[Music] you thank you so my wife and I text everyday and usually about very profoundly important topics my best friends and I we have a facebook Messenger group and that’s how we keep a pulse on each other of course my high school friends they’re all on whatsapp and for better for worse so is my dad now I have a bunch of photographer friends as well that i chat with pretty regularly and naturally we DM back and forth on Instagram and I guess I do occasionally chat with some professional contacts on LinkedIn so that’s still something that I’m getting used to despite how hard they’re pushing that and of course there’s slack everyone’s favorite slash least favorite work communication tool there’s definitely a love-hate relationship going on there back at home I find myself often chatting with my rideshare driver to coronate exactly where to pick me up I don’t know how it works here but for me the drivers never know where I am despite always having a map right in front of them it’s weird and similarly my uber eats the livery person can message me directly as soon as my Thai fried rice hits my doorstep and that’s pretty sweet as well I happen to own a cocktail bar in Toronto and as you’d guess it our customers will message us when they’re running late for their reservation and of course if I want to figure out how my online photography store is doing all I have to do is send a quick message to my trusty virtual employee kit so chatting texting messaging DMing whatever you want to call it it’s seemingly inescapable these days set another way whether we’re using it to coordinate our dry cleaning or just trying to make Friday night plans digital conversations are increasingly becoming the preferred way to communicate and so we’re not only chatting more than ever before we’re also chatting in more places than ever before so before we get too far I’m gonna take a step back and tell you a little bit more about myself and I felt covered a bunch of it ready but as is mentioned my name is Vern I’m a designer now based out of San Francisco by day I’m also one of the directors of UX for a company named Shopify back in 2009 though I started a design studio in my home city of Toronto in Canada and we were a design studio that worked primarily with early-stage startups that we’re trying to get their product off the ground gain traction eventually get funding now I ran this business with my best friend and business partner for about four and a half years we grew our team to twenty five people and and at that point we were actually acquired by Shopify in 2013 and so from there for the next three and a half years or so I focused all my attention on building and establishing what we now know as our UX practice at Shopify and this was a body of work that I was really passionate about you see I wholeheartedly believe in investing in people and empowering them to reach their full potential and at the heart of it I felt like a healthy practice and a healthy culture was the key to unlocking that potential and so I learned a lot over that time and I tried to write and speak about it as often as I could fast forward to a little over two years ago I pack up my life in Toronto and I move west to San Francisco you see Shopify had just acquired a brand new product company named kit and they were looking to scale a new office in San Francisco and I guess they figured that my experience in Toronto was actually going to be pretty beneficial now what I didn’t realize at the time when I moved was that I would end up taking on the challenge of defining a brand new UX practice for Shopify and that was called conversational experiences so inevitably I submerged myself into this body of work I fell in love with it and like all the other previous chapters of my career I learned a lot and that’s essentially what brings me here today taking up all your precious stage time the only thing that stands between you and lunch right now I’m sorry but in hopes of sharing the insights that I’ve learned in defining Shopify’s conversational experience practice so let’s get back into it we’re gonna cover four things and live in the time that I have onstage today the first thing is I’m going to close loop on the fact that chat is indeed everywhere but we’re gonna talk a little bit about why that’s happening then we’re going to talk about conversational design what is it why does it matter we’re to spend a little bit of time reflecting on what it means to sound human and then lastly we’re gonna wrap it up with some tangible stuff around defining conversational experiences or CX because this industry doesn’t have enough acronyms that end with x yet so when I started this talk I I tried to paint a picture of what is my average day to day in a very Chatfield world and whether or not any of you subscribe to this particular way of life or not it’s actually really difficult to ignore some of the numbers and trends that we’re seeing in 2015 messaging apps officially surpassed social networking apps and monthly active users and by 2018 the top four messaging apps were reporting over four billion people worldwide these numbers are staggering but here’s the thing chat isn’t new right like at all in fact I remember my first foray into the internet was through this software platform that was called scribe and we had this in middle school uh-huh and it was introduced to us as a means of just exchanging messages between classmates presumably for I don’t know homework group assignments or something like that but we pretty much just used it to send some funny Smiley’s back and forth and just to show you how far back this was is a pre emoticon pre emoji day now scribe was pretty rudimentary but it was chat nonetheless and it wasn’t even the first of its kind so then if chat isn’t new tech why is it so popular again you know what’s contributed to this seemingly stealthy resurgence well if you take a step back and sort of reflect on some of the changes in evolution that we’ve seen and consumer or even human behavior in the last decade it’s actually quite easy to pick out some of the other factors that are contributing to this movement for starters digital adoption is a at an all-time high fifty six point one percent of the world have access to the Internet today that’s actually eighty-one percent and we’re looking at just the developed world and so with this comes a shift in our preference to prefer interacting with each other digitally I mean when was the last time you tried to call somebody unannounced like that’s the kind of stuff these days that makes people very uncomfortable it’s also about immediacy and please excuse the broad sweeping staining here but we’re a generation of increasingly short attention spans but increasingly high expectations for here and now shipping time is measured in days and sometimes hours rather than weeks the most popular video format right now is distributed in 15 second increments and let’s face it if your site or your app takes more than a couple of seconds to load you’re essentially dead to the world we’re also the busiest people and we’re busier than ever before we can’t even sit around and just watch TV anymore right instead we’ve got to be browsing the internet scrolling through Instagram shopping for shoes so being a chicken diversifying the stock portfolio all while chatting about your next vacation with your partner who is probably sitting right next to you on your couch don’t judge we’ve all done that before but as a result we choose communication platforms that allow us to do all of these things and more without skipping a single beat we’re more connected than ever before a report in 2013 showed that the average number of Facebook friends that we have is 338 and while I know that Facebook isn’t everything because let’s face it nobody talks to all their Facebook friends it is still a relevant benchmark showing the evolution of social connectivity and it doesn’t even take into account the handfuls of other people that we interact and converse with on a daily basis that we wouldn’t even classify as Facebook friends but of course chat has evolved over time as well so to the point where it’s not just text-based messaging it’s boomerangs it’s stickers it’s drawings it’s really creepy on emojis but it’s a growing list of formats that allow us to express ourselves in diverse ly rich ways but despite all this evolution I think the thing that makes chat still the most powerful thing today is simply its familiarity because since the beginning the fundamental paradigm of chat has not changed one bit and what that means is that there is a far lower barrier of entry and adoption for an interaction model that makes sense off the bat that feels familiar already feels universal and already fits into our day-to-day rituals so I’m sure there are many other deeply profound ways to explain all the reasons why we’re flocking to chat and then depending on it more and more but I think all this analysis of the Y is also glossing over an even more important change and that is that Chad has also grown up over time and it’s gone from being a means of communication to being a means of getting things done and so that’s where conversation design really comes into place this is where the pragmatism of the craft of design really really shines because design after all is all about helping people reach their goals get things done and as the old adage goes design is at its best when it’s invisible because only when it’s truly invisible does design feel natural intuitive human even just think about it for a moment the best design door is the one you’ve never noticed incidentally the worst design door is the one that stopped you in your tracks and interrupted your goal of passing through a doorway and we’ve all been there before those friggin pushed doors that are actually pole it is frustratingly unavoidable for some reason in similarly the best design digital products are the ones where the interface are so well designed so intuitive that just fade away into the background transparently leaving nothing in the way between you and just getting the actual work done and let’s face it as an industry we’ve done really really good at designing transparent interfaces really good but here’s the thing an interface is still an interpretation layer and still requires some amount of learned context in order to use and so that brings me to a design strategist named Erica Hall and she wrote a book very appropriately named conversational design and in this book she says the fundamental interface between people is conversation the fundamental interface between people is conversation and what Erica Hall is essentially saying here is that the more that we design experiences to allow conversations to lead the way to be in the driver’s seat the more we have a chance of making that experience truly feel natural the more that interface truly becomes transparent and that’s essentially what conversational products aim to do conversational products and to leverage the fundamental interface the conversation in order to help people get things done there by bringing the intent in the outcome just that much closer it’s also for this reason and when you look at every chat app out there they all pretty much look the same because if you have a content focused experience then you shed the weight of bespoke interfaces and interactions and instead it’s the nature of the content or the nature of the conversations that these products support that really give the experience it’s true distinction so let’s recap chat is everywhere chat revolves around conversations conversations are the fundamental interface in conversation design helps people get things done so how does this all relate to the work that I’m doing at chop fine with KITT right now so a quick refresher for those who don’t know what chop is we’re a software platform that allows merchants entrepreneurs people like you and I sell things online in retail stores and many many places in between that chat or sorry kit is their virtual employee it’s a chat bot that they can hire to help automate and execute tedious or complex tasks like sending a thank-you email to some new customers that you have or running a business report on how your shop is doing and so kids start it off as this hypothesis that we could simplify the way that our merchants do marketing and we want it to do that conversationally so essentially going from something as heavy and complicated as this to something as simple and easy and familiar as this and so as we dug into this what we found was that there was a opportunity to serve a growing segment of our merchants that actually needed more help than just marketing you see our merchants they struggle every single day juggling all the different facets of building and growing their business and they’re doing things like marketing but they’re also doing design sales fulfillment taxes the list goes on and on and on and on and the worst part is they’re often doing these things by themselves and so these are the merchants that really value automation and delegation and ways of working that fits in to their existing rituals into their chaotic day to day and so that’s what kit aims to do merchants can chat with kit and with a few quick responses can give kit the guidance to go and take care of some kind of task that moves the business forward what’s even more powerful is that kit can also proactively make recommendations based on what it knows like when you have enough visitors to your site so that you can qualify for running a retargeting campaign or redirecting users to a proper URL if a lot of them are reaching a broken page or even figuring out which products are often sold together so that those can be recommended to more shoppers so our vision for kit is really to empower it to do more for the merchants slowly chipping away at that laundry list that we know that our merchants struggle with every single day but of course for all of this to really work there needs to be trust there needs to be a trustworthy productive working relationship between kit and our merchants almost to the point where kit feels like a real-life employee real life human employee that the merchant has actually gone and hired so how do you actually create that kind of a relationship with virtual being well before we answer that why don’t we take a moment and actually reflect on what makes a human interaction actually feel human so going back to Erica Hall for a moment she also says in the book good conversation a good conversation is more than the exchange of phrases it begins with an unspoken agreement and succeeds with cooperation towards a goal there’s two things that I want us all to pay attention here the first is the unspoken agreement the second is a cooperation towards a goal so later on in the book she also reflects on sort of the miracle of conversations and the fact that so many of them actually succeed as well as they do and it’s absolutely true when you just think about it mechanically for just a moment all the different things that need to be happening under the hood for a conversation to occur successfully so imagine this on a day like today most of you will have dozens of new conversations meeting brand new people that you’ve never met before and what this means is that any two people in this room can come together complete strangers start a conversation on a relatively arbitrary topic exchange some ideas and opinions build some rapport on that and then go your separate ways like just think for a moment how many things need to actually be happening for that exchange to really make sense it’s mind-blowing that more conversations aren’t just like a jumbled linguistic mess and it really sheds light on how complex and intelligent and advanced human conversation and language actually is and a lot of it goes back to those two things that Erica Hall was talking about firstly there’s a unspoken agreement on how those conversations need to occur so for example the first person says a bunch of things and then at the appropriate time the second person says some things then it goes back to the first person back and forth back and forth with each person taking their appropriate turn there’s set of rules that governs the fact that there’s the sequencing of phrases some cadence that has to occur for it to flow naturally and yet not a single person has to actually discuss that ahead of time or acknowledge that even explicitly secondly there’s this innate sense of cooperation towards some sensible goal as well and that goal can be as specific as let’s exchange some ideas and opinions on how meta this talk is getting right now or it could be as broad as let’s have a healthy social interaction while we’re killing time in this bathroom line these goals aren’t mutually exclusive there can definitely be multiple goals and again the best part is neither party needs to even acknowledge or even know about any of these goals but the simple carrying out of the conversation represents some kind of cooperative relationship that exists there so there’s this philosopher named Paul Grice and he studied language and communication and the meaning of all those things and he actually laid down four Maxim’s that contribute to this cooperative relationship and he calls them quantity quality relation and manner quantity Paul Grice describes that as the information you exchange needs to be exactly what was requested no more no less so later on today somebody comes up to you and asks you what you do for work probably okay for you to talk about what company you work for what kind of role you’re in what kind of projects you do but you probably don’t have to jump right into your childhood ambitions at least not right off the bat quality refers to upholding the integrity of the information that you’re exchanging so not only being truthful that’s obvious but also being transparent in reflecting the agenda that you have in participating with that conversation relation speaks to relevancy is the information you’re providing actually contributing towards the implied goal is in moving the conversation in the right direction so if I come up to you and I ask you for directions to a restaurant hopefully you’re not going to tell me about your weekend plans and lastly Manor Paul Grice describes Manor as just simply being brief being concise and clear and being unambiguous in other words get to the point while you’re participating in this conversation so when you want to think about these four Maxim’s as you go about the rest of the day today and have all these conversations chances are the best conversations are going to have the most satisfying conversations are the ones that have all of these four Maxim’s at play in contrast the conversations you may have that are slightly less satisfying less complete may be slightly awkward maybe disobeying at least one of these Maxim’s so in reflection of some things that Erica Hall has been talking about Paul Grice isn’t talking about our team with KITT are left with this somewhat straightforward question how can we design a conversational experience that programmatically abides by unspoken agreements of human conversation and works within the co-operative principles that enable people to achieve their goal pretty simple right maybe not quite but putting it a little bit simply more simply it goes back to the question we were asking before how can we make a chatbot feel human we’ve already spent some time looking at some of the dynamics that contribute to making a human interaction actually feel human now how do we extend some of that over to an inanimate being and have it do the same how do we codify some of these unspoken agreements so this is some of the work that I’ve been doing recently for the better part of this year more specifically I’ve been working on writing a set of conversational experience guidelines that attempt to codify some of these mechanics that help make a kit conversation more natural more fluid and inevitably more human because after all these are requirements for ensuring that there is that trustworthy working relationship that we talked about earlier and so the goal of this body of work isn’t even just to standardize and articulate our what our ideal conversations look and feel like but it’s also to create a central resource so that anybody can actually go and write effective kit conversations whether they be internal teams at Shopify or teams in our third-party developer community and so when we broke down what makes them a conversational experience we looked at it as four areas that needed definition the first voice and tone conversational structure conversational patterns and vocabulary so let’s take a close look at each one of these boys and tone most of you are probably familiar with this if you’ve spent any time with the content strategist or have been a part of any kind of brand exercise voice and tone in this case refers to the idea of defining the persona for the bot so what kind of characteristics should it embody what language does it gravitate towards using what’s the relationship that it has with the user now in the Google assistant documentation Google explains that defining a clear system persona is vital to ensuring a consistent user experience that builds user trust that makes perfect sense Amazon describes Alexa as adaptable personable available and relatable and includes a lot of guidelines on their site about what each of these four characters actually mean and this means that for anybody who is building an Alexa skill needs to abide by these characteristics so that the experience of working with Alexa feels consistent and cohesive rather than fragmented and a little schizophrenic so similarly with kit we define the relationship between kit and the merchant as being like an employee to a manager and so we say that kit needs to use plain language that means staying away from buzzwords and slang and lingo and maintaining a grade 7 reading level we say kit needs to maintain a business casual tone that means being professional and respectable but it’s okay to use some casual senton structures like contractions it also needs to maintain a calm demeanor it is a professional environment after all so you don’t want to be too excitable and KITT always needs to be clear and concise when discussing any kind of topic and most importantly needs to educate the merchant whenever there’s a new concept being introduced and so some of these six are defined very importantly because it helps us all right conversations that are better tailored towards what our merchant needs are but also helps us all better visualize what kid would actually be if they were personified the second section of our conversational experience guidelines is all about conversational structure so the structure is all about defining the anatomy of the conversations or the logic and the sequence of the messages that stack up to make up your full conversation and it’s really important to be deliberate about how the experience actually breaks down into its individual components because when you do that you give you give yourself a chance to really acknowledge the role of every single component in moving the conversation forward you also give yourself a chance to acknowledge what kind of unspoken agreements or rules may need to exist depending on what part of the conversation you’re actually in now Microsoft says you’re a bot service visualizes their structure like this they call it a procedural flow essentially describing a sequence of messages that a bot will send to user to gather input so that it can go and execute a task and this is a very simple and linear way to visualize a structure you could also of course be a little bit more complicated to have more splits in your logic branch here’s an example of one of the conversational structures that we use with our third-party developer community as you can see it’s very simple and very structured as well it’s very focused on achieving a very specific task but more importantly you can see that we’ve chunked out the entire conversation into all its individual components and we’ve explicitly labeled them and of course with each of these components we have in-depth documentation about how to think about that component so for example for a conformation component we’ll say something like start with an acknowledgement word or phrase like okay or alright and also make sure to clearly state that the task has been done on behalf of the merchant these may sound like very obvious things now that I’ve read them out but they’re perfect examples some of those unspoken rules that we don’t actually think about especially when we start writing a new conversation for a bot and so these are examples of how we can codify some of those things these are the things that when done properly they are a better reflection of how we as humans would naturally converse and that builds trust the third section of our guidelines is all about patterns defining your patterns is about defining the best practices for common use cases so this could cover for BOTS things like how to greet a user or how to acknowledge a user’s input but it can also be a little bit more specific in nuance like how do you what tone do you use when you are celebrating a milestone well it’s also really interesting about looking at patterns for different conversational products is that you very clearly get a sense of what’s important for that experience so going back to Google assistant again they spend a lot of their documentation primarily documenting or talking about things like acknowledgments commands confirmations responses and that makes total sense because your relationship to Google assistant is all about asking for information and requesting things to be done in Google assistant responding accordingly in contrast facebook Messenger BOTS they aren’t so worried about sentence structure as they are about the arrangement of text and attachments and call to actions and other kind of rich content and if you’ve ever interacted with a facebook messenger bot this also makes total sense likewise kit has its own unique patterns that we define a few examples here would be permissive language for all the times when kid is asking for permission from the merchant whether it can carry on with a specific task and so we have specific guidelines and do’s and don’t examples on how to approach that we also write some guidelines on persuasive language for kids because keep proactively sends a lot of recommendations to merchants and when it does so it needs to sometimes be able to validate why that recommendation is a sound one and so as you can see everybody nearly ends up being slightly different more specialized and focused on their area in their domain and it’s not only how you define the patterns but also what patterns you choose to define that really give it its distinct fingerprint and lastly the fourth section is about vocabulary so if a Cavalier is about getting to the atomic unit of the conversational experience your words and it should be no surprise to anybody in this room that a content focused experience words matter language matters because how you choose your language has everything to do with whether or not your bot feels cooperative versus transactional or informative versus complicated or approachable versus daunting and intimidating in most cases when we’re stuck between different words to encourage people to use when writing their scripts for kit we always fall back on this we want to choose words that are specific as familiar and as simple as possible we also know that this is the type of language that resonates with our merchants best and so as you choose your vocabulary you should think about your audience as well couple of quick examples we prefer customers or visitors rather than people because customers and visitors is a more specific term to describe people that have made an order or that have landed on the site similarly we prefer orders or sales rather than purchases or revenue orders and sales are simple and familiar terms that are emergency all across the shop by ecosystem purchases in revenue ever so slightly more technical a little bit more nuance a little bit more like lingo so these are just some quick examples but our vocabulary actually contains a full list of other words that we have an opinion on what should be used when kid is speaking it’s really important to be deliberate about the words you use I know this seems like it’s nitpicking and hair-splitting but you have to understand that words come with existing connotations and associations and so if you’re not careful about the words that you choose when crafting your experience you may not be actually conveying the right message that you want to and misrepresenting your product or your brand in other words as some of my content strategy colleagues would say words they mean stuff important takeaway so bring it all back together the personality of your voice and tone the flow of the conversational structure the patterns that you choose to define as well as the semantics of the of the vocabulary that you have these all give you the tools to properly define your conversational experience and the important thing to note here is that defining these four things does not inherently give you an experience that is more natural or more human instead it just forces you through the exercise to break apart your conversational experience into all its individual layers and be more deliberate about all those pieces that contribute to the end experience in fact what it actually does is it gives you the right tools so that you can address the more fundamental and should teach a question that only you uniquely can actually answer and that is what is feeling more human mean to you and if that isn’t I’d have question to leave you with and I don’t know what is so just wrapping up at the end of the day we’re all trying to figure this out still write chat like the concept of defining a practice for conversational experience is very very new still to the point where the things that we’re defining as or labeling as best practices still more accurately lead towards best guesses because while chat is old tech there are ever-changing social etiquette sand expectations that govern modern dynamics of conversations and the best / worst part of this is that it’s a moving target and that’s what really makes studying this stuff so fascinating when you really boil it down for me I think what’s most interesting about conversational experiences is just our inherent reliance on it to get everything done these days from coordinating our laundry to trying to book a meeting to try to make friends to watch a movie on the weekend messaging apps have become our modern-day productivity tools and chat BOTS well it’s an accessible source of autonomous labour that just levels the playing field for aspirations big and small four billion people can’t be wrong but of course if nothing I’ve said today has stuck and nobody here is more convinced of a conversational future that’s okay because the fundamentals of conversational design actually still apply very much to everyday products because if you understand the product experiences of any sort are simply a series of actions and reactions being exchanged back and forth it’s actually easy to draw the parallels so whether the participants are two humans a human in a bot or a human and your brand there is absolutely some kind of a dialogue that’s happening whether you want to college it or not that’s another question but if we’re not careful and we’re not deliberate about the way that we define these experiences then we’re actually missing a massive opportunity to leverage the universal interface to help people get things done thanks for listening [Applause] you