Monday, January 16, 2017

Bot, I don't care if your name is Siri or Alexa or HAL

I've talked about the concept of frictionless interaction before, and while I'm reluctant to use the term for fingerprint actions, there's no problem in using the term for voice actions.

Theoretically, I could go up to my local barista and simply say, "Tall coffee." Yet in polite society, such actions would be frowned upon. Even in American urban society, the actual conversation with a barista has more than two words. The barista may say, "Good morning, may I help you?" and I might reply, "Good morning, I'd like a tall coffee, please." 14 words instead of 2; terribly inefficient, but it's necessary to keep society running.

But what if we're talking to a bot? Bots are scary, and to make them less scary, it would help to personalize them.

Or so Elizabeth McGuane (lead content designer at Intercom) thought:

From a design perspective, bots are aligned with the whole concept of messaging-as-a-platform — we could build a bot right into our own messenger using the same simple elements we’d already designed for human-to-human conversation.

So when we experimented with building a bot, we wanted to use those simple elements to communicate. We gave our test bot a name and let it introduce itself like a real person would: “Hi, I’m Bot, Intercom’s digital assistant.”

What we found was surprising. People hated this bot — found it off-putting and annoying. It was interrupting them, getting in the way of what they wanted (to talk to a real person), even though its interactions were very lightweight.

We tried different things: alternate voices, so that the bot was sometimes friendly and sometimes reserved and functional. But we didn’t see much change.

It was only when we removed the name and took away the first person pronoun and the introduction that things started to improve.

McGuane concluded:

The name, more than any other factor, caused friction.

McGuane's solution - rather than humanizing the technology, she minimized its presence. In her use case, her customers already knew that they weren't speaking to a human, and that they were speaking to something more akin to a robot or machine. So why try to hide that fact? And since the customers knew that they were speaking to a robot, it was perfectly permissible to make the interaction as quick - and frictionless - as possible.

Or as frictionless as we want the experience to be. Some of us crave a little friction. For example, I usually say "thank you" to Siri, and Siri responds.

But there are also practical reasons to say "thank you" to Siri - at least if you are single:

“Pay attention to how your prospective beau treats the women in his life. If he doesn’t treat them with respect, sooner or later he’ll be doing the same to you.”...

Last month, I went on a Tinder date with a guy who seemed perfect. He was a successful oncologist with a great sense of humor and a face so symmetrical, it made my knees buckle.After dinner, we had a little time to kill before the opera he was going to take me to, so we decided to walk by the animal shelter he helps out at. He pulls out his phone and barks into it, “Siri, is it going to rain?”

That’s it. No “please.” No “thank you.” No small talk about Siri’s day to make her feel like she mattered as an individual. Nothing. You better believe I dumped his doctor ass before he could even finish offering to give me his jacket.
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