Given the historic number of customers making online purchases and using streaming services during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital marketing and ecommerce teams are under increasing pressure to provide a reliable, user-friendly digital customer experience.
Over the years, demand has surged for specialty digital roles such as Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and interaction design as digital customer contact channels become more sophisticated.
Conversation design could be the next major milestone for evolving digital teams. Ten years ago, most B2B marketing teams didn’t have a social media manager — these duties were typically consigned to interns, if at all — but now these analytics-savvy professionals play a major role on every marketing team.
Currently, most conversation designers work for B2B SaaS vendors, building conversation flows for employee-facing virtual assistants or consulting with B2C clients who want to deploy a chatbot through Facebook Messenger or SMS.
But the onus on brands to provide end-to-end self-service capabilities for customers via automated channels is mounting, and outsourcing a chatbot or voice assistant to a vendor may no longer suffice. Here are five reasons why we see conversational designers occupying a crucial role within in-house digital marketing teams in the near future.
5 reasons why you need a conversation designer on your marketing team in 2021
1. Conversational AI must embrace user-centered design principles
The IVRs of old were deployed to reduce call volume at overwhelmed contact centers, while the earliest chatbots served an answering machine-type role of greeting customers after business hours when a live agent wasn’t available. These use cases were designed to benefit the business, not the consumer. Today, the tables have turned.
Each customer contact channel must revolve around the user’s needs. Conversation designers possess a unique mixture of skills including UX copywriting, linguistics, interaction design, and psychology. Thus, they are uniquely poised to understand user intent, anticipate potential user journeys, and design a conversation pathway that guides the user toward their intended goal.
The most important ingredient of great conversation design is understanding user intent. People don’t always phrase things clearly, or they don’t know what they’re looking for. Chatbots should be equipped with quick-answer buttons so customers can select a question or desired outcome from a list of common scenarios — organized from most popular to least. IVRs must be able to intuit intent from non-explicit requests — for instance, “Help me fix my computer” really means “Please transfer me to technical support.” Natural language processing enables computers to infer commands and sentiment from natural speech.
Only with these elements in place can the AI customer experience become truly useful for customers and the enterprise, instead of serving as an unwanted gatekeeper.
2. Contextual dialogue norms matter
A conversation with a computer shouldn’t feel like one. Users don’t expect a voice assistant to exhibit sentience or empathy, but they do expect a cooperative conversation where each party works to arrive at a better understanding. Conversation designers know how to use contextual dialogue norms to set the tone for the interaction.
For example, an employee-facing virtual assistant knows that the user’s top priority is obtaining an expedient resolution for the task at hand. The virtual assistant responds by linking relevant knowledge articles, auto-populating forms, and answering questions as succinctly and accurately as possible. For the most part, this interaction is purely transactional.
On the other hand, a consumer-facing chatbot exists to build a relationship with the customer. Using upbeat, less formal language (including emojis and GIFs), detecting customer sentiment, and using empathizers like “Great choice!” or “I’m sorry to hear that” are important aspects of this type of interaction — and this is where chatbot personality comes in (more on that later!).
Conversation designers understand that contextual dialogue norms are also determined by the contact channel. For instance, when designing a voice commerce experience for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, the most important aspects of this interaction are: what product does the customer want, how much does it cost, and how long will it take to arrive? The interaction needs to be stripped down, concise and written specifically for the voice channel.
3. Customers expect an end-to-end digital experience
Today, customers expect to complete tasks and transactions within conversational interfaces. For example, makeup brand Sephora allows customers to purchase items and schedule beauty appointments at the nearest store via Facebook Messenger, while KLM Royal Dutch Airlines lets passengers book flights via conversational search on a Google Assistant.
To provide an end-to-end customer experience, a conversation designer needs to map out every possible scenario, query, and anticipated customer response. They also need to understand the shortfalls of each conversational interface, and how they can use different contact channels together to provide an omnichannel customer experience.
For example, booking a flight via voice channel alone is not ideal; customers need to compare fares, transit times, and flight duration. But when customers can interact with the voice assistant and automatically receive a link via SMS to see available flights in more detail, they can complete the transaction through voice and still have the information they need at their fingertips.
4. Brands need to show personality through chat, voice, and other interfaces
As chatbots and voice assistants evolve to handle more complex commands and conversations, brands are increasingly focused on non-functional requirements to make their conversation interfaces stand out.
Chatbot personality is one of them. Google’s Duplex voice assistant has a feature that allows it to make calls on the user’s behalf to book appointments or make restaurant reservations. The bot sounds eerily humanlike, even exhibiting speech disfluencies like “um…” and pausing in between sentences as if it’s thinking. While most people were alarmed when Google CEO Sundar Pichai presented the Duplex at Google I/O in 2018, the device represents the ideological level of “humanness” many conversation designers now aspire to.
The best conversation designers understand things like cadence, prosody, and colloquial word choices that make conversations with computers sound as human as possible.
5. Helping users navigate complex software systems
As employee-facing software systems grow more complicated, many B2B SaaS companies equip their software with virtual assistants to help users execute tasks through voice or text commands instead of grappling with a complicated graphical user interface. This shortens the learning curve — an important selling point for any B2B SaaS purchase — and enables users to harness the full capabilities of their software.
For these types of virtual assistants, a conversation designer with a technical writing background is an absolute necessity. They must be able to translate documentation written by developers into interactive tutorials, help articles, and quick-answer responses. Each user flow must be tailored to a specific user persona. For example, a sales manager who uses a CRM system has different user permissions and needs than a customer service rep.
Virtual assistants must provide an intuitive onboarding experience suited to each user type, determine which functionalities are most important to that user, and offer helpful tips as the user navigates the software. Proactively interpreting a user’s actions, even in the absence of a conversation, is key. For example, if a user exhibits unusual behavior, like repeatedly clicking backward and forward between two webpages, a dialogue box should pop up asking if they need help.