So you’ve identified a problem you think a chatbot or voice-based product could solve. Now how do you get others on board so you can get things rolling?
The first step is pretty un-revolutionary: you’ve got to write up a business case. Taking the time to write it all down might feel like a chore if you can already clearly imagine how the bot would be beneficial. But as with paying taxes and or reading through pages of jargon before signing a contract, sometimes the tedious is important.
For one thing, sitting down to truly think through the all the components can help you solidify your own understanding of the problem space, spot potential obstacles you might have missed, and proceed more efficiently with a clear view of what’s ahead.
You won’t just be better prepared yourself, you’ll also be better off when you need to explain your project to others.
Next, a good business case will help win you engaged allies within your organization — emphasis on the word “engaged.” You want people who don’t just say, “sure, sounds good,” but rather people who genuinely understand what you’re doing and why. The kind of people who can defend the project if it’s criticized outside of your presence, who can help connect the dots within your organization to make the project more effective, who can socialize the bot to others and gain even more support.
To help visualize the difference, imagine your boss is the VP of Product. You’ve been working together a while and he trusts you, so when you give him the elevator pitch of your voice app, he says go for it. Then he gets to the weekly executive meeting and the Chief Technology Officer says she can’t swing the technological resources because another project is more important. Someone else says he hates talking to bots, and that the customer satisfaction will go down. Your VP may trust your instincts, but he has no means of assessing whether the concerns brought up are valid and defending the value of the investment — and just like that, the project dies.
With a thorough business case, on the other hand, your boss would have something tangible to present at that meeting. He could get others educated and onboard, further clearing the way for your project to be successful. The CTO can now suggest a tweak to the technology given her experience with something similar. The VP of Marketing might see a way it could be integrated it into their social media strategy. A critical mass of people are now engaged in what you’re doing and offering support, upping your odds of bringing it to completion successfully.
The business case
Most elements of a business case for a chat or voice-based offering will be just the same as a business case you’d write up anything else. You’ll want to thoroughly define the problem you want to solve, offer a background on the issue, predict cost versus value, present alternatives and risks, offer a look at the competitive landscape, and lay out the steps for implementation. That said, there are a few particularities you’ll want to pay attention to when making a case for a bot.
More than a fad
First, it’s wise to be extra conscientious of displaying a commitment to the problem you want to solve as opposed to an attachment to a conversational interface as the solution. For better or for worse, bots are a fad right now, and while that may win points for some people in your organization, it may make others suspicious. To avoid sounding like you want a bot just for the sake of it, it’s smart to demonstrate a clear understanding of what’s inefficient or ineffective about the status quo before presenting a bot as the solution.
Counter negative perceptions
Next, be prepared to handle negative perceptions of conversational technology. At its best, bot technology can be elegant, efficient, and powerful. But I think we can all admit there are also a lot of bad examples out there, particularly from years ago when the technology, as well as the design understanding, were more limited.
People might still associate conversational interfaces with “robocalls” or chatbot fail memes.
To win support despite the stereotypes, you might want to first explain why many other bots fail (usually: a weak use case and/or a poorly-designed user interface), then transition into why your bot would avoid these pitfalls. You may also need to pull in statistics to that counter peoples’ assumptions that engaging with a bot will lead to lower customer satisfaction and loyalty — such as the results of a 2016 Aspect survey showing that 2/3rds of consumers feel really good about a company when they can answer a question without having to talk to a customer service agent.
Early-stage prototyping for voice
Time spent prototyping is rarely time wasted, especially at early stages in product development. But beyond its utility in refining your bot, it can also be a great tool for building institutional support. Sometimes, people need to see something in action to truly “get it” and work past any concerns.
Thankfully, with Botsociety’s tools, getting a lifelike prototype up and running involves very low overhead. Even without a master plan of the high-level structure of the bot, you can build out a sample conversation showcasing the bot’s primary use case in a true-to-form template, no developer needed. When people can see your concept in a format close to what an end-user would see it in, it’s easier for them to imagine the real-world impact.
Two minutes of prototyping later, here we are
Just click the “mobile” icon at the top right to see your mock-up in near-final form, and take a screenshot or click the “share” button. For extra effect, you can even use a video of the bot in action — just click the “export” button at the top right of your screen. Seeing the conversation build through back-and-forth replies can further help people imagine the real-life utility.
Aside from simply showing people your prototype, get feedback. We all know the feeling of becoming more invested in something once we’ve personally spent time with it — helping people feel like a part of the process will not only generate some good perspective, it will get people to feel some ownership over the success of your bot. Plus, they may feel more confident about you as a designer when they can see your process up-close and understand the thought and care that go into the design.
You can also level up the active participation and use employees for Wizard of Oz testing sessions. I really like doing this with coworkers when I’m trying to build buy-in…if my charisma is on-point that day, it can almost feel like a game. Although you can certainly do Wizard of Oz testing remotely, I like the chance to get feedback in person — the face-to-face communication helps me build trust with them, and I can also show people through my eye-contact that I’m truly listening to their feedback.
If this is the first bot your company has worked on, and particularly if this is the first bot you’ve designed, another component of building long-term support may be to set good expectations. As much as you may be tempted to tell people it’ll be a raging success, build in time for you to iterate and learn. Many issues will ideally be flushed out pre-launch, but even so, but it’s near-inevitable that you’ll hit some surprises. There’s no way around the fact that new products just take time to refine. Build this expectation into your implementation plan to help people understand it takes a few rounds of tweaking to get bots to that high-functioning phase.
The bottom line
Hopefully, this sparked some ideas about how to gain support for your bot. But when it comes down to it, the most important piece of the puzzle is making sure you have a strong concept for your bot in the first place. More often than not, people will gravitate to a legitimately good idea, especially from a competent person who genuinely cares about solving the problem. (If you can’t count on that at your workplace, not getting your bot approved is likely the least of your worries.) So before you dial up the campaigning, make sure you yourself feel great about putting on the table. The rest should flow from there.