The Holy Trinity of Conversation Design

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There are thousands of bots out there that are very effective at achieving the goals of the company. However there are tens of thousands of bots which are not performing optimally. What’s the difference between a bot that works effectively and one that’s mediocre? There are lots of answers, but one costly and common mistake in bot implementation is creating copy that stifles the progress and flow of the digital conversation.

Last week I attended a chatbot conference in San Francisco, California. While there I learned three great approaches that can help guide all conversational designers. From the greenest newbie to the seasoned pro. These guidelines are called “The Holy Trinity of Conversational Design.” These three simple elements to creating effective digital conversations are essential to great bot performance. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you! Holy Trinity of Conversational Design: Be clear, be concise, be upbeat.

Be Clear.

When I was younger and starting a new school year, I would flip my math book open to the middle to see if I could understand anything that was on the page. Surprise! I had no idea what was going on because I wasn’t ready for that level of math yet. I needed to start with the basics and luckily, that’s where my teachers decided to start! A chatbot is like a teacher for your visitors. They need to meet visitors—who most likely aren’t as knowledgeable about the product as you—at their level. Whatever actions you want the site visitor to perform the steps or questions must be absolutely clear. Leave no room for doubt.

All too often a digital conversations are designed by a person who knows so much about the company. It’s easy for them to lose touch with what a one-time site visitor maybe thinking, feeling, or experiencing. Contextualizing the conversation is critical. Here’s a question to consider that can help create context and promote clarity: Which personas or types of site visitors are going to be on your site? Is the persona a 19-year-old student looking to buy her first car? Or a 67-year-old man looking for retirement planning resources? Knowing, refining, and overtly defining your target audience can help in designing conversations that feel natural to the site visitor. How much effort a company puts into speaking to the persona will largely determine the effectiveness of their designed conversations.

Be Concise.

Ever had a salesperson who was so knowledgeable and passionate about their product or service that they wouldn’t shut up long enough for you to decide either way? They have you trapped in a corner, and they aren’t gonna let you out until he tells you EVERYTHING about the product! Been there all too many times. In some cases, even if you are initially leaning toward a purchase, you may back out simply because of the overbearing nature of the salesperson’s message.

Digital Conversations are no exception to this rule. Keep it brief. Remember that in a sales setting, the salesperson typically has much more base knowledge about and passion for the product or service she is selling than the person considering the purchase. It’s critical to bridle the passion and robustness of interactions. If something can be said in one sentence rather than two or three without losing critical site visitor understanding, then cut it down. In most cases, brevity will encourage the site visitor to engage in further interactions with the bot and more frequently accomplish the desired outcome.

Be Upbeat.

This final recommendation may seem obvious at first glance, but it can be harder than you think to accomplish. If a potential customer has a face-to-face or telephone conversation with your company, you want it to be a positive experience. Digital conversations can’t rely on voice inflection or facial expressions to derive tone, meaning, and feeling so it can be difficult to portray the right mood for a site visitor. Utilizing punctuation, emojis, sentence structure, and level of grammatical formality or playfulness can greatly enhance the bot’s effectiveness.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you take on a tone or attitude that isn’t consistent with your branding. That can be even more detrimental than being a little more stoic or starchy. For example, a bot operating on the website of a mortuary will likely utilize a more sensitive tone in consideration of their target market. However, a bot on an amusement park’s website can have much more frivolity, spunk, and playfulness. In both cases—and in all cases for that matter—an upbeat tone in copy most often resonates with site visitors and leads to more frequent goal achievement.

So What?!

Why does any of this even matter? Does conversational design really make a difference in bot performance and site visitor experience? YES. There is no disputing the fact that the quality and quantity of a business’s conversations and communications play a pivotal role in the effectiveness of that business. So in each of your conversations—especially in digital conversations—remember the Holy Trinity of Digital Conversation Design. Be Clear, Be Concise, Be Upbeat!


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