Robots are always up for a chat

Charlotte Paris
LDN - 06 Apr 2015
Charlotte Paris
Robots are always up for a chat

“This is the very beginning of your message history with Slackbot. Slackbot is pretty dull, but he tries to be helpful”

Have you heard of Slackbot? He’s a new joiner. Nowadays he spends most of his productive time trolling the team on our communications platform: Slack. Now you may have heard of Slack: it would appear the service has been adopted by the totality of the workforce operating in the Bay Area. If you think that reaching 1 billion valuation in 8 months is exceeding expectations, then you may agree that Slack is already a success story. But it’s not rocket science, at the heart of Slack is the ability to do a simple thing very well: instant messaging for businesses. There is a lot to be learned from the company and their product, attention to details and engaging user experience being one of those things. Take for example the clever way in which the service interacts with their user and successfully transforms painpoints into moments of delight: Enter Slackbot, a virtual yet personable built-in robot.

“Would you like to add your phone number to your profile?”

Slackbot has a few questions to ask “Nice to meet you”, it says, “would you like to add your phone number to your profile? “ You start engaging in an online chat with the robot, and before you know it, you've completed your profile. That doesn't sound like much — the whole experience doesn't last more than a couple of minutes at set-up stage — but this new way of capturing data is quite compelling.

Robots are people, too.

It is in our nature to want “human” interactions. We expect companies, celebs and other household names to “talk” to us, we also want to make technology more human (ever tried to picture Siri’s face?). Ironically, robots seem to make everything more human. And that’s a good thing (especially if they are supposed to take over the world).

Slackbot is no advanced A.I. The genius of Slackbot is to interact with you in a way that feels natural and engaging. Past the excitement often generated by talking to a robot, there is something quite pleasing about mimicking the natural flow of the conversation to capture data: it is so obvious, a simple yet compelling approach.

“ The rise of robots may be disastrous for mankind” says Mr Hawking, though in the short term, it may also be good for business.

As an agency specialising in online communities, we have been encouraging companies to interact meaningfully with their customers. This is nothing new to our clients: the human voice is already at the heart of any social media strategy and online interaction. As a business it is not enough to create good services and products, you have to be personable, funny, engaging. But this attitude often doesn't translate across channels.

Chat dynamics are one more step in this direction. We can imagine many cases in which the technology could be implemented to enhance the user input experience. Filling in forms is a pain point that comes up frequently in consumer research into online digital services. The Slack approach could also transform the FAQ section of your website, and minimise the input required by customer service in chat discussions. Soon enough brands will want to integrate their robot’s performance to their NPS score.

As for market research specifically, the technology could help in several areas. Currently, the experience of a survey is less than ideal, and as more and more respondents answer on their mobile devices, it becomes increasingly important to streamline the experience, so you don’t have to go from keyboard, to touch, to keyboard and scrolling down again for the “next” button. As respondents take part in a chat like experience, we can also expect more meaningful answers to unaided and open ended questions. Gradually, as the technology is refined, the ability to prompt meaningfully could even put a few of us out of work (market research is not in the top 500 jobs at risk from advancing technology for nothing[1]).

At the end of the day, it does not take a super smart robot to make super smart contributions to user experience. It is quite possible that this way of capturing data will be more widely developed and disseminated in the near future. The investment is minimal, and discussions with a robot are actually quite engaging, improving response rate and data quality, both in research and online services.

As for Slackbot, well, he now insists on being called Francis.

Just don’t let them get too smart…

[1]According to this paper from the OMS, Market research analysts and Market research specialist rank 337 of the most “computerisable” job - The Future of Employment OMS Working Paper