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Conversational UI: the fundamentals

February 2017

By Ashika Chauhan, Digital Creative Director

Every once in a while we find ourselves at a moment of significance – triggered by the constant evolution of technology and resulting in a shift of how brands build relationships with consumers.

This can be traced all the way back to the industrial revolution – advances in production meant that for the first time the supply of goods exceeded demand, making print advertising a necessity. We then saw radio and TV advertising providing opportunities to advertise to the mass market. In more recent times we’ve seen websites, social platforms and mobile-first strategies become core to every brand marketer’s arsenal. Of course, we’ve seen so many more micro advances over the last fifteen years, each one allowing for more targeted, more personalised communication.

Conversational UI now presents us with a new way for brands and consumers to build relationships. Not only one that is personalised, but one that is personal, one that will evolve over time.

What is conversational UI?

We’re now at a point where machines can convert human language into data, process it and generate a human language response. Conversational UI (user interfaces) can be vocal – for example via Amazon Echo, Siri or Google Home; alternatively, they can be written – via a chatbot.

Who’s already on board?

The UK launch of Amazon Echo at the end of last year, saw Jamie Oliver, Domino’s Pizza, EDF Energy, National Rail, Uber and the Guardian all release Alexa skills. Whilst these are all still very primitive, it’s easy to see the opportunities moving forwards. Google Home was also announced at the end of last year. There's no UK release date yet, but it’s likely to be cheaper than Amazon’s offering when it is available, making conversational UI even more affordable for all.

In the bots world, Skyscanner was one of the first brands to offer up a Facebook bot, allowing consumers to book flights via a conversational interface and Google released their Allo app, as a way for artificial intelligence to participate in a group chat environment. One of the best bots I’ve seen however has to be on the Duolingo app. There’s so much to love about this app already, but the introduction of bots actually added value – what better way to learn a language than to have a conversation?

How do you get started?

If you’re a brand or business looking to invest in conversational UI, it’s worth thinking about what specific service you’re offering and how it will add value to the customer experience. What data do you currently have on your audience and on your service offering? And, how will this impact on your current operations?

When will this be mainstream?

Is this the end of websites and apps? Will we all be speaking to machines just like we speak to our friends? The fact is, we really aren’t there quite yet. Over the next few years, we’ll start to see some shifts in specific industries. Much like today, some businesses are best led via an app versus a website; Uber and Deliveroo are both good examples of this. So whilst you may ask Alexa to add toothpaste to your shopping list, for now, you’re still likely to check your Amazon app to ensure she has really added it to the basket.

Where are we headed?

There’s so much to explore with the advent of conversational UI. Times like these are the most exciting part of my job and for me personally – none of us know exactly where we’ll end up on our journey with a medium in its infancy. There’ll be new challenges and collaboration opportunities for copywriters, UX designers and data scientists. The initial privacy concerns that come with an always-on device will need to be overcome. It will also be fascinating to see how AI develops moving forwards – voice recognition to aid personalisation and localised or branded dialects could also be an opportunity for brands.

Amazon Echo

Conversational UI has the potential to weave itself into the fabric of our everyday lives.
Check out Amazon Echo Dot in action (see video above).

Google Assisstant

Brands are able to deliver instant gratification, via an authentic medium – conversation.
This experience can be made consistent across all environments – how Google Assistant lives across Google Home and the Pixel device is a good example of how this can work (see video above).

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