Imagine a ‘Persuade’ button for every critical moment in your life. One click to send the perfect Tinder pickup line. One click to convince your boss it’s time for a raise. One click to persuade your significant other that you’re actually right this time.
In the last 10 years, we’ve seen an explosion of communication apps. It’s easier than ever to start a conversation. But what do we actually say to move a conversation forward? It’s all about persuasion: what to say, how to say it, and when to deliver that perfect line.
In recent years, researchers have focused on statistical methods that learn the optimal thing to say during a conversation based on the most effective things people have said before. My bet is that A.I. and chatbots will soon know how to codify persuasion and harness its power to help us win friends and influence people. In fact, we may be closer than you think.
Principles of persuasion
What is it that makes someone persuasive? We all know somebody who has “a way with words.” In sales or customer support, she is probably an “A player,” 200 percent over quota and crushing it. On Tinder, he knows exactly what to say to make every girl laugh and score a date without breaking a sweat.
Leveraging decades of research, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion identified six principles that A players weave naturally into conversation:
- Reciprocation: They are the first to offer information, compliments, or help, because humans naturally want to reciprocate a positive experience
- Social proof: A players share stories of other people because it’s hard to resist when “everyone is doing it”
- Commitment and consistency: A players get you to verbally say “Yes” because you then feel more committed to follow through
- Liking: We like people who are similar to us, so A players quickly find things in common, like playing the same sport or obsessing over Pokémon Go
- Authority: A players drop names of credible figures and references because it’s hard for people to question authority
- Scarcity: They know we’re more sensitive to losing something than we are to gaining something, which is we respond to messaging like, “Don’t miss out on…”
It’s often hard for non-A players, i.e. everyone else, to weave these persuasion principles naturally in conversation. This is where A.I. and chatbots can help.
Learning from A players
A.I. and bots can harness the persuasive powers of A players by learning what they say, how they phrase it, and when they reach out or respond. Technology exists today to analyze the words we say.
- Credibility statements like… I work at [insert Apple, Google, Salesforce, Accenture…]
- Positioning phrases like… We’re the only company building indestructible widgets
- Questions like… What’s holding you back from reaching your goals?
Beyond what we say, A.I. and bots can analyze how we say it; that is, our subtle non-verbal communication.
Maybe you’re talking too much or too fast. Maybe the other person sounds confused. Maybe you have bored your audience to tears during a 10-minute monologue. Or maybe you look desperate sending 10 texts in a row — one every hour, like clockwork.
A.I. and chatbots can quantify the elements of persuasion by analyzing massive data sets of A players and sharing those insights with the rest of us.
What does the future look like?
At work, imagine you’re a salesperson calling a customer. The customer says the dreadful words “too expensive.” Your heart drops. But then, your A.I. or chatbot comes to the rescue, showing real-time suggestions to handle the objection like an A player: “Setting price aside, do we have the product you want to buy?” If the customer says “Yes,” then you’ve used a principle of persuasion! Getting the customer to say “Yes” makes that customer more likely to follow through. If the customer says “No,” then price wasn’t the real objection. The customer just wasn’t that into you.
At play, imagine asking a girl out on Tinder. What can you say to get her to respond? How do you stand out from everyone else? Nudge your A.I. or bot to see real-time suggestions. Here’s how to make her laugh and win her attention without offending her. In the near future, A.I. and bots might show you that “72 percent of the times that you used this pickup line, you had a fun night.”
And considering how easy it is to tap “Send” (perhaps too easy), the very near future might benefit from A.I. and bots that prevent us from saying things we’ll probably regret. The world might be a better place with fewer conversations in which there is a persuasion fail.
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