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Tips for Designing Chatbots Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Tips for Designing Chatbots

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


Today’s average chatbot is about as intell­igent as the famous dog Lassie: it can recognize simple patterns, follow a score of simple commands, and parse a handful of parameters from a command. As a designer, you want your customers to be impressed when the dog unders­tands their voice, not become emotio­nally entangled.

1. Be Busine­sslike

While you can give your bot a sparkling person­ality, this is not necessary (and most of the time detrim­ental to the overall user experi­ence). It’s OK to be straig­htf­orward, busine­sslike, and to the point. Most bot tasks will be mundane and not partic­ularly exciting.
Do: Thank you for calling ACME Widgets. How can I help you?
Don’t: We are so glad you called! Say: “Let me know about your awesome widgets” to learn about the amazing widgets we make. Say: “I need help with my widget” to get help with your widget. But please don’t say “I want to speak to a human,” because you will just upset me.

2. Ask for What You Need – and Stop Talking

If you need to collect inform­ation, ask a simple question, then, please stop talking and listen to the answer.
Do: I think you are asking for a repres­ent­ative. Is that right?**
Don’t:** I think you are asking for a repres­ent­ative. I’m so disapp­ointed. But I think that’s OK, lots of people do. That’s what you are asking, isn’t it? ’Cause it’s OK if you want to look up your Widget Plus account – that’s our most popular option

3. Set Expect­ations on Duration of Intera­ction

Most people are busy and distra­cted. It’s best not to lay too many of your options on their already troubled mind. The best practice is to list no more than three options at a time, and then ask if the customer is ready to hear more of your bot’s brilli­ance. If your list still sounds like a run-on sentence, try inserting longer pauses between choices. Amazon recommends 350ms for simple choices, and 400ms for choices requiring more consid­era­tion, and 500ms for procedural steps.
Here are three steps to replacing a lightbulb. [half-­second pause]
First, turn off power. This is very important – do not skip this step. [half-­second pause]
Now that the power is off, remove cover and unscrew the lightbulb counte­r-c­loc­kwise from its housing. Discard the old lightbulb. [half-­second pause]
Finally, screw in the new lightbulb, turning it clockwise in the housing. Pat yourself on the back – you are done

4. Avoid Repetition

Human conver­sation always involves some variety. To maintain the illusion of life in your bot, to at least the level of a TV politi­cian, use a variety of prompts. This is easy to do in Alexa, but takes a bit more effort in custom stand-­alone bots. Either way, it’s time well spent:
Do: What widget would you like to buy?
Do: What widgets are you most interested in?
Do: Which widget do you need more inform­ation on?
You can use Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) to insert inflection and emotion, strate­gically lengthen the pauses, and add many other minor but useful variations into your bot’s voice. Here’s the SSML code that casts Alexa in the role of Agent Smith from the famous movie monologue in The Matrix:
<am­azo­n:e­ffect name="w­his­per­ed">I'd like to share a revelation with you...<­/a­maz­on:­eff­ect> <break time="2­s"/> Human beings are a disease, <break time="1­s"/> a cancer on this planet. <break time="1­s"/> You are a plague, <break time="1.5s­"­/> <pr­osody volume­="x-­lou­d">and we... are <em­phasis level=­"­str­ong­"­>the cure</­emp­has­is>.</­pro­sod­y>
You can get more inform­ation on Alexa’s current capabi­lities in Amazon’s SSML reference. This is one of the hottest areas of research, so expect rapid progress in the next few years.

5. Design from Zero

To create a really satisfying experi­ence, you should strive to “design from zero” – that is, assume the epic fail condition as inevit­able, and try to come up with ways to prevent errors, and recover from errors quickly when they occur.

One opport­unity to shine is by addressing the problem of common names. Map the frequently used synonyms for at least your top hundred queries, or for key elements of the commonly used lists. There is no need to correct your conver­sation partner outright. A little kindness delivered via gently restating the task at hand will make people feel smarter, and go a long way toward turning your users into fans:
Human: Book a vacation in Holland.
Bot: The most popular time to go to the Nether­lands is in the spring when the famous Dutch tulips are in bloom. When would you like to go?
Human: Play the love theme from The Godfather.
Bot: Playing “Speak Softly Love” by Andy Williams

If we accept failure as a given, it turns from a cause of despair into a golden chance to differ­entiate your product. Design­-fr­om-zero thinking applied to your bot’s design might just convert reluctant users into inspired advocates of your product or service.