Customer service departments in all industries are increasing their use of chatbots, and we will see usage rise even higher in the next year as companies continue to pilot or launch their own versions of the rule-based digital assistant. What are chatbots? Forrester defines them as autonomous applications that help users complete tasks through conversation. […]
“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
Designing for conversational interfaces represents a big shift in the way we are used to thinking about interaction. Chatbots have less signifiers and affordances than websites and apps – which means words have to work harder to deliver clarity, cohesion and utility for the user. It is a change of paradigm that requires designers to re-wire their brain, their deliverables and their design process to create successful bot experiences.
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".
The chatbot uses keywords that users type in the chat line and guesses what they may be looking for. For example, if you own a restaurant that has vegan options on the menu, you might program the word “vegan” into the bot. Then when users type in that word, the return message will include vegan options from the menu or point out the menu section that features these dishes.
[In] artificial intelligence ... machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained ... its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures ... The observer says to himself "I could have written that". With that thought he moves the program in question from the shelf marked "intelligent", to that reserved for curios ... The object of this paper is to cause just such a re-evaluation of the program about to be "explained". Few programs ever needed it more.