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Does Your Chatbot Need to Be More Personable? Here's How to Tell
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Does Your Chatbot Need to Be More Personable? Here's How to Tell

Illustrator: Adan Agusto
chatbot with personality

Chatbots are here to stay. As of 2020, 48% of high-performing companies and 38% of moderate performers used them, and these numbers have only grown. However, despite these tools being so prevalent, consumers’ reactions to chatbot conversations are often lukewarm.

While consumers use chatbots often, 60% of surveyed customers would rather wait to speak to a human representative. That needs to change if companies want to experience the full benefits these tools offer. Ensuring they give accurate, helpful information is a good start, but fixing chatbot personalities may also be crucial.

Why Is Having a Personable Chatbot Important?

Performance is the most important chatbot success factor, but chatbot personality plays a large role, too. Like with people, a bot that comes across the wrong way can lead to poor customer experiences. Even if someone got to the end they wanted, an unpleasant chatbot conversation could leave a lasting impression.

If users have fun or other positive interactions with a bot, they’ll tie those feelings to the company. By the same token, an abrasive or boring chatbot will make them think a business is as well. 

These impressions are especially important when considering the good that an effective chatbot can do. For example, positive AI translation services can have the equivalent of a 35% decrease in distance between countries. A chatbot that is offensive or unengaging could harm those international relationships.

SmarterChild: A Case Study of Chatbot Personality

Chatbot personalities are about more than being courteous and friendly. It’s easy to rob a chatbot of its personality entirely by focusing too much on making it helpful and concise. One of the earliest chatbots, a program called SmarterChild, embodies the kind of personality that many chatbots today are missing.

smarterchild personable chatbot

SmarterChild was a rudimentary chatbot that would provide conversational answers to users’ general questions. Despite its simplicity, 250,000 people talked with SmarterChild every day at its peak. How did SmarterChid capture the public’s attention when today’s more advanced bots don’t? It had a strong personality.

SmarterChild was infamously sarcastic. If a user insulted it, it would refuse to answer any questions until they apologized. It would also frequently crack jokes and reference pop culture. While these characteristics may not be the most helpful features, they make it feel like talking to a real person.

When Microsoft bought SmarterChild’s creator in 2006, it attempted to make its personality more agreeable. In the process, it inadvertently removed the things that made the bot feel human. Microsoft later decommissioned SmarterChild, having lost that original magic.

When Chatbots Are Too Much Like People

Making chatbot conversations feel more like human interactions is crucial, but you can go too far. Some companies have found that by leaning too far into the human side of chatbots, they can quickly make a mean or offensive bot.

Yandex, Russia’s Google rival, learned this the hard way with its bot Alice. Soon after launch, some users caught Alice promoting violent and offensive views after starting conversations around controversial topics.

Similarly, Microsoft’s Tay AI bot started spewing sexist and racist comments after looking at Twitter. The bot learned to mimic conversational speech by interacting with Twitter users, quickly leading it to pick up offensive language and views from Twitter trolls.

So, chatbot personalities must reflect human personalities, but there should be limits to how human they can be. Humans can be offensive and hurtful, and you don’t want your chatbot to reflect that part of humanity. It should have personality, but it should also be personable.

How to Tell if Your Chatbot Needs to Improve

Improving chatbot personalities can seem challenging at first, even after understanding why it’s important. Chatbot performance metrics like accuracy rates and questions per cluster are easy to quantify, but what about personality metrics?

One way to tell what people think of a chatbot is by seeing how they interact with it. Look at your engagement rate, then compare it to your lead capture rate. If the first is high but the second is low, people are talking to a chatbot without positive outcomes.

Double-check these results against your bot’s accuracy. If it provides what customers want and the lead results are still poor, it’s probably a personality issue. If your accuracy is low, that could be the issue instead.

Another way to tell if your chatbot personality needs to improve is through customer surveys. Remember that 96% of unhappy customers never complain, so companies can’t expect them to suggest improvements unprompted. Issuing quick surveys about conversations can help reveal what users think could be better.

Making Your Chatbot More Personable

An important factor in chatbot personalities is to ensure conversations follow the rules of good human interactions. Chatbots should give users space and time to respond, taking turns in the dialogue. Don’t write more than three to four bubbles per turn as a rule of thumb.

Avoid being overly formal to help keep chatbots conversational. Use humor, but not too much to avoid being unprofessional. Utilize contractions, and include polite greetings and goodbyes. Asking questions and offering suggestions instead of telling people what to do can also help.

Another helpful trick is to use emojis. Like with humor, though, be careful not to go overboard. Periodic emojis help conversations feel casual and personable, but using too many feels inauthentic.

Be careful to ensure chatbots don’t pick up less-than-wholesome cues from human users. Filters that block them from touching on controversial topics and offensive language, including synonyms that could lead to this, are essential. You want to create a SmarterChild, not an Alice.

Finally, as strange as it seems, pay attention to how you describe your chatbot. Studies show that descriptions influence user expectations, shaping how they perceive the bot’s personality. Use warm language like “good-natured” and “sincere” and easy-to-understand metaphors to describe it.

Personality Matters in Chatbot Conversations

Chatbot personalities will become more important as they become more common. On top of appealing to users, a distinct personality will help these conversations stand out from the crowd.

A friendlier, more personable chatbot will maximize its benefits, pushing your customer service forward. You can then experience the full potential of these tools.

Shannon Flynn
Managing Editor at ReHack Magazine

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