The first phrase your chatbot says it’s by far the most important. The majority of the people will read only that. It has to convey three basic things:

  1. The purpose of the chatbot
  2. The main personality trait of your chatbot
  3. What is the next step for the user

If you are serious about conversational interfaces, you will iterate on the first interaction a lot before settling on a specific set of words. It’s kind of like designing your above-the-fold homepage. With one exception: Instead of having an entire canvas of pixels, you only get an handful of words – so it’s really hard to keep it short. But making it too long will just turn your users away.

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can hurt like hell

— Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

Having seen lots of chatbots and prototypes, I’ve noticed some common patterns of successful conversational experience. A good framework is: Would I send that to somebody I just added on Facebook? Keep in mind that the first message is the robotic replacement of the human handshake. Your users will expect to shake an hand, and they will instead receive a robotic message. So please:

  • Don’t send me a picture. It will take forever to download and I don’t even know what this bot is about
  • Don’t send me 3 messages in a row. I’m getting to know your bot, I don’t want to get spammed
  • Don’t write me more than 3 lines. I want to know you, not marry you
  • Tell me what’s next. I just finished my will to make any effort when I understood what you do. Don’t make me think what’s next
  • Buttons are great, but use a very clear, not scary Call to Action as label
  • Plus: If I’m even able to start feeling the personality I’m confronted with, I will be delighted

That‘s a lot. Can you give me an example?

— Myself right now

Yes. I’ll start with a very successful chatbot that I really like: Machaoo. The first interaction goes like

Pros:

  • It sends only one message + one for buttons
  • The purpose and general scope of the chatbot is clear
  • No images, extra fast

Cons:

  • The personality is very, very confusing: Am I talking with Machaao or Gangilia?
  • Conflicting prospectives in the CTAs: “Configure me” is from the chatbot point of view; “What can you do?” is from the user prospective.
  • Conflicting CTAs: Should I start by typing my favourite team, or choosing a button?

Let’s take another example: Visabot. It starts like this:

Pros:

  • Purpose: The purpose of the chatbot is explained in one phrase and that’s it. I love it
  • Personality: The one-liner “Help immigrants make America great again” contains a political pun which makes you think about an ironic chatbot. So you start perceiving some personality there
  • Next steps: It’s crystal clear

Cons (Very difficult to find as this is one my favourites):

  •  The images, although simple and optimised, may be too many
  • The Call to Action is too strong and may scare people away. Am I going to start the application right away? Oh my gosh (What I’m actually going to do is discover how the application process goes)

Are you finished with examples?

Yes. If you would like me to evaluate your first message, leave a comment. I’ll include it in my next post.


Also published on Medium.

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Categories: Ideas

Vittorio Banfi

Co-founder and CEO botsociety.io

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