My Chatbot found my wallet

Let me tell you a short story. Earlier this year, I turned my website into a chat bot. It was a fascinating experience that resulted in a lot of feedback and lively discussions. But the most fascinating thing probably happened this summer.


Itwas a Saturday afternoon. I met up with a friend to enjoy the occasional good weather by the lake. It was a day void of serious topics or stress. Life is good, I thought to myself.

I headed home after a few drinks to prepare for an upcoming trip. The smile on my face soon vanished when I realized that my pockets felt awfully empty. I braced myself. Three seconds later, I panicked. Where was my wallet?!

My credit card, my ID and personal stuff was in there. I felt like ****.

After calling my card issuer to block my credit card, I waited for the confirmation email to breath some sigh of relief. But to my surprise, there was a much more delightful message waiting for me right there… It was an email from my conversational website:

TitleChat bot message
ContentI found your wallet by the lake.

Wow! I only lost my wallet 30 minutes earlier and I had already gotten an email. That’s technology working its magic right there!
 
I answered as fast as I could. The other person sent me his number and we met later that same day. As he was kindly handing me back my wallet, I asked:

“Thanks so much! By the way, I’m just wondering… How did you get in touch with me?”

He looked at me slightly confused and says…

“What do you mean… We had a chat, no?”

That’s when it hit me. This guy thought he was having a real conversation with me on my website.

What was even more remarkable is that we used three different communication channels. We went from website, to email, to voice call but for him all that didn’t matter.

What mattered to him was the threadan ongoing line of thought where the message and its content made technology seamlessly fade into the background.

I think there are a couple of reasons this illusion happened and I documented some of them in my previous article.

I’d like to briefly discuss three of them, which I believe apply to any sort of screen-based conversational interface.

1. Animation

Motion wasn’t just a detail, it was an essential part of the experiment.

Early animation exploration in CSS

Messaging apps all have their own unique interfaces and interactions. But they all have some fundamental design elements in common: the chat history, animation and typing indicators.

Over time, these elements have slowly become part of how users expect conversational interfaces to work. Without replicating those critical elements, the conversation wouldn’t have worked.

As I wrote in my last article about suggestions and animation:

The fact that people could observe how their choices became part of the conversation changed how they felt about it. Users suddenly felt like those were their own words, their own choices. Whereas without animation, there was a disconnect. Without animation, the conversation felt scripted and unnatural.

Takeaway: Animation changes the way people feel about both the conversation and the interface.

2. Conversational Information Architecture

The chat bot’s information architecture was specifically designed to meet two principle requirements. Getting to know me (explore personality and projects) and getting in touch (custom messages).

Conversational IA (Information Architecture)

Allowing people to get in touch right away removed the potential friction that often sneaks into conversational UIs and traditional websites.

Takeaway: Making primary actions available upfront is a critical ingredient of good conversational design.

3. Free speech and suggestions

Suggestions are a powerful concept that have found wide adoption in conversational apps this year. Quartz, Google, Facebook, and many others started to take advantage of it.

Suggestions are particularly powerful for two reasons:

  1. They excel in setting clear expectations of what a conversational bot can handle
  2. They do a great job in ensuring that a conversation moves forward

Suggestions represent in ideal way how you would converse with a stranger at bar, handle a tough situation with your manager, or convince your spouse to rewatch the old Star Wars movies.

Unlike in real life, where you can’t possibly predict the outcome of a conversation, suggestions allow us to build for more deliberate interactions.You can control the flow as well as the outcome of a conversation to a much larger extent.

Takeaway: If used well, suggestions drive a conversation in a desired direction and steer it towards action.

Conclusion

This experience was remarkable because it made me realize how different users can be from what we imagine.

We scrutinize and observe each others’ work. We check out the navigation, and analyze the interactions. Users don’t. They use what they see. When it works, great. If not, they move on and go talk to someone else.

This guy wasn’t aware that this interface was a major hack. An experiment. For him, it just worked. And I’d like to reach out and take the opportunity to thank the wallet hero again. You saved the day.


Thanks for reading. Make sure you keep your wallet in a safe place and if you don’t, make sure you have a chat bot people can talk to in the meantime.


Let's talk on Twitter @azumbrunnen or check out some of my other writings.