Moving on from the basic website experience
My background is in web content management. I helped design and develop web applications and websites for companies once upon a time. Then I spent many years writing about the web content management market. So I have a particular affection for not only WCM technology but web experience strategy.
Some company websites are tailored to segments of visitors, personalized to show content that is relevant to them; but just as many companies have not reached this level of personalized experience. Many still provide a single website, tailored to everyone and no one, with the hopes that there is enough information to get attention and encourage some interaction (download a whitepaper lately?).
We could talk about how these companies need to do more personalization, but I want to talk about another way to engage your visitors - conversational UIs.
Getting on board with a conversational UI
When this topic was first mentioned to me, I’ll admit I didn’t understand much about it. So I had to do a little research. It turns out conversational UIs have been discussed for a few years now; we just haven’t seen that translated to the website as quickly.
The best, and simplest definition of conversational UI that I found on co.design:
A conversational interface is any UI that mimics chatting with a real human. The idea here is that instead of communicating with a computer on its own inhuman terms–by clicking on icons and entering syntax-specific commands–you interact with it on yours, by just telling it what to do.
Chatbots and voice assistants are the two conversational UI we hear about the most now. With voice, think Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and just for fun, think of the computer on Star Trek. You don’t have enter keywords on a computer, you talk to the computer and tell it what you want. It responds with your information.
With chatbots, don’t think simply ask a question, get an answer, but instead think about having what feels like a true conversion via chat or messaging app, where the computer is on the other side answering your questions, learning and adapting automatically.
Both of these conversational UIs have the potential to build a truly personalized and interactive web experience. So let’s think about how we could use them.
Helping visitors find the information they need
Most of the examples I found related to voice assistants and chatbots involved customer support. Makes sense. If you can implement a chat service to help customers solve their problems or answer their questions quickly, then you have a happy customer.
But what about the visitor to the website who wants to find information about a problem they have? What if you offered a chat service that wasn’t driven by humans on the backend, that could understand your request and point you to areas of the website that could help you? It could point out blog posts, whitepapers, product pages and other areas of the website that would be helpful.
Chatbots can reduce the challenges with complex websites or websites that provide a lot of information that can be repurposed and packaged in different ways depending on the visitor’s need.
Voice assistants work the same way. Instead of relying on Amazon Alexa to bring your company’s content or products to the top when someone queries it, you could offer your voice assistant directly on your website that the visitor could use to find the information they want. Expand this line of thinking to support people with disabilities - voice assistants would be a huge benefit.
The tech that’s drive conversational UIs
Natural language processing, machine learning - AI - this is the technology that’s advancing the conversational UI. Natural language processing (NLP) is the ability for computers to understand human language, understanding not only the words that are said but also the sentiment behind the words. Machine learning is the ability of the machine to analyze a user’s interactions, data ingested and adapt responses based on past interactions. Chatbots and voice assistants that have AI at their foundation are constantly learning and adapting the information they provide.
AI-driven chatbots constantly build their knowledge through self-learning algorithms and create an extensive database that paves the way for fluidic interactions. They process their interactions with customers and identify and remember slang, grammatical mistakes, and other errors. This gives them a considerable edge over traditional chatbots. But something that takes the customer experience to another level is their ability to understand the customer’s intent, analyze what the customer needs and provide tailored recommendations.
We have to get away from basic one-size fits all web experiences. Personalization is the next step, and that’s what most companies are focusing on. But if you have a lot of budget and a big team, or you have an innovation center looking for a useful project to work on, I would look at building conversational UIs and how you can take your web experience to the most personalized level of all.
Yes, you will want to start with customer services and support - that’s an easy win. But carve out a chunk of time and money to build a voice assistant for your entire website. For me, that would be the fun project.