If you’ve ever said the words ‘Okay Google…’ or ‘Hey Siri…’ followed by a query or a command, you’ve used conversational UI. It may sound complicated, but the idea behind conversational user interface (UI) is actually pretty simple – to simulate human dialogue as closely as possible through artificial intelligence (AI).
Our article on the business uses of AI briefly covered conversational UI, but this developing technology is more than worthy of its own analysis. There’s much that conversational UI can help marketers achieve, from streamlining the consumer journey to enhancing personalisation, as we explore here.
First though, a little context. The market for devices based on a conversational UI platform is booming. Research shows that in the UK, 2.7 million households were actively using an Amazon Echo or Google Home device at the end of 2017. It’s not all about voice assistants though; each of the following formats fall under the conversational UI bracket:
Apps and devices capable of conversational UI may switch between these functions, such as Apple’s Siri, which responds to and replies in both voice and text, or they may just specialise in one, like a website chatbot that only understands and communicates in text messages.
We may not think of text to text messaging platforms as the same type of technology as voice assistants, but when an AI-powered chatbot is behind the interaction, it’s all conversational UI. Given the popularity of messaging services like Whatsapp – which has 1.5 billion users worldwide – it’s not surprising that conversational UI has taken this format too. Messaging is how a vast number of us choose to communicate, with each other and with brands, so text to text conversational UI can be seen as a natural extension.
Let’s look at what marketers can do with conversational UI.
Any marketer knows that it makes sense to communicate with consumers in a way they know and prefer. And we know that consumers like to use messaging platforms, not just to stay in touch with friends and family, but in their interactions with brands too. According to research, 49% of consumers would prefer to conduct all their customer service interactions via text, chat or messaging, and if the increasing use of all these forms of conversational UI is anything to go by, this figure seems sure to keep rising.
So, if AI can effectively automate the experience of conversational UI, it’s a no-brainer for business. The ability to answer queries and rectify issues using customers’ preferred medium, in a human-sounding way that doesn’t rely on humans, could save organisations millions. Having a chatbot manage customer service could enable businesses to spend more time and money on areas of enterprise that still require human skill and ingenuity.
But cost-saving is just one benefit; done well, conversational UI is capable of meeting a need for information faster and more efficiently than any human, including the consumer themselves. Thanks to its power to access multiple information sources instantly, a conversational UI platform can provide answers to a question like, ‘Which smartphone should I buy next?’ faster than a human customer service agent ever could, and can book that Uber you need in seconds, rather than the minute or so it would take you to open the app and book a taxi manually.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go before chatbots can handle more sophisticated queries and problems, but AI is getting smarter all the time. Conversational UI has the potential to greatly shorten the distance to information and to eliminate the repetitive actions it usually takes to get it, making the consumer experience smoother, faster and more efficient.
The extent to which conversational UI can sound ‘human’ is a vital factor in its success. We humans are social creatures, wired to respond to interactions that we can relate to, believe in and engage with. Ideally, interactions should be so naturalistic that consumers forget they’re talking to a bot, which is why many of the biggest tech companies are investing heavily in the ‘personality design’ of their conversational UI platforms. Microsoft has employed the services of a novelist, a poet, a playwright and a screenwriter to work on its virtual assistant, Cortana.
Chatbots and voice assistants designed to embody a character and able to create a rapport with consumers help to ensure they keep coming back for more, as long as they function as they should, of course. After all, we’re more likely to want to repeat an interaction with a brand if we enjoy it. As with every other aspect of a marketing strategy, a conversational UI platform can be programmed to convey the values and selling points of a brand in how it communicates, or to appeal to particular subsets of its target markets. Eventually, the experience of building a relationship with a conversational UI could become part of the appeal of using it, particularly if it remembers who it’s talking to.
At their most useful, conversational UI platforms should provide a level of personalisation for consumers, making them feel that a chatbot or virtual assistant is communicating with and providing a service just for them. Just like a human advisor who looks up your customer profile, a chatbot or voice assistant should recognise you and your previous interactions, in order to develop a more comprehensive picture of your preferences with every use.
Personalisation in a conversational UI also creates the opportunity for a brand to suggest other products or services a consumer is likely to respond to, speeds up the path to conversion by removing the need to log in or re-register and, after a user has made a purchase, to send delivery updates, booking confirmations or tips to get the most from what they’ve bought, developing the personal touch still further. All this can make for a quicker, easier and more engaging experience for consumers.
So, there are significant gains for marketers who venture into the world of conversational UI, but none of these benefits are possible without data doing the hard work behind the scenes. Plus, as we’ve said many times before, all of a brand’s marketing channels, including conversational UI, need to be working together for maximum effect. A chatbot or voice assistant must draw on a pooled source of business intelligence and information about customers to really fulfil its potential, as part of a joined-up omnichannel marketing strategy.
It’s data that makes this possible; connecting, informing and enhancing all channels at once with one all-inclusive version of business truth. Like any other marketing channel, conversational UI should also feed data back about what consumers want from brands, the best points of the customer journey at which to send particular sales messages, and the kind of messaging different kinds of customers most respond to.
It takes a data-driven CRM to achieve an omnichannel marketing approach and to identify new opportunities for better customer service and higher conversions. If conversational UI is on your radar, let us help you prepare by ensuring you have the data in place to make your platform the best it can be.