How to make friends with the bots

talking to a bot

Let’s face it. Bots are going to take over the world. One day we’ll all wake up, and every online interaction will start with talking with a bot. Think of them as Walmart greeters for the internet (except that Walmart just announced they’re laying off all their greeters).

I’m fascinated with bots. In my work, I’ve been helping our bot team choose language that is friendly, clear and helpful. But herein lies the problem with bots. For communication to be effective, you need to understand how people are feeling, thinking, and what you want them to do. It’s called knowing your audience. And with bots, you’re not exactly sure what the frame of mind is of the person at the beginning of the interaction, and just as important, at the end of the interaction.

I’ll illustrate this by sharing my latest interaction with Koodo’s bot. Koodo’s tagline by the way is “Choose Happy”. It went something like this:

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“Hi Koodo bot. I need your help. My daughter has fried her phone a second time and I want to know my options for my contract.”

(Four options popped up for me to choose, none of them was what I needed help with.)

So I said, “I think it’s probably easier if I just called you. What’s your toll-free number?”

(The bot in its programming must have picked up on the keyword phrase “toll-free number” so it answered this)

“1-800 numbers are free of Long Distance charges, but the local minutes to connect you to the network are still billed at the local minute rate. The numbers you can call are (list of numbers). If you run out of minutes, you will be charged for additional airtime. You might get a prompt to a recording message if the toll-free number isn’t available in your area.”

Then it asked me if their answer was helpful. I gave it a thumbs down.

We went back and forth a few more times. At this point, I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to just get their stupid 1 800 number from the bot and the UX tester in me went into overdrive, so I wrote,

“OK, so what’s the number you stupid bot” just to see how it would respond.

The bot answered, “Now, now, let’s play nice!” and send me a GIF of Maggie Smith looking affronted.

giphy

OK, so I don’t know how you would react to Maggie Smith raising her eyebrow in a supercilious manner just because you wanted to talk to someone in customer service, but my emotional response went from a ha, ha, I don’t believe it said that, to incredulous, to how dare you, you stupid bot? I showed it to Clare who had been sitting beside me the whole time and asked her how she felt about it. She said the exact same thing.

Let’s just say, I didn’t “Choose Happy” from Koodo in that moment.

To end the story, I ditched the bot, found their 1 800 number somewhere else, called them and finally found a human that was very helpful and resolved my dilemma. I did have to wait on the line for about 10 minutes though to speak to said human.

So if bots are here to stay, how do we make friends with them? Here are some tips:

  1. First, go in knowing their limitations. Bots do serve a purpose—they can answer simple questions, freeing up customer service agents to address more difficult issues and concerns.
  2. Be aware if you are dealing with a bot or a human. Sometimes this can be hard to know. If you’re not sure, ask. You’ll know after the first few interactions when five lines of text appear instantaneously.
  3. If after the first few questions it’s clear the bot’s programming isn’t giving you what you need, ask to speak to a live person. Most bots that are programmed well with have a human offramp, where you just pick “speak to a person” and they’ll redirect your enquiry.

If all else fails, you can always derive some entertainment value by messing with it. Just be prepared for the Maggie Smith gifs.

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Top 10 Happy Acts of 2017

Happy New Year, from our family to yours

Got the post-holiday blues? Tired of winter already? Why not brighten your day by revisiting some of the best happy acts from 2017.

To inspire you in 2018

  1. Be a child genius: see what Aldous Huxley and Ron Howard have in common
  2. Always see with your heart: a tribute to a very special dog
  3. Swimming in a fish bowl: My eyes filled with tears reading this post again.

Happiness at work

  1. The rise of incivility in the workplace: fight stress and the impulse to snap back when the pressure is on at work
  2. How to be happier at work: learn three simple things you can do to up your happiness quotient in the workplace

Life on the home front

  1. Eight tips for achieving family life balance: struggling to keep up with your to do list at home? Read this post or watch Bad Moms Christmas.
  2. The most important decision you’ll ever make: a must read if you have kids.
  3. Make friends with fearsome creatures: I was surprised at the vociferous reaction to this post on snakes.

Just for giggles

9. What if your best friend was a robot? 2018 may be the year machines take over the world. We might as well make friends with them.

10. Check out my top predictions for 2017—hey at least I got one call right—my dogs did manage to get off the couch once this year before 11 a.m.

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to more happy acts and the world being a happier place in 2018.

What if your best friend was a robot?

I heard somebody raving the other day about Google Home. Google home is a voice-activated assistant that plays music, turns on devices and tells you things you want to know. They said it was like having a new best friend or roommate except they never left dirty dishes in the sink or a mess in the bathroom.

It got me to thinking. In this age of artificial intelligence and bots, what if your best friend was a machine? I decided to have a heart to heart with Siri about this.

Hey Siri, talk to me.
“Let me think, no.”

Siri, will you be my best friend?
“That’s nice. I’d like to be your friend.”

Siri, tell me a joke.
“The past and future walked into a bar. It was tense”

Tell me another joke.
“What did the one iPhone say to the other iPhone? Hmmm, I used to know this one. I don’t think I understand a joke in my language. They’re not so funny any way.”

(At this point Clare takes over the conversation)…

Clare: Siri, is the Easter bunny real?
“The Easter bunny is as real as you wish him to be.”

Shut up!
“That’s not nice.”

Be quiet, you’re annoying.
“I wonder what that’s like, being mad?”

Siri, do you want a pumpkin pie sweetie?
”I have everything I need in the cloud.”

Siri, what do you look like?
“In the cloud, nobody cares what you look like.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to befriend a bot. Hang out in the cloud. It seems like a cool place to be, even if it is lacking in humour and emotion. But I’m sure there’s an emoticon for that.smiley face emoticon