UX & Technology

Are chatbots really the new face of UX?

Lara Williams

Lara Williams, Editor-at-large

Chatbots are on the rise. But are they the future of user experience or a transient trend?

Ever since Mark Zuckerberg opened up chatbots to businesses and brands on Facebook in 2016, the number of intelligent automated messaging systems have been on the rise. Currently 100,000 bots exist on the platform, and even more beyond the realm of Facebook, helping users with everything from ordering pizza, finding recipes to combatting anxiety.

Designing a conversation may be one of the hardest jobs a UX designer has to face, but what benefits could chatbots bring to a brand’s UX?

chatbots facebook

Conversational UI

The interactions of the future aren’t just made of buttons, and chatbots are proving this.

Rather than interacting with a series of buttons, users can respond more naturally with emojis and words – just as they would with another person.

This conversational UI is one of the main attractions of chatbots. Users get the efficiency of automation with the friendliness of something almost human.

Emotionless robot or non-judgemental friend?

While there’s a debate over whether chatbots can truly replace humans, for many users, knowing they’re talking to a bot might be preferable.

For example, Timothy Bickmore at Northeastern University, Boston, has created a chatbot to help terminally-ill patients make end-of-life decisions.

It’s a sensitive topic, but early studies revealed that patients felt far less anxious about dying and ready to talk to loved ones. The chatbot can guide users through meditations, discuss a range of religious topics and the user’s health.

Being able to chat with a bot who can’t judge you is comforting, as opposed to the potentially emotionally fraught conversations talking with loved ones on the same topic might bring.

Cooking with chatbots

On the lighter side of the spectrum, Jamie Oliver has recently launched a chatbot to help promote his new book, 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food.

chatbots jamie oliver

The premise is simple – you send an emoji, and the bot recommends a recipe. A bowl of spaghetti, for example, prompts a ‘Lemony courgette linguine’ and gives you the option of watching a short video from Jamie with cooking tips.

The fact you can only use emojis keeps the chatbots capabilities clear, and prevents irritating misunderstandings or communication fails.

While ultimately not offering anything advanced in terms of technology and AI – it shows how effective a simple chatbot can be. Fun (a cheeky aubergine emoji prompts an ‘Oi oi’), with a clear purpose, it engages users and no doubt encourages them to check out the book.

The main challenge for chatbots is getting users to interact with them regularly, or as regularly as they’d use a standalone app. However, with applications from therapy-esque services to quirky marketing campaigns, chatbots certainly have a place in the future of UX.

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