The Business Potential of Conversational Interfaces

As technology advances, our interactions with technology are expanding. Given improvements in processing power and artificial intelligence, we are increasingly able to use our voices, rather than our fingers, to interact with devices and technologies.

Angshuman Patra, our Chief Delivery Officer for Americas & Global Head of Ness’s Cloud & Platform Engineering Practice shares some interesting observations below about how conversational interfaces (chatbots, voice assistant, etc.) are changing the way people interact with devices and the benefits that these interfaces can bring to user experiences.

Why are companies interested in using conversational interfaces?

Conversation is a natural form of human interaction; we are comfortable interacting this way. From improving business communications to enhancing customer service, driving online sales revenue, and creating better employee experiences, the use cases for conversational interfaces are many. Conversational interfaces can improve the speed, quality, usefulness, and efficiency of customer and employee engagement with relatively incremental cost to the business.

How can companies ensure that the information conversational interfaces provide to users is relevant?

Let’s take a simple example: Let’s say you want to go on vacation, and you want to know how many vacation days you have available. Today, you probably log into an Employee Portal and click through to a Time Off summary page to find out how many days you have available. This process probably takes you less than 2 minutes.

Think of an alternative: same scenario, but this time you use a conversational interface, such as Amazon’s Alexa:

You: “Alexa, how many vacation days do I have left?”

Alexa: “Please confirm your identity. What is your employee number and passcode?”

You: “ABC123” ; “123456”

Alexa: “Thank you, Dianne. You have 10 days of vacation left this year”

In this alternative case, it’s the same scenario, and the same information is provided in the response, but it’s a different user experience. This one takes you 30 seconds and with less process friction. Which would you prefer?

Getting the right information to you at the right time is important, and doing so requires a layered approach. For simpler interactions, like FAQ responses, the process is generally straightforward: responses are generated though a knowledge base search. In this case the quality and response time of the search within large diverse knowledge base needs to be efficient and effective. Advances in Deep learning technologies are helping make this process better. Another layer to consider is the integration with source systems that contain the information. In our vacation case earlier, we had to get the results from the HR system and send it back you. Here APIs are helping solve the problem. Security and compliance are also important layers with conversational interfaces. How can companies make sure that security is not compromised and that they are compliant with existing regulations like PCI and GDPR? System “learning” is also a big part of ensuring relevant information is provided to users. Neural-network-based solutions are learning solutions, and their accuracy improves as more interactions occur with the system.

There are certainly times when a conversational interface is not best-suited to provide the most relevant information, and it’s important to plan for that also. For example, Ness developed a solution for a client that facilitates a seamless transfer to a “live agent” when the bot or the voice assistant is unable to respond, or when compliance requirements do not allow for a response.

What considerations are important when designing an effective conversational interface?

There are many aspects of conversational interface design. Some of the dimensions also depend on the objectives the company wants to achieve. Here are some core design elements:

  1. Is easy to use: the interface must be natural and conversational
  2. Facilitates error handling: if a conversational interface cannot address a query, the solution should offer an alternative method of addressing the user’s needs
  3. Addresses security and privacy: these considerations are particularly important when dealing with personal or financial information
  4. Has personality: it is important to give the interface a personality that aligns with your brand to reinforce your company’s value proposition and help improve brand recall

With AI-powered conversational interfaces, organizations are inching towards the holy grail on engagement, where each interaction is personalized to that user based on his or her past behaviors, current emotions, and social influences, among many other parameters. It is still early days in the design of conversational interfaces. The best is yet to come.

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