences will push the frontier in commerce and customer service.

If you want to be a part of this exiting journey, let us know!

You can read more from us on conversational UI over on our Medium or in our book Branded Interactions.