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Six More Steps for Crafting Conversational Dialogue Well

Conversational designers who put in the effort to craft superior dialogue will see greater success in their applications and careers. Savvy businesses are looking for high performance from their conversational apps, and that largely depends on well-crafted dialogue. Savvy customers want conversational technologies to drastically improve on old-school IVR dialogue that sounds stilted and robotic. Avoid mediocre performance and instead provide experiences that are rewarding for all.

In the previous post on this topic, 7 Steps to Well-crafted Dialogue for Conversational AI, we discussed the basic skill of crafting an initial set of conversational dialogues. The ability to rigorously refine them to be a great interaction is the difference between the inexperienced designer and the expert practitioner. We want to help you choose the path of the true practitioner so you can deliver exceptional conversational experiences.


Generating and fine-tuning Conversational AI interface messages requires a deep appreciation of language and attention to its nuances, which means making little adjustments that can result in big differences. Of equal importance is creating a variety of versions that offer freshness and interest to users of your app. Once you’ve drafted these additional versions, you’ll want to critique them to handle risk and increase naturalness. This will further increase the usability and quality of your app and strengthen your conversation design muscles.


We’ll use Steps 8 - 13 to build off Steps 1 - 7. Here are 8 - 13 together for a quick overview.


8. Use the output from step 7 (from the previous post) to create at least two alternatively-worded versions that you would be equally proud to have a user interact with.

9. Evaluate all three versions for potential negative impacts that could result from misinterpretation. What is the risk if someone misunderstands what they hear? What could go wrong?

10. Revise all to minimize the possibility of those negative interpretations. Perhaps take a break from your efforts and come back with fresh eyes. Did you miss anything?

11. Grab a partner to analyze the 3 versions next. Ask if any part sounds robotic rather than human. Think or talk about why or why not. Change if needed.

12. Examine the prompts with your partner in the context of what comes before and after in the app. Do the prompts need to use dialogue markers and anaphora to flow easily? Think or talk about why or why not. Change if needed.

13. Do the prompts re-use words from other prompts nearby in the app? If so, what needs to change to avoid sounding repetitious? The thesaurus can be your friend, but also remember you are designing for ease and freshness so avoid language that sounds forced.


Let’s put the above into practice so you can see the thought process and resulting user experience when a designer takes the time to thoughtfully craft the dialogue for both voice and chat.


Scenario

A regional transportation agency, Norwest Transit, operates buses, light rail, and ferries and wants to provide trip planning via conversational interfaces. You are designing a chatbot and a voice app for them. Using this scenario, you'll go through all 13 steps to practice incorporating the rigor of crafting prompts into your design work.


Exercise

Design the greeting and initial prompt for each type of app. The initial prompt should collect the customer's destination, which would then be used to suggest one or more possible itineraries. Under each step, we show the CCAI versions.


1. Don't worry about the exact wording, order, or length of what you write in this step. Consider this as if you are sketching visual ideas. Refinement and editing will come later. Capture V1 of the dialogue making sure to include the important details and necessary functions. Be thorough about the context of use, the task step, and any system requirements. Use clear and precise language and connect the piece of dialogue conceptually to what has already happened and what will happen in the future.


Voice Greeting (G): You have reached Norwest Transit. This is the telephone-based voice system that helps you plan mass transportation transit in the greater northwest. This system will ask you several questions about your transit needs, then give you recommendations for routes and conveyances that are quick and inexpensive.


While this may be true, we know by following the steps above we can design a friendlier and more natural interaction.


Voice Destination Prompt (DP): The first question is about the destination, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. State the destination clearly.


Chat G: You are on the Norwest Transit website. This is a chat system that helps you plan mass transportation transit in the greater northwest. This system will ask you several questions about your transit needs, then give you recommendations for routes and conveyances that are quick and inexpensive.


Chat DP: The first question is about the destination, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. Type in the destination.


2. Replace any “machine speak” or jargon with clear and plain language. This reduces the risk of misunderstanding due to unfamiliar terms. Don't be tempted to look at 1 and 2 and think 'no one would write these' because people do sometimes. Clarify the language and ensure the dialogue is friendly to all your potential users. How would you say this to your elementary school-aged niece or nephew?


Voice G: You have reached Norwest Transit. This telephone application helps you plan trips in the greater northwest. You will be asked a few questions about your trip, then you'll hear recommendations for a quick and inexpensive trip.


Voice DP: The first question is about where you want to go, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. State your destination clearly.


Chat G: You are on the Norwest Transit website. This application helps you plan trips in the greater northwest. You will be asked a few questions about your trip, then you'll receive recommendations for a quick and inexpensive trip.


Chat DP: The first question is about where you want to go, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. Type your destination.


3. Read what you have so far out loud. Would a person speak this way? Remove anything that could be interpreted in a way that seems like it’s a machine telling a human what to do. This creates the feeling that the system is serving the person instead of the other way around.


Voice G: You have reached Norwest Transit. This telephone application helps you plan trips in the greater northwest. You will be asked a few questions about your trip, then you'll hear recommendations for a quick and inexpensive trip.


Voice DP: The first question is about where you want to go, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. What is your destination?


Chat G: You are on the Norwest Transit website. This application helps you plan trips in the greater northwest. You will be asked a few questions about your trip, then you'll receive recommendations for a quick and inexpensive trip.


Chat DP: The first question is about where you want to go, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. What is your destination?


4. In this revision, add priming and motivation followed by how they will do it: "Why" + "Action" + "Method". Use word order and structures that are more like everyday human speech. This makes the interaction more natural and less formal.


Voice G: You have reached Norwest Transit. This app helps you plan trips in the area. There are a few questions to answer, then you'll hear recommendations for a quick and inexpensive trip.


Voice DP: First, to get where you want to go, say an address, the name of a business, or a landmark.


Chat G: This Norwest Transit app helps you plan trips in the area. There are a few questions to answer, then you'll get recommendations for a quick and inexpensive trip.


Chat DP: First, to get where you want to go, type in an address, the name of a business, or a landmark.


5. Now it's time to remove extraneous words and add natural contractions. Rely on context, implicature, and anaphora to simplify and lighten the weight of the interaction. Make it feel nice.


Voice G: You've reached Norwest Transit's trip planning app. There are a few questions to answer to get recommendations for an easy trip.


Voice DP: First, to get where you want to go, say an address, the name of a business, or a landmark.


Chat G: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. There are a few questions to answer, then you'll get recommendations for an easy trip.


Chat DP: First, to get where you want to go, type in an address, the name of a business, or a landmark.


6. Earn trust. Enable feelings of connection, prediction, and confidence. It's often assumed that customers will understand that the system was designed to provide assistance, but due to the reputation of many software applications, you should remind your users the system is here to help.


Voice G: You've reached Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few answers from you, we'll get you where you want to go.


Voice DP: First, what's the address or name of your destination?


Chat G: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few answers from you, we'll get you where you want to go.


Chat DP: First, what's the address or name of your destination?


7. Now point to a positive outcome, such as aiming for success and respect for the customer's time.


Voice G: You've reached Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few easy answers from you, we'll make sure you get where you want to go.


Voice DP: First, what's the address or name of your destination?


Chat G: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few easy answers from you, we'll make sure you get where you want to go.


Chat DP: First, what's the address or name of your destination?


8. Use the output from step 7 to create at least two alternatively-worded versions that you would be equally proud to have a user interact with.


Voice G1: You've reached Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few easy answers from you, we'll make sure you get where you want to go.

Voice G2: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. In a few easy steps, we'll help you get where you want to go.

Voice G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Helping you get where you want to go when you want to get there.


Voice DP1: First, what's the address or name of your destination?

Voice DP2: First, let me know the address or name of your destination.

Voice DP3: To start, what destination address or name can I look up?


Chat G1: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few easy answers from you, we'll make sure you get where you want to go.

Chat G2: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. In a few easy steps, we'll help you get where you want to go.

Chat G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Helping you get where you want to go when you want to get there.


Chat DP1: First, what's the address or name of your destination?

Chat DP2: To start, type in the address or name of your destination.

Chat DP3: To start, what destination address or name can I look up?


9. Evaluate all three versions for potential negative impacts that could result from misinterpretation. What is the risk if someone misunderstands what they hear? What could go wrong?


Evaluation: All three versions for Voice and Chat seem suitable for what they are. However, if customers have related questions about fares and handling special needs, they might be unclear whether this app can help. Referring to that in the greeting could be helpful across the board, and means some pruning will be necessary. Also, we found out chatbot users aren't always sure of their options when faced with many possibilities such as destinations.


10. Revise all to minimize the possibility of those negative interpretations. Perhaps take a break from your efforts and come back with fresh eyes. Did you miss anything?


Voice G1: You've reached Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few easy answers from you, we'll get you the information you need about where you want to go.

Voice G2: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. In a few easy steps, we'll get you the information you need about where you want to go.

Voice G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Getting you the information you need about where you want to go. (This version is starting to feel pretty good, yeah?)


Voice DP1: First, what's the address or name of your destination?

Voice DP2: First, let me know the address or name of your destination.

Voice DP3: To start, what destination address or name can I look up?


Chat G1: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. With a few easy answers from you, we'll get you the information you need about where you want to go.

Chat G2: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. In a few easy steps, we'll get you the information you need about where you want to go.

Chat G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Getting you the information you need about where you want to go.


We decided to a dropdown for destination selection in the chatbot.


Chat DP1: First, what's the address or name of your destination? You can also choose it on the left.

Chat DP2: To start, type in the address or name of your destination, or choose it on the left. (Dropdown selector shows to the left of the dialogue box.)

Chat DP3: To start, what destination address or name can I look up? You can also choose it on the left.


11. Grab a partner to analyze the 3 versions next. Ask if any part sounds robotic rather than human. Think or talk about why or why not. Change if needed.


Evaluation: My partner responded positively to Greeting 3 and Destination Prompt 3 for Voice, and 3 and 2 for Chat. Greeting 3 feels more certain and trustable. She initially liked DP1 for Voice, but since G3 doesn’t refer to a quantity anymore, “To start” fits better now.


Voice G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Getting you the information you need about where you want to go.

Voice DP3: To start, what destination address or name can I look up?


Chat G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Getting you the information you need about where you want to go.

Chat DP2: To start, type in the address or name of your destination, or choose it on the left.


12. Examine the prompts with your partner in the context of what comes before and after in the app. Do the prompts need to use dialogue markers and anaphora to flow easily? Think or talk about why or why not. Change if needed.


Evaluation: Since these prompts begin both apps, subsequent prompts will need to flow from the direction they set.


13. Do the prompts re-use words from other prompts nearby in the app? If so, what needs to change to avoid sounding repetitious? The thesaurus can be your friend, but also remember you are designing for ease and freshness so avoid language that sounds forced.


Evaluation: Similarly to step #12, the rest of the flow may need to use synonyms or referents of what the greeting and destination prompts mention.


14. BONUS STEP! Take a look at what you started with in Step 1 and ended up with in Step 13. Ours is below. What a difference, right?!?! Nice work. You’re on your way to becoming a great conversation designer!


Voice Greeting: You have reached Norwest Transit. This is the telephone-based voice system that helps you plan mass transportation transit in the greater northwest. This system will ask you several questions about your transit needs, then give you recommendations for routes and conveyances that are quick and inexpensive.

became

Voice G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Getting you the information you need about where you want to go.


Voice Destination Prompt: The first question is about the destination, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. State the destination clearly.

became

Voice DP3: To start, what destination address or name can I look up?


Chat Greeting: You are on the Norwest Transit website. This is a chat system that helps you plan mass transportation transit in the greater northwest. This system will ask you several questions about your transit needs, then give you recommendations for routes and conveyances that are quick and inexpensive.

became

Chat G3: This is Norwest Transit's trip planning app. Getting you the information you need about where you want to go.


Chat Destination Prompt: The first question is about the destination, such as an address or the name of a business or landmark. Type in the destination.

became

Chat DP2: To start, type in the address or name of your destination, or choose it on the left.


Conclusion

Craft is a combination of creativity and persistence toward a “best for now” version of what is being made. Often, we are tempted in software to just make a decision and go. When it comes to conversational AI user experience and app performance, sacrificing craft for speed rarely gets the results customers and businesses need. Like we worked through above, take the time to work thoroughly on the right words and sequences. Good luck!



Looking to dive deeper with your team on voice, chat, or multimodal dialogue design? CCAI offers a 6 hour workshop for teams looking to accelerate conversational AI.


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