Remember the days of buying cinema tickets over the phone? Wasted minutes bellowing ‘Jumanji… JU-MAN-JI’ into your landline as the disembodied voice on the other end says ‘Sorry, I didn’t get that. Did you say Batman Forever?’
Thankfully, voice assistants have come a long way since then. By the end of 2017, Google’s speech recognition had hit 95% accuracy. Chatbots have come a long way, too – but inevitably, error messages and bottlenecks still happen. And research shows that unhelpful messages can make customers’ stress levels go through the roof.
So how do you stop your users getting fed up, and calling you instead? It’s all in your language. Find the right tone for your bot – and make it a master conversationalist – and you’ll save your customers from banging their heads against their screens.
1. Sound human. (Just not too human.)
The Turing Test might once have been the standard we held robots to, but we don’t want our bots to pretend to be human any more. A Goldsmiths study found that almost half of Brits think it’s ‘creepy’ when a bot pretends to be real. We don’t want to feel duped – we want to know where we stand. In California, it’ll be illegal for a bot to pretend to be human as of July this year.
That doesn’t mean we want to have to interpret robot-speak, though. In a conversation with a bot, we want the same things we want in any conversation: empathy. Warmth. Signs that the other person is listening. One of the most natural ways we show empathy is by mirroring the language of the person we’re speaking to.
So writing more like you speak will serve you well here. Use conversational words, contractions, and the odd discourse marker like ‘ok’ ‘well’ and ‘right’ to help build a warmer relationship with your users. (Of course, there are as many ways to sound ‘human’ as there are, er, actual humans. It all depends on your brand’s personality, and the persona you’re after for your bot.)
2. Set the parameters of your relationship.
One of the biggest reasons your users are getting frustrated with your bot might well be because their expectations don’t match up with what you can deliver. So from your first interaction, be totally clear on what your bot can – and can’t – do.
And pick the right points in the conversation to remind customers what those boundaries are.
Your intro message is the place to start. Nike does a nice job of this in theirs:
‘I can help with an existing order or get you set up with the hottest shoes & gear.’
As does Western Union:
‘Chat with us to send money, track transfers, check exchange rates/ fees, find agent locations, and more.’
Your bot not understanding a question is another good time to direct users to the right tasks – ‘Hmm, I can’t help with that. Here are a few things I can do…’
Set the parameters for the tone of your conversation, too. If you start on a subservient, apologetic note – ‘How may I be of assistance?’ – you’re priming your user to have less respect for your bot. (Plus, if your bot’s female, using language like that could reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.) Go for an adult-to-adult feel instead: ‘I’m here to help. What’s happening?’
3. Balance personality with getting on with the job at hand.
Your users might come to your bot because they have a job that needs doing. But they’re more likely to stick around, come back, and tell other people about it if they have a good time in the process.
In a Forrester study into the traits we want to see in a bot, ‘funny’ came fourth – right after polite, caring and intelligent. We want efficiency and helpfulness, sure – but sometimes, we want jokes and weird gifs, too.
Take the time to craft your bot’s character: what’s their back story? What are their hobbies? What other robots would they be mates with in the playground? Turn that character into a set of guidelines that anyone writing for your bot can follow – like the ones we did at The Writer for Vodafone’s customer service chatbot TOBi.
Don’t let personality get in the way, though. No one wants your assistant to crack a joke at the expense of actually solving their problem. Save those snippets for the Easter eggs – hidden gems to reward you user with if they ask certain questions.
Ultimately, the smarter machines get at things like speech recognition and natural language processing, the less fed up we’ll get as consumers. But all of that technological brilliance is wasted if your bot’s just rubbish at having a conversation. And without things like body language or visual cues to help guide that conversation, it’s your words that need to do all the heavy lifting.
Pay more attention to those words, and your customers will feel more inclined to keep coming back – and less inclined to chuck their Alexa out the window.
Microsoft has announced that Word is getting an injection of Artificial Intelligence. And if the comments on the BBC article are anything to go by, we should all be worried.
I think we should reserve judgement.
What Microsoft says
According to the Microsoft blog, this is about things like “calculated average time to read the document, highlight extraction, as well as familiar fixes for spelling and grammatical errors and advice on more concise and inclusive language such as ‘police officer’ instead of ‘policeman’.”
Can that really be that bad?
It could promise productivity, more confidence for people in their spelling and grammar, and formatting options to make your main points clearer.
The current version of Word
It wants me to avoid contractions, and cut words that I’ve included for a reason. But I can, and have, chosen to ignore those suggestions. And that’s the thing. We have choice.
How AI and us humans can co-exist
Regardless of what Microsoft launches, it still needs someone with purpose, emotion and a deft hand to make sure the reader gets the point. Microsoft says it too. “Writing requires a dash of uniquely human creativity. Artificial intelligence alone cannot do it for us, at least not very well.”
Let’s not fear what we don’t yet know
This change could make our lives easier and help us avoid being a blatherskite.*
Just as long as we can still choose to say things like ‘blatherskite’.
*Blatherskite: a person who says things that are meaningless and foolish.
By Charli Nordone, UK Creative Director
The UK’s third favourite word, as of 21st September 1980.
How do I know that? Well, a while back I bought a copy of The King’s English for 50p at a secondhand bookshop and today, out fluttered a newspaper cutting. And it was all about words. Beautiful words.
Since it’s World Book Day (and since, sometimes, we just like to write about our love of language), I thought I’d share my treasured find with all our fellow word nerds out there.
The most beautiful English words (according to Sunday Times readers in 1980)
- Melody and velvet (it was a tie for the top spot)
Just reading those words transports me to a more a peaceful place in a time gone past.
The article then gives some example lists from specific readers.
Lady Katherine Asquith went with ivory, gazebo, syllabub, froth, vacillate, butterfly, phylloxera, hummock, mannerism and echo.
Six-year-old Natasha Henley chose beautiful, jewellery, Emma (her sister), ballet, necklace, dress, garden, bird, fairy and flower.
At the end, the journalist thanks the contributors, and says: ‘the sound, shape and sense of your words continue to flood the mind with their beauty’.
My question to you is, what words flood your mind with their beauty?
Comment below, or let us know on Twitter. And a very happy World Book Day to you all.
“Good afternoon, you have reached Any Bank customer service. How may I be of assistance?”
You’ve probably heard that greeting, or something like it, a hundred times. Now compare this:
“Hi, and thanks for calling Any Bank. My name is Bob. How can I help you?”
I know which person I’d rather speak to. And if I’m calling my bank, which in all of its marketing campaigns uses lovely, straightforward language to proclaim how it’s making banking easier, I’d expect the friendlier, more helpful greeting.
Bridging the voice gap
To a customer, the person on the other end of the phone or email is your brand in that moment. So why is there so often a disconnect between the voice of marketing and the voice of customer service?
It’s a question that came up at the Consero CX Forum in Florida last week, where everyone from banks to health food brands said they’re facing similar challenges.
Here are our tips for helping your customer service teams stay on brand, even when they’re on the spot.
1.Take your brand guidelines, and make them work for customer service.
When you’re answering calls and emails from unhappy customers all day, a brand guide telling you how to write a fun ad headline isn’t exactly useful. Take a look at your brand voice guidelines and make sure they take customer service into account – especially the more difficult conversations, when people are more likely to fall back on formal language. Because those are the moments that can reinforce your brand and what you stand for.
2.That goes for training, too.
When clients come to us for a brand voice, they usually prioritize brand and marcomms teams when it comes to training people on how to apply it. But your people on the frontline are the ultimate ambassadors of your brand, often during the real make-or-break moments. To give your customers a consistent experience, your training should cover everyone who’s representing you.
3.Take the robot out of the humans
One speaker at the conference, while talking about AI in customer service, said it’s not about replacing humans in contact centers with robots, but instead ‘taking the robot out of the humans’. That’s because AI can give your teams richer context to be able to have more natural, more meaningful conversations with customers. So see it as a tool, not a threat.
4.Help them see the grey.
Whether you’re selling insurance, flights, or video games, black-and-white policies can never cover every scenario where something goes wrong. By giving your team parameters or a framework for their conversations, you empower them to give your customers a better experience, rather than recite a rule book. In other words, ‘help them see the grey’, as one conference speaker so eloquently put it.
5.If you have to script something, make it conversational.
Of course, some things – like legal disclaimers in heavily regulated industries – will still need to be scripted. In those cases, try to make the language as natural as possible. For example, there’s no reason why you have to say “You may invest in an alternate portfolio if you choose to make additional contributions” when this says exactly the same thing: “If you’d like to make any extra contributions, you can invest in a different portfolio.”
And give your representatives some options so they don’t get tired of reading the same thing over and over again – because it’ll show.
Want to hear more? We’ll be at The Customer Experience Conference in London next week, where our Emma will be telling brands why their customers aren’t listening (and what they can do about it).
Most of the time. Maybe. But what if you only do business through words? Words on your website. On your apps. And in the customer service messages you send. Then, the only way anyone can take action is if your words are clear and quick to grasp. That’s why we’ve been saying for years that...
Language is your customer experience
Some brands invest massively in what they think are their most important assets. Which are usually this year’s colour palette, some edgy Tube ads, a brand purpose workshop with a blank cheque for breakfast brioche, and maybe even some tone of voice principles. But this means nothing if you don’t practise what you preach.
The challenge is to stay true to your brand when you’re sending customers to your mobile app, help centres, error messages, T&Cs, out of offices, and everywhere else. And it’s especially tough when you have to give bad news. Can you honestly say you have a consistent voice in those channels – one that drives your customers to behave how you’d like them to?
Not many businesses can. Which is a shame, because changing the words you use is pretty cheap and easy to do. If you’d like to hear more, our Emma will be on stage at The Customer Experience Conference in London on 26th February talking about the brands who use their words wisely to do customer experience well.
PS On a Wikipedia wander this week, we learned that the old motto for County Dublin was ‘Beart do réir ár mbriathar’. In English, that’s ‘actions that match our words’. We like it more than ‘actions speak louder’, and we think more people in charge of UX should start giving their actions and words some more equal clout.