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Chatbots have been slower to catch on than experts predicted. A big part of the problem leading to the slower than desired adoption rate is that in the rush to get in on the chatbot craze, many businesses deployed chatbots that weren’t particularly good at doing the one thing they’re supposed to do: chat. Putting a little effort into conversational design can work wonders. If you want customers to keep using your chatbot, you have to ensure that they have a positive experience each time they do so. Here are nine things you can do to make your chatbot easier to talk to.

Define your bot’s purpose

Before you can get into the specifics of conversational design, you have to have a clear goal of what you want the finished product to be. What do you want your chatbot to be able to do for customers? Will it primarily be an information gathering bot trying to learn more about your audience? Will it provide customer service? Will it drive more web traffic to your website? Increase sales by simplifying the checkout process? Define the purpose of your bot and you’ll be ready to get into the specifics.

Make it proactive

A big reason people aren’t using your chatbot might be because they don’t know it exists or, if they know it exists, how it can help them. A proactive chatbot can introduce itself and provide suggestions about what kinds of questions people can ask it.

Think about conversation flow

Depending on what you want your bot to be able to do, it will need to be able to ask and answer certain types of questions. There’s a natural give and take (or flow) to verbal communication and a bot that doesn’t sound natural can be off-putting.

Design your chatbot to lead

Chatbots are still a somewhat novel idea and many people aren’t totally sure how to use them. Your chatbot can be more effective if you design it to lead the conversation. Still give the user the option to ask questions of course but don’t leave it to the user to lead the entire conversation from beginning to end. Your chatbot can lead by taking the initiative to suggest things that the user can ask and by asking more questions.

Confirm valid answers before moving on

A simple feature that can improve a person’s experience with your chatbot is to have your bot confirm valid responses before moving on. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a chatbot you’re conversing with go off on a tangent and you can’t bring it back all because it misunderstood one thing you said. Instead have your chatbot confirm: “you want to know about [subject], right?”.

Suggested response buttons

Complete open endedness can be difficult for a chatbot. In other words, if the customer can say or ask whatever they want using any wording, there’s a better chance that your chatbot will misunderstand and be unable to assist. Suggested response buttons in which users are given a limited number of ways to respond may lessen user engagement a little, but it may be worth it if your chatbot is able to provide better assistance as a result.

Keep it simple

The more features you try to pack into your chatbot, the less likely it will be able to perform them successfully. Especially with your first attempt at building a chatbot, keep it very simple. You can always slowly add in new features as it masters the initial ones.

Give it a personality

Nobody likes communicating with a cold and impersonal robot. Even though they know they’re talking to a computer, users will appreciate it when bots are conversational and pleasant to talk to. Program your bot to use social niceties but be careful not to go too far and make it overbearing either.

Have a human backup

No matter how much work you put into programming your bot, it will make mistakes and that’s why you always need a human backup. Integrate your chatbot into your human customer support team so that a human is always standing by to take over when your bot gets stuck. People know that bots aren’t perfect and will be understanding when it fails but only if they still receive the help that led them to your chatbot in the first place.

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