Chatbots are just a “hi” away. Not like a website that you have to navigate to, or an app that you have to locate and open. But chatbots today lack the ability to provide the visual feedback customers rely on for a sense of validation. People like to see content plainly, and they can do this on websites and apps. At Yala we are tackling this problem. Here are three lessons we learned along the way:

1. Don’t be dense

Example:

Me: help.

Chatbot: I can help by answering simple questions about how Chatbot works. I’m just a bot, though! If you need more help, try our Help Center for loads of useful information about Chatbot — it’s easy to search! Or simply type */feedback* followed by your question or comment, and a human person will get back to you.

The above response could be improved by taking the approach below:

Me: help.

Chatbot: Help is here, Gary!
Chatbot is typing…

Chatbot: Ask me a simple question.

Me: how to I blah blah blah?

Chatbot: I wasn’t able to help, but our support team will get back to you!
[BUTTON: Send to Support] | [BUTTON: Cancel]
Chatbot is typing…

Chatbot: In the meanwhile, check out my Help Center.

Conclusion:

  1. Constructing a concise chronological narrative helps reduce denseness. When content is in little chunks, it’s easier to process.
  2. When your chatbot provides the right forms and buttons at the right time, it can outperform its visual interface counterpart.
  3. Combining concepts or distinct sets of details in one response causes mental static, and should be avoided.

2. Have a vibe

Using satire, exaggeration, even being poetic in the appropriate measure, is the window through which your brand can shine. Make charm and wit to peek through, but just a touch. Just enough to know when it’s not there. Unbridled witticisms may leave your customers feeling alienated by too much artificial cheekiness. But let’s check out how to do this right.

  1. Break up your communication into parts based on their functions: actions, greetings, goodbyes, thankyous, updates, loading, processing, intros, descriptions, notifications, etc.
  2. Pick one or two parts and — while keeping all other parts neutral, concise, and direct — make that part a little zesty or animated. At Yala we had fun adding 1950s charisma to greetings, while a dash of hyper-futuristic effervescence found its way to our loading and progress indicators.
  3. Test your dialogue by playing it back to yourself lots and lots. Chat dialogue, if you don’t already know this, needs to be neutral enough to “wear” every day. Play the dialogue back to yourself in context again and again.

3. Speak, don’t print

When we humans express thought with words, we pause, we intonate, we enunciate, we intensify, etc. Your chatbot, given its habits for speaking and chatting in a distinctly human and live communication channel, is expected to play by the rules. Your chatbot is being heard by your customer and not studied. Your chatbot is speaking.

It’s not good form to dump more than, say, 80 characters at once on your customer without a pause before the next phrase appears. Longer pauses are called for when changing concepts or to allow the digestion of a dense response, while short pauses are ideal when expanding on a single concept. For example:

Chatbot: Hey there! I’m Yala and here’s how I work. You can call me up via Direct message by saying hi. Then you can compose a social media post. I can publish that post to as many of your Facebook and Twitter timelines as you like.

The above example flattens the chatbot and does not promote the speaking. The below attempts to improve it.

Chabot: Huloo.
yala is typing… [short pause]

Are we having fun yet?
yala is typing… [there’s a slightly longer pause as I change concept from greeting to guidance.]

I’m Yala
yala is typing… [short pause]

And I work like this… [short pause]
yala is typing…

You can call me up via Direct Message by saying hi.
yala is typing… [a slightly longer pause to allow the user to digest the above instruction.]

Etc. etc.

Pauses are not lengthy. They’re just right. Speech has rhythm, and your chatbot’s rhythm should groove.

By sticking to the above chatbot dialogue credo, you’ll be able to reach accessibility, branding, and a pleasant user experience. You’ll probably have fun, too.