UX and Design
Conversational user interfaces: the future of UX?
08 October 2021 • 4 min read
Humans and computers used to speak different languages, but today, that gap is closing. Whether it’s asking Alexa to turn on a light, or using a chatbot to request our bank balance, every day we’re using conversational language to engage with the technology around us.
These conversational interfaces are a game-changer. Not only do they help businesses to reduce operational costs they also - when done well - offer customers a seamless and more personalised experience.
Things have moved on considerably since the early days of stilted chatbots delivering answers to a set of frequently asked questions. Now is the time to move to conversational experiences - it might just be the next step in the evolution of UX.
What is a conversational interface?
A conversational interface is quite simply a means of using technology to interact and engage people using everyday vocabulary. That could be through voice - like Alexa or Siri - or through text (chatbots). When backed by artificial intelligence (AI), it can become a particularly powerful tool for customer experience.
What are the benefits of a conversational interface?
Conversational interfaces have two big benefits over traditional user interfaces. Firstly, people don’t need to learn how to use them – they simply talk to them. Secondly, the customer doesn’t have to spend time finding what they want; they just ask for it. It makes the interaction far simpler for them (though conversely, this puts the pressure on you as an organisation to get it right).
Both benefits matter because, increasingly, a company’s competitive advantage is determined by the customer experience it provides. Customers will likely judge their experiences by:
- How quickly they can get to what they need. Not just how long it takes a web page to load, but also how long it takes to navigate the hierarchy or locate the information.
- The channels available to them. As more people turn to social media and messaging apps, businesses are expected to deliver consistent services across many more channels.
- How quickly they get a response. Use of instant messaging and social channels has increased response time expectations, even for channels traditionally considered to be slower, like email.
Businesses making the shift to conversation-enabled channels can improve on all these measures.
Conversational interfaces and the path to personalisation
Personalisation has long been essential for a great customer experience. If customers feel that they’re having one-to-one conversations that take account of their preferences and history, you’ll see greater engagement. This translates to increased spend and more referrals per customer, but you’ll also see lower operating costs, more productive staff, and other business improvements.
It’s why Forrester says that although only 21% of companies currently have highly personalised customer service interactions, 65% expect to have achieved this over the next 18-24 months.
Today’s conversational technologies, like AI, machine learning and natural language processing, are more than ready to support enterprises in their aim to deliver a personalised customer experience. For example, Ada’s cross-channel chatbots and virtual agents can understand customer history, provide highly personalised responses, and predict purchase paths, while Capacity uses AI to help human agents to deliver truly relevant recommendations to customers.
Talk to us about rethinking CX and UX with conversational user interfaces.
Why aren’t more organisations using conversational user interfaces?
So given the obvious benefits, why aren’t more organisations making the move to conversational interfaces? In short, it’s because simplicity at the frontend can mean complexity at the backend.
Developing conversational interfaces requires a radically different project and product management approach. Designers and developers have to leave behind the practices they know and work in new ways. As an example, you’ll need to focus more on understanding user journeys and delivering the right content at the right time, and less time on more traditional design elements, like site navigation. Plus you’ll need to bring in the latest AI and machine learning technologies, which can be daunting.
It also requires a mindset shift on user experience. Where previously you would have presented people with information in a linear process (for example offering a selection of top-level categories, then displaying the options from within the category they pick), conversational input means users can ask questions relevant to any area of your business at any time, and you don’t know what input is coming next.
And lastly, adopting conversational channels isn’t just about the technology or systems you design – it’s a business-wide challenge. If you implement a chatbot, for example, your customers will expect a real-time response from it, and your business needs to be set up operationally to deliver on this.
So yes, conversational interfaces are going to be an important part of the evolution of UX and CX. But the impact is going to be felt beyond the world of development and design. Businesses need to be prepared for change.