During the Coronavirus pandemic, the first responders and medical crews put their lives on the line for people all over the world. But there are other ways as well to fight the virus and educate the public: chatbots, for example. The government of India, one of the current (as of Mid-June) epicenters of the pandemic, found out that a conversational AI company called Haptik.ai had a Corona chatbot – and adopted it to be the government’s official chatbot. On the first month only, the bot chatted with 25 million people. Michelle Parayil, a senior conversation designer in Haptik, joined us for this week’s episode of Taking Turns – and talked about it, and about a lot more.
• HOW DID YOU GET INTO CONVERSATION DESIGN?
It’s a combination of good fortune, being at the right company at the right time, and having the right skill set. I’m an engineer by degree, but I’ve always wanted to write. So I started freelance writing while I was studying, and my first job was that of a content and UX writer at this really small digital entertainment company. And I really enjoy being in that mix of technology and writing.
That’s when I landed at Haptik in 2017 as the very first conversation designer on the payroll. That was the time that the company had just started its enterprise business. In 3 years, we went from designing bots on spreadsheets to a full-fledged IVA design team. We have four full-time conversation design members and a 130 IVAs under our belt, so… it’s been a long journey.
• WHAT’S THE PROJECT YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF?
There are so many, and I must say ‘all of them’… I’ll name two to keep this short – one would be Rembo, an in-house chatbot which we built for consumers everywhere. Rembo is this very fun, ninja personality, that actually reminds you about anything that you want throughout your day. The personality is absolutely sarcastic, it’s wonderful. It’s a full departure from the kind of bots that we normally do for an enterprise.
Previously on Taking Turns
💬 Michelle Zhou: “Humans talking to machines are brutally honest”
💬 Mary Tomasso: “Don’t just write a conversation – speak it”
At the other end of the spectrum, I’ll have to name a couple. One is an implementation for TATA mutual funds, an investment company where any consumer can go and invest. It’s a lovely omni-channel implementation. So we’ve done bots for their websites, for Whatsapp, and it covers a lot of the common queries that anybody would have; a newbie who wants to invest or a seasoned investor would have. I think we did really well with that.
And obviously I have to name Haptik’s Whatsapp implementation for the government of India. We did a Corona chatbot because of the Coronavirus pandemic – and that implementation has impacted 25 million users. And, it’s crazy to us, we didn’t start out thinking that so many people would use this Corona chatbot. All of them are lovely implementations.
• After creating This impressive CORONA CHATBOT, WHAT’S THE ONE THING EVERY GOOD CHATBOT/VOICE ASSISTANT MUST HAVE?
I think there should always be a way to continue the conversation. No real human assistant will ever let a customer just walk outside the door without at least asking them – hey, since I have answered that first question, can I also answer something else for you? That one thing, and the way you handle a negative case, and the way you continue your conversation, no matter what has happened before, is the mark of a great chatbot.
Even an error, right? That’s such a technical software thing like a system error when an API fails. However, the way you handle that in a conversation – It marks a good chatbot.
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• TELL US ABOUT AN AWKWARD, AMAZING OR SURPRISING THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU AS A CONVERSATION DESIGNER.
Something surprising in my experience is the repercussion that one piece of bad copy can have on your end user. You may forget to include the turn around time that the customer can expect when an agent is talking to them, when an agent might get back to them. And that one thing can ruin that customer’s day if you don’t include it. Then, they have to get angry, and then they need to follow-up. And then they need to say ‘you didn’t understand anything I say’.
So the bubbling repercussions of one small piece of bad copy is something that’s always surprises me. It’s at the back of my head every time I write. That’s because that’s what keeps me going and keeps me thinking about, ‘okay no, I have to keep thinking about the ten different possibilities here’. So conversation design has such a key role to play there. And you have to be at your best every single day.
• WHAT TIPS CAN YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING CONVERSATIONAL DESIGNERS, OR TO PEOPLE WHO WANTS TO JOIN THIS PROFESSION?
There is so much that I’d love to say, but I’ll just boil this down into 3 things:
- Start building your own bot. There are so many wonderful platforms out there, with so many good resources that you can find. There are publications on Medium, platforms of open source.
- Cultivate a lot of empathy and curiosity. Don’t be afraid of things like, ‘Oh, I’m not a technical person so I can’t do the tech aspect’. As a conversation designer tech is interwoven with this software. So, talk to the tech folks, ask why things are certain way, question things you might be able to add. Bring something into your conversation design from any or all of these aspects of technology, writing, language. So keep asking questions,
- And finally, keep improving – conversation design is not a ‘study and leave it’ kind of field. No matter how many years you put into it, users and data and conversations will always surprise you. There are few principles that you can hold true for all types of users, everywhere around the world. So keep looking at data, if you have access, to see how people are responding to your bot. Keep improving your designs.
And it’s a growing field. Like, jobs will still come no matter what the scenario out there. It’s the need of the hour and it’s something in which I strongly believe. Have hope and keep learning.
• TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR COMPANY.
So, if you’re looking for a virtual assistant and you really need to move your digital processes forward an become a digital first company – Haptik.ai, talk to us. We’ll be happy to build a virtual assistant for you.
And if you’re a conversation designer out there, please do reach out to us. We always love talking to people in the field. It’s such a small field and it’s just growing. So, I’m happy to talk to anyone. Just reach out.
Next week, we’ll have Chapter #4 of Taking Turns! In the meanwhile – subscribe to our YouTube channel | Join our Discord community | Sign up for our newsletter | Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter