So you’ve decided your organization could use a bot. Great! Knowing you’d benefit from a bot to perform a set of tasks is the perfect start — kind of parallel to opening up a job requisition at your company. But next, you need to define your bot persona — akin to you thinking about what kind of person you want to hire for the job, their ideal characteristics, and interviewing for that open position.
Anyone who’s ever interacted with a customer service person knows that personality is not a frivolity when it comes to making a good impression. Think about the best and worst customer service experiences you’ve ever had. Certainly, your impression would have been colored by whether or not your goal was accomplished. But for most of us, personality also plays a huge role — standout experiences typically involve not just being assisted but being assisted by an exceptional person. Conversely, the worst experiences often involve dealing with someone who’s unpleasant as well as unhelpful.
Of course, it is unwise to spend time developing a sparkling bot persona at the cost of performance — that’s about as helpful as hiring a charming developer who can’t code. But the power of both working in tandem is not to be underestimated.
Let’s talk through some factors to think about when first designing a personality for your organization’s bot.
Who are you?
A good first place to start is by reflecting on your organization’s current personality. What kind of tone do you use on your website and on social media? What is the personality of your CEO, your top salesperson, your client services reps, or other individuals speaking on behalf of your organization? What is your mission statement? You might turn up a good deal of variation, especially in degrees of formality, which is to be expected…it would be pretty weird if a salesperson spoke like website text. But you might start to see a common thread form, certain characteristics your organization embodies in its public faces. Reflect on these and write them down — you’ll want your bot to fit somewhere within that realm.
Who are your customers?
Your customer personas likely already factor into many decisions within your organization. But as you start to create your bot’s personality, it’s a good moment to revisit these customer profiles. Who are these people? What do they care about? How do they speak? How do they use technology? Most people feel greater trust and rapport when they interact with someone who is similar to them, so for the most part, your bot should mirror these characteristics. As an official representative of your brand, the bot persona should of course veer a touch more on the professional side. But as a simulacrum of a human, your bot can also get away with elements of human personality that web text or even social media postings might not…like light emoji use and humor (assuming it’s in line with your brand and customer profile, of course).
What will your bot do?
Next, you’ll want to consider the types of jobs your bot is responsible for, as there may be nuances within those tasks that guide you towards an ideal bot personality. For example, even if your organization is a fun vacation-planning company, you won’t want quite as much pep in your step if the bot’s primary responsibility is fielding customer complaints. Think about how people will feel when they perform the tasks associated with your bot and go from there.
Getting a little borderline…you don’t want to turn one complaint into two.
If there’s variation, that’s to be expected. Just as people are capable of getting animated when you’re excited and softer/more serious when you’re sad, so too can a bot’s personality be situationally adaptive. But reflecting on the general realm of your bot’s responsibilities can be a helpful way to inform early progress.
Now that you have a theoretical concept of what your bot should be like, it’s time to start developing your personality and grounding it in reality. One thing many authors do to develop characters is put their creations in different scenarios — what would my character’s favorite cereal be? What would they do if someone showed up at their door unannounced? Who would their best friend be? You don’t have to square off with John Steinbeck, but forcing yourself to think through various situations, even ones unrelated to the bot’s job task, can be a helpful way of strengthening your persona.
If that seems a little strange to you, consider your own life — what are strategies you typically use to understand people’s personalities? Are you someone who always wants to know someone’s Enneagram or astrological sign? Are you really into Myers Briggs? Do you feel like you know someone through their music taste? Take whatever methodology you currently use to get to know people and apply it to your bot.
Some more visual people may get a lot out of drawing their bot. What do they look like? What are they wearing? What is their facial expression? If you’re less than artistically inclined, you might try describing their characteristics to a more artistically capable friend. Working in tandem with someone else may also help you unearth things you wouldn’t have thought about on your own.
Think about real people
Another way to ratchet up personality development is to get inspired by people who are already fully developed — like a real person. Is there someone you already know, or know of, who might be a good starting point for your bot? Perhaps someone within your organization, a friend, a public figure, someone from literature, a TV character? You might even try combining the characteristics of a few different individuals to form your ideal persona.
Form follows function
Lastly, although writing in jokes and personality quirks may be more fun than fixing bugs, you never want your bot’s personality to distract from actual task completion. Make sure that above all else, your user has a clear path to accomplishing what they set out to do. Style is not to be neglected, but all the charm in the world can’t cover up a bot being unable to meet a user’s needs. (In many cases, it might even make dissatisfaction grow — your user will wonder why you bothered writing so many puns instead of making sure it can do its job.)
Hopefully this guide has given you a solid starting place as you develop your bot’s personality. Keep in mind that it may take a bit of time to get right, and that’s okay! You can (and should) be testing the bot persona as you go, getting feedback from people within your organization as well as users. When you are usability testing, check in not only on whether users could accomplish their goal but also how the bot made people feel. Unlike a real person you might hire for a role, a bot’s personality is infinitely malleable, so take advantage. Happy designing!