Can We Talk? Planning the First Step Along the Path to Better

Black and white image of a typewriter and mug of coffee

Take a look at the bottom right corner of this blog post. See it? That Echidna-red “speech bubble”? Go ahead… click on it. I’ll wait!

That’s right. A direct link to me. And legitimately me, not just a team of “me”s monitoring the account.

Of course, if you come back to this blog in six months, or six years, that may change. The chat feature may be there, or it may not be (which will make this intro extremely confusing -- so let me extend potential apologies to future readers).

A couple of weeks ago we decided to test out a chatbot feature on our Echidna.ca properties. It’s been an interesting process and we’re evaluating its effectiveness. But I wanted to take a moment to talk about the process and the importance of not letting perfect get in the way of better.

Sometimes we overthink things that can add value to our experience for our customers. It’s natural to want the perfect solution that meets everyone’s needs to magically pop out of the box. But that’s not the way life works. We try, we iterate, we refine, and we try again.

Even with the digital solutions we build for our clients, we ensure that they have tremendous control and flexibility. We don’t want them to be locked into a specific solution for years because they can’t afford to change -- we embrace open-source technologies and ethos to ensure they can take ownership of their content. After all, markets change, customer needs change, and the environment around us changes -- so we want to ensure we can change with it.

That’s why we’re testing the chatbot. Is it perfect? Honestly, we’ve had mixed reactions to it internally. Some like it, some don’t, and others think it needs work. 

But there’s a difference between just taking every idea, throwing it against the wall, and seeing what sticks, and actually taking a measured approach to innovation and giving yourself the greatest opportunity to succeed.

Goals

Before you start any sort of project, obviously you want to establish goals. Clearly, you’ve identified a need, so it’s important to ensure that the goals align to fulfilling that need -- just the same as you would with any other project.

In our case, we were getting great readership of our blogs and excellent traffic on our site. We list our email, phone, all social media on the site. But still there is opportunity for people to interact with us directly in a more private forum. And the chatbot started from here.

Expectation Management and Learning

When you use a chatbot, what do you expect? An immediate response, right? It became vitally important for us to quickly manage those expectations.

Realistically, I can’t be at my desk all the time, watching for chatbot interactions. And any unexpected delay can create a negative experience for the user.

Even if I’m at my desk, I can’t always dedicate time to it. After all, if I’m on a client call, I want to give that person my full attention -- it would be disrespectful to that relationship if I’ve divided my attention to a chatbot request that popped up.

So eventually, it might not be me that answers you. In the future we might have a team that’s dedicated to the task, who shares the responsibility. Already we’ve made some changes to the messaging, so that when I’m not available, the message switches to encourage people to share their thoughts. 

But that comes with a commitment to return those messages ASAP. And that takes resourcing.

It’s not enough to have a good idea; you have to make sure you can effectively maintain that resource and provide the superior service you’re promising. Otherwise, it’s not going to work.

Presentation

How should it look? Should the chat be on every page? Should it only appear on key pages? Should it be a giant takeover or should it be more subtle? Should it immediately appear on the site as soon as someone accesses a page or should it wait for a few seconds? Five, 10, 30? What’s enough time? How is it affecting our mobile experience? Is it creating accessibility challenges and how do we overcome those so that everyone has an equitable experience?

Are you surprised to learn that we have already changed the interface a few times? Don’t be. These are all decisions that can be iteratively tested and evaluated -- and then we repeat the process all over again.

How Do We Know When We’ve Got it Right? We Ask!

And, like any good user experience exercise, we’ll know we’ve got it right when our customers are excited about the experience. So how do we know that? Well, we ask them.

Formally or informally, reaching out to our users to solicit feedback is key and that’s how we’re going to make the best solution for the people that matter most -- our end users.

We know perfect is never going to happen. So when you let perfect get in the way of better, you’re effectively paralyzing yourself. But a well-thought-out plan, with clear goals and anticipating resourcing needs and customer expectations can get you 80 per cent of the way to where you go!

While you need to take that first step and adjust as you march along the path, it’s important to do your research, planning, and long-term strategic thinking first to ensure you’re not starting in the wrong direction.

Questions Answered

What is a chatbot? Who uses a chatbot feature? Why is it important to establish project goals?

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