The current chatbot renaissance has provided a revolutionary new way to connect consumers with brands and with each other. That said, chatbots are still in a bit of a growth phase. Bot makers are still learning how to make their bots successful, and users are still getting a grasp on what bots can do and how to use them.
One of the big challenges for many bot makers is how to emulate human conversation in their chatbot’s responses. Some bots entirely miss the mark, offering the user little more than a digital menu on a website. When conversing with a bot falls flat, what is a bot maker to do? The answer is simple. Implement a few small changes to make the chatbot feel more human.
A bot with strong conversational skills plays into our sci-fi dream of having digital assistants and companions that are indistinguishable from humans. While that future is still pretty far away, here are steps you can take right now to improve your chatbot’s conversation skills.
1. Use NLP to understand colloquial language
Consider the way you write when texting friends. You probably use a lot of abbreviations and a fair amount of slang, and autocorrect almost certainly jumbles your message once in a while. You might also respond with sentence fragments. Because we communicate so differently in messaging apps from the way we do in spoken conversation, it’s important that your bot understand a message despite errors in grammar and spelling.
If your bot is on rails, it will fall short in this area. To dramatically enhance a chatbot’s conversational skills, you’ll need to use natural language processing. Natural Language Processing (NLP) will enable your bot to understand whatever users throw at it, making the chatbot feel more human in its ability to carry a conversation.
In addition to setting up NLP, you should check your chatbot analytics frequently. This will help you discover bottlenecks or places where the bot becomes confused about what users are saying. Because internet slang changes constantly, check the analytics often to ensure your bot understands new words, and then train as necessary.
2. Add empathy to chatbot responses with sentiment analysis
Sentiment analysis is important if you want to improve your chatbot’s conversational skills. It helps the bot respond empathetically to frustrated users and prioritize sensitive situations. If a user is especially angry or sad, for example, your bot should switch to more sensitive language and respond to their feelings. Failure to do so will make it sound cold and robotic and perhaps signal that you don’t understand or care about your users.
3. Know thy user and improve chatbot UX
One of the most enticing features chatbots offer is personalization. Chatbots are at their most effective when they know what the user is interested in and can apply some level of context to the conversation. This means your bot needs to retain information about the user throughout a conversation and across sessions.
Imagine if you were a regular at a store or restaurant but the people working there could never remember your name, your order, or anything about you. This would be unsettling at best, and annoying at worst. No one wants to repeat information, especially if they have to answer the same question multiple times in one conversation.
To make your bot more personable, make sure it can recognize repeat users. When the bot needs information (for example, the user’s location in order to recommend a nearby store), it should pull from whatever data has already been supplied and then verify with the user to see if it’s changed. You might also script the bot to begin a conversation by reminding the user of where the last conversation left off.
4. Stick to a single personality
No one wants to talk to a chatbot that shuffles through multiple personalities. Let’s say you’re having a nice conversation with a bot and then it runs into an error, which it states in a dry, cold, and robotic tone. This shift is disconcerting and immersion-breaking for the user.
A chatbot should keep a single, consistent voice that meshes well with your brand and its audience. Dramatic shifts in tone can be jarring and confusing. In some cases, the user might question whether they’re talking to a bot, a collection of anonymous humans, or some combination of the two. To keep user trust, make sure your chatbot responses maintain a single voice belonging to a single personality.
That said, a good conversationalist should offer multiple responses to the same query. This makes the discussion feel more human. And if the user keeps asking the same question in succession, it would be reasonable for the chatbot to recognize that and call them out for it.
5. Improve chatbot UX and responses with analytics
The best way to enhance chatbot conversation skills is to remain vigilant about chatbot usage data. By analyzing chatbot responses and dialogs with users, you can discover places where your chatbot falls flat. The two main things that hurt chatbot UX are:
- Error messages: Assess what the bot doesn’t understand and how it responds.
- Places where the bot (or user) repeats itself multiple times.
Error messages help you discover where your bot fails to understand the user and where you can make conversation flow more naturally. Points of repetition, meanwhile, give you a better grasp of how your bot collects and remembers data the user gives it.
Finally, by assessing engagement and retention rates, you can determine whether your onboarding process needs improvement. Onboarding is a very important step in the conversation flow, especially when it comes to establishing the bot’s tone and voice. This is why it is a good place to begin making revisions if you’re aiming to improve your chatbot’s conversational skills.
If you want to quickly understand whether your chatbot responses need improvement, you can test your bot for functionality and chatbot UX based on analytics. Once you understand your bot’s weaknesses, you’ll know exactly what to fix to turn your bot into an astute conversationalist.
Ilker Koksal is CEO and cofounder of Botanalytics, a conversational analytics and engagement tool company.
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