What comes after building your chatbot?

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Image courtesy Huffington Post UK

Way to go!  You’ve just finished building a chatbot for your own awesome purpose.

But what comes next?

It’s easy to think the hardest thing is just building your bot.  It’s no lie that it takes hard work and dedication.  You have to make many tough decisions about what platform you’re going to use, what you want the experience of your users to be — and that’s not even including the conversations.  After all that is worked out, though, you’re going to release it to the world-at-large.

Choose a metric and aim for success!

And this is where the really difficult work starts.

In order to help you along, here’s some tips to make sure your chatbot is received well.

Know when you’re a success

Each product has at least one measurable item which will identify its success, or lack thereof.  There are lots of metrics to choose from.  Amount of messages traded per session is a good one.  So is total amount of chats sent and received.  Two more have to do with users:  Number of unique users, and total amount of returning users.

How will you know when you’re a success?  Pick a metric or two and aim for those.

What’s your path to success?

So now you know what success looks like to you.  Now you have to create a plan to actually get there.  Success doesn’t drop into your lap.  People won’t ever find you if you don’t have a plan.  They never contact random Facebook pages in hopes there’s some neat chatbot they might be able to use.

How do you achieve victory?  You get there through the use of measurable and intentional steps.

Your target audience should form the core of your path to success.  Learn where they go, where they congregate.  Then go there yourself and spread the gospel.  You’ll know you’ve arrived when your first users begin to market your bot to their friends.  Word-of-mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing tools out there.

Data, Data and More Data

Delve into your data on a regular basis.  You’ve already defined how you know when you’ve crossed the threshold into “success” territory.  Start there, then take a look at any following complementary metrics.  Gather this data and graph it.  This will make it easier to spot trends.  If your metrics are slipping, ask yourself why.  The answers lie in your data:  You should be able to see if your conversation paths are presenting users with dead ends.  Perhaps there was some big event that prevented your users from using the bot.  Or maybe they’re simply bored with what content you’re offering.

At the same time, should you see your metrics heading upwards, don’t just sit on your laurels.  Ask why that is.  Replicate a winning ad campaign.  If you made a great Reddit thread, try posting again somewhere else.  Make continuous iterations on the effort that boost your metrics the most.

Periodically review chatbot conversations by hand

Remember what Arthur Ashe said:  “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”  He probably wasn’t talking about chatbots, but the saying is true for them nonetheless.

Keep your bot fresh

Once you’ve coded your chatbot, it’s tempting to move on to the Next Big Thing and forget about it.  That puts your hard work on the fast track to obscurity, though.  You need to keep adding relevant conversation paths — and make sure you use the bot’s existing voice!  That fresh content will do wonders to re-engage returning users.

It’s important to stay ahead of the curve, especially with regard to natural language processing.  Make sure your bot can discern between words found in the dictionary and those that might be typed in.  In the latter case, be sure the user is shunted to correct path.  One great way to find out which words your bot needs more training on is to review user conversations manually.  Not only will this method help with those peculiar words, but you’ll also discern other ways to improve the overall experience.  Little tweaks can go a long way.

At the same time, this method makes it easy to find rabbit holes.  Don’t get tricked into going inside.  If one user is having a particular problem, make sure other users are having the same issue.  If they aren’t, don’t waste your time on fixing it.  Your bot’s identity is not worth compromising over just one user.

Analyze It Again and Again

Review your data points and user conversations over and over.  Track everything humanly possible and look for trends.  Use that data to keep improving.  Always.  Keep doing these things for the full life cycle of your chatbot.

For you and your bot, ultimate victory might consist of having thousands of users.  It might mean you trade jillions of messages.  Regardless of which metrics you choose, there is no winning without an investment of time and a great deal of tenacity.  Hang on to your goals; keep measuring your progress so you’re ultimately successful.  Stay aware of the time as well.  No sane person is going to wait around for months, just to see if your bot does something cool.

Now quit reading and go build your chatbot!

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Writing Chatbot Dialogue Worthy of John Grisham

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We’ve come full circle — once again, our interface with computers is defined by words.  Instead of specific words and phrases, though, we can now use the full range of the English language.  The entire lexicon is our UI/UX.  Theoretically, at least.

Exact attention must be paid, therefore, to each phrase of an interaction with a bot, just as it was once paid to every pixel and icon in an app or website.  Many people are ready to admit their lack of experience when it comes to creating that website.  Yet when it comes to the dialogue of a chatbot, we’re all suddenly experts.  Haven’t we all been talking since the age of two?  We must know at least a few things about communication by now.

Sophistication and planning is required when writing chatbot dialogue

Of course we’re quite skilled at relating snappy anecdotes to friends.  But we’re not as deft when it comes to succinctly relating a long-form technical process to a stranger.  For this, quite a bit of sophistication and planning is needed.  You have to grab and retain the attention of a person who is not concerned about damaging your ego if they terminate your conversation early.

So how can you craft irresistible chatbot dialogue which will ensnare users like a finely honed app interface?  A good place to start is by asking these questions.

Who is your audience?

Think about your “perfect user” a lot.  A LOT.  Describe them as narrowly as possible.  Sure, anyone can potentially use your chatbot.  Yet few things equally appeal to Queens grandmothers and L.A. tweens.  Who do you think will comprise the majority of your audience?  This will advise you on how you should craft your chatbot dialogue.

What is the end goal?

In other words, what action do you want your audience to take?  It’s important to know what you want from the user, what you want them to do, before you start rambling on without a point.

You need to have a plan

Once you’ve addressed the above questions, you need to start thinking about a general outline for your chat experience.  This outline will become the framework for all your later conversations, so it’s absolutely essential to have it to guide you as you’re writing the specifics of your chats.  Why do you need to do it this way?  Because if you don’t have a framework, your conversation will be devoid a point, and thus the entire conversation will be both confusing and meandering.  Not only that, but your users may well feel they don’t have enough guideposts to get back home.  They might even simply give up.

One strategy that works well is to make note of all the top-level points you want to get across.  Make sure it’s a manageable number.  No more than 10, perhaps.  Be aware of their order, and make sure they flow logically one to the other.  Your conversations should flow as well.  Be sure to place your most important points at the top of the list.  It’s a mistake to assume the user will make it completely through your chat maze every time, regardless of how brilliantly you designed it.  Hook your users early, and you have the luxury of educating them later.

Employ Artificial Intelligence, not Artifice in Communication

One thing our brains excel at is communicating with other people.  It’s an incredibly important skill, shaped by many years of evolution.  Typically we take stock of a room before speaking out loud.  There is no room, however, when communicating with others through a computer.  Thus many of us use a completely separate part of our brains to do so.  If someone is at a dinner party and is going to tell an off-color joke, they’ll usually be aware of who else might be present.  Most people will consider how those at the table may take the joke.

Think of your “ideal user” when writing chatbot text

But there is no context with online conversations.  There is no “room” to take stock of.  A cursory scan of any online comment section will suggest that most people don’t extend the same courtesy as they do in their real-life conversations.

So in order to create chatbot dialogue that is engaging and inviting, we have to appeal to the more evolved part of our brains that is more attuned to the subtleties and nuances of communicating with other people.  One of the best ways to do this is to keep in mind some person that would be the ideal user for your bot.

Don’t think of classes or types of people — think of a real person that you know well.  It would be better to think of your best friend in college, Steve, rather than your bartender.  Then when you are writing, write as if you are talking to Steve.  This way you won’t have to stress about writing for the unwashed masses.  How would you chat with Steve?  Would you send a smiley or other emoji?  Then have your bot say it that way.  Would you tell a short anecdote to illustrate a point?  Do it the same way in your chatbot.  Use jokes to humanize the conversation, if you would talk to your friends the same way.

Sure, chatbots are still a new thing.  As such, we tend to be more interested in getting things to work right behind the scenes.  Too often, the actual written dialogue is more of an afterthought.  This manner of thinking, however, is a grievous mistake.  Think if you opened a restaurant:  There may be some benefit to micromanaging the kitchen, making sure there’s a perfect amount of salt in the entrees.  But you’re not going to waste time with that if your waiters are putting their smokes out on the customer’s plates.  Chatbots are rather similar to restaurants.  Yes, it’s important to serve a great-tasting meal.  But the customer will remember how they were served.  It will last much longer than the taste of the food itself, and it will greatly influence the probability they become repeat customers — or even if they will recommend the experience to their friends.