business development, craft, user experience, Writing improvement

Beware the Bot!

Chatbots seem to be all the rage these days in marketing. Some are good, some are, well… not so good.

They’re supposed to be a quick and easy tool to help increase visitor presence on your website.

They promise everything from increased time on page to simplified processes, eliminating humanity at the installation of a program and skyrocketing profits in the process.

And they’re becoming more ubiquitous by the moment. Google says there are ~33,000,000 website hits for “chatbots”. Now, those aren’t all bots themselves, but articles about them and self-promotions, too. But you know what I mean.

For your business, you can buy one, rent one, develop one, probably even lease one.

You’ve run into hundreds of them, perhaps thousands.

Yet…

Most of the time…

They’re totally worthless.

Well, maybe not totally worthless.

The companies who make and distribute them still get paid. So I guess they got that going for them.

But for the rest of us? Those who are thinking of using them in our business? Or who have to interact with them as an end-user? “The juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” as they say.

I’ve got two up on my computer right now. And they’re pretty bad examples of chatbotting. Let me explain, and hopefully help you to avoid these same user experience (UX) mistakes in the future.


CHATBOT ERROR #1 – TOO PUSHY

The first bad example is for a software company. I went to their website, and the thing popping up says:

“Hi ūüĖźÔłŹ, can I set you up with an exclusive 14 day free trial?”

Basically asking if I want their product right away.

Before they know anything about me. Before they know anything about my needs, my budget, my clientele, anything!

I might be interested in a free trial. But I don’t know that when I first get to your website!

Offering that free trial is all well and good, in due time.

“In due time” means at the appropriate point in the sales sequence.

Maybe after you’ve already had some conversation with me, to investigate whether or not this software would actually be right for me.

You know, the old “Hi, how are you today? Do you come here often? Could I buy you a drink?” Not, Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but, wanna go out to my car and fool around?

Seriously, this is too much, too soon, and it’s going to turn people off.

You want to know what’s even worse?

This is a company I already do business with.

Yep, that’s right. I’m a customer.

They don’t really know me, do they? If they’re offering a trial of a service I already pay for, that tells me they don’t do a very good job of tracking who their customer are, now does it?

[Shaking my damn head over here.]

Don’t do this. Don’t pretend you know what your audience wants (free trial) without asking (support for an existing customer, learn more about the product, find information about careers, etc.).

And don’t be so stand-offish that you don’t even track who your current customers are! And here I thought I was dealing with a software company. I guess that’s just a myth.

But enough about that. Let’s get to the second example of bad chatbotting.


CHATBOT ERROR #2 – INSUFFICIENT PROGRAMMING.

You know how it goes.

The chatbot, all dressed up in a fancy avatar with a pretend person’s face on it (because, let’s be honest, we all know at this point that there’s no real person on the other end, we could save all of us the trouble and just put up a picture of a motherboard rather than an actress), asks us what we’d like to accomplish. We type it in, sometimes the chatbot works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

In this case, it looks like this. Please note, this is a different company from the prior example. As it should be:

Hi! I’m Olivia, your virtual job assistant at *******! You can ask me anything about our business, culture, team and more.

Not so bad. I’m confident it’s a bot, but I expect that my question will get redirected to the appropriate party once I ask. So, I reply as such:

Hi, consultants generally have a reputation for a lot of travel. Would this be true for a “******** Consultant” role as well?

See, I’m using real-people speak and a question that I truly want answered. What’s the response? Well, instead of recognizing that this question is probably out of its standard programming, and telling me she’ll direct me to the appropriate party immediately, the chatbot honed in on a keyword (“consultant”) and provided a stock answer.

On our career site, you can search jobs by keyword or location. You may also enter a requisition number as a keyword. If a position has been closed or placed on hold, it may not appear in the search results. We would also highly recommend you join our talent community to stay informed about news, events and opportunities at ******** by clicking here: *******

Hm.

Did that answer my question?

Nope.

Did it recognize that it wasn’t answering my question, and direct me to a better way to get what I wanted?

Nope again.

Did it at least consider that it might not have answered my question, and confirm whether or not it did?

All together now: No way, Jose!!!

How do I know such truths about the inner workings of a chatbot? Because I tried to continue the conversation. Here’s my reply:

thanks. what’s five minus eighteen?

Pretty simple question, right? If you’ve got a real person. Or if you’ve got a well-programmed chatbot. In this case, you’ve got neither. You’ve got this:

My pleasure! ūüôā

Multiple problems here.

First, the chatbot is masquerading as a real person, which is deceptive. We as consumers tire of this charade quickly. If you had a real person in there, she (“Olivia”), would see the question, answer “negative thirteen”, and then ask whether or not she’s been able to help you. Since she didn’t, I immediately conclude that it’s a bot, that I’m not worthy of a real person to this company, they don’t care about my problems or my questions, and I can write them off as unhelpful.

And secondly, if you had a well-programmed bot, you would be able to recognize when your standard script is insufficient, and you’d be able to code up a quick redirect to get them on the path. You’d keep the visitor happy, you’d actually solve their problem, and you’d be more likely to get a future client, applicant, or business partner.

All because you actually thought through an appropriate UX design.

Pretty simple functionality that’s been lost amid the desire for automation. And that’s a shame.

I mean, I’m not a UX designer, or a broadcast marketer, but heck, even I can see this isn’t working as it’s intended.

Sure, you cut out some people (and their requisite salaries and benefits), but at what cost? Reputation, ease of use, applicability, and humanity, for starters.


CONCLUSION: DON’T DO THIS!

Don’t set up your chatbots like this.

Just…

Don’t.

It’s like, “Do you even know me, bro?” No, no you don’t. [Even more shaking of my damn head. I’m getting dizzy.]

It would have been better with absolutely nothing, rather than creating either one of these negative value experiences.

So in the future, don’t expect your chatbot to be the savior of your business.

Make it better. Actually put some thought into it. Don’t just expect to get the make-out session without the get-to-know-you session first.

Think through how people use it. And, when they do, review what they did, and whether or not they got what they needed.

And when you do, you’ll get better results.

I guarantee it.*

*better better looks, unfortunately, not guaranteed. 


***

P.S. If you’d like help creating automated messages for your chatbot, why not talk to a communications expert? A copywriter, perhaps? Send me an e-mail to stephan@sjmcopywriting.com and let’s figure out how to make your chatbot, your website, your book, or your autoresponders sound human again.

business development, craft, Writing improvement

Stop Saying “Thank You”

There are times when saying “Thank you” is appropriate. When the person in front of you holds a door open, you should be appreciative.¬†When you receive a gift,¬†Thank you is totally fine. Expected, even. If you don’t say that, if you don’t express gratitude, you’re indicating a supreme lack of character or knowledge about the world. And unless you’re 3 years old, claiming that you didn’t know what to do isn’t going to cut it.

But there are other situations when¬†Thank you isn’t right. Even worse,¬†Thank you so much has become my pet peeve. I’ll leave that for another time, because right now I’d like to expand on why saying¬†Thank you is sometimes inappropriate, and may even be confusing your audience. Paradoxically, this may be one of reasons you’re seeing lower engagement and ultimately poorer results than you may be able to achieve.

The thing is, that audience likely doesn’t even recognize what’s going on, because it’s not so obvious. It’s pretty subtle.

The biggest problem right now with Thank you is that people and businesses are using it at the wrong time. Where is it most wrong? [Wrongest? Incorrectest? Least right? Whatever.] Ironically, it’s most wrong in the place it shows up the most these days:¬†In an autoresponder.

Now, if you’re like I think you are, you probably just said, “Wait, what?” Allow me to explain.

But first, let me back up. Just a little.

 

What Is An Autoresponder?

You’ve seen the list-building tool which is a [SIGN UP FOR OUR MAILING LIST] button on virtually all websites. I think it’s something like 99.9% of the websites in the world have this option. You put your name and e-mail address into a couple of boxes, click a button, and you’re good to go.

Now, the company presenting the website has your e-mail address, and they use this to send you an e-mail automatically. It’s¬†responding to your action of giving up your address, and it happens¬†automatically. Thus, autoresponder.

Very rarely is it an altruistic gesture on your part to give up your e-mail address. You’ve done it because you want something – perhaps some cryptocurrency trading tips, or a special report on the future of self-cleaning clothes. Whatever that thing is, it’s billed as a fair and open transaction: you signed up, the company (or the individual) send you a message, and you both are supposed to go on about your day.

 

You Don’t Like Autoresponders?

That’s not what I’m saying. I’m talking about the message¬†that those autoresponders are sending to your clients. And in this case, the message is not the left-to-right words on the page. It’s not even the e-mail newsletter or publication list itself. I’m talking, specifically, those first¬†Thank you for signing up¬†messages that everyone uses. Because they present a different immediate image than was intended.

These e-mail newsletters are, on the surface, supposed to be ways for the audience to stay informed, or to get specific [insert business here] tips, or ideas to spark joy, or something like that.

In reality, the businesses are using these lists to create additional brand loyalty, or to drive a potential sale, or to add you to the funnel for¬†future sales.¬† They don’t tell you that, but that is what’s happening.¬†

They often look like this: (I’m paraphrasing from one in my e-mail inbox right now. I’m going to change the details a little bit so I don’t sour the relationship with this guy :-/)

Welcome!

Thanks again for subscribing to our [business type] tip e-newsletter.

Keep watching for more helpful hints over the next couple of weeks. You’ll get a message every Thursday.

So, if you’re a rational person, you’re wondering how can I¬†possibly¬†have a problem with that? It’s polite, it’s not pushy and asking for a sale too quickly, it’s a fast response from the time of sign-up (virtually instantaneous!) so the audience doesn’t forget what they’ve done, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space in my mind. Quick, easy, simple, what could be wrong with that?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that.

He [generic he, insert “she” for any females who do similar actions] said¬†Thanks.

Wait…

 

Is That A Problem?

Yeah. I think it is.

Remember, when you say Thank you, you recognize that someone else has done something for your benefit. Holding the door; picking up dropped books; giving you the best orgasm you ever had. You, the recipient of the action, feel better for the experience. And so you respond in the only appropriate way: you say Thank you.

In this situation, an e-mail list owner saying¬†Thank you¬†for signing up is giving the impression that the action was done for the e-mail list owner’s benefit.

Not for the benefit of the one who signed up!

This is cognitive dissonance at its best: the action and reaction aren’t part of the same sequence. Action: sign up for a list to receive tips about [whatever business]. Reaction: instead of getting tips, get sold products through that list (or corresponding actions, like phone calls, direct mail, etc.). At least, that’s the impression your audience is receiving, when you present the image that their sign-up¬†benefited you.

Now, I’m not advocating that you shouldn’t use an e-mail list. Frankly, it can be a pretty powerful tool, given appropriate list selection, message, timing, offer, etc.

And I’m not advocating to eliminate your autoresponder. Both are valuable.

Provided, that is, your audience doesn’t feel like they’ve been deceived. If they get that dissonant experience, they’ll likely start building a subconscious picture of you as a deceiver. Not one that they could put into words, but just a feeling they have.

And, to be frank, most people won’t recognize it. Not on the surface, anyway. It’s going to go much deeper than that. Something just doesn’t sit right with them when they receive your e-mails. Perhaps they don’t open them, or if they do, only open every so often. Why?

Well, if you ask that audience, they might say, “I’m too busy.” Or, “It’s too long.” Maybe even “I get so much already, I don’t have time to read something else!” Well, then, I’d ask,¬†Why did you sign up for the e-mail in the first place? And what changed?

The original sign-up was to get tips and tricks for [whatever] business. What changed was the perception of that business from one that wanted to educate me and give me tips, to one that wanted to sell to me. Thus my disengagement and disinterest with your e-newsletter.

 

What Does That Mean?

At the simplest, it means that people who actually do sign up for your e-mail list will immediately get the impression that what they’ve done is for your benefit, not theirs. That attitude will persist throughout their life on your list. And because that’s their perception, they’ll be less likely to stay on the list… less likely to buy… less likely to tell someone else about it.

In short, saying Thank you at this point is completely wrong, because it turns the focus back to the company, rather than keeping it squarely on the audience.

 

So, What Should We Do Differently?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with being polite. And there’s nothing wrong with selling someone through your list. But just be clear about the intentions up-front. Don’t act with a bait-and-switch mentality.

That means that instead of¬†thanking them for signing up for the list,¬†congratulate¬†them. And perhaps it’s not so obvious as “Congratulations, you could be a winner!” That’s just as false. But there are plenty of other ways to think about the customer’s perspective in that action, and acknowledge it in a way that matches their intention.

It could be as simple as only a few words of revision that are needed. Maybe it’s as easy as rewriting the example from above as:

Welcome!

You’ve done a good thing today. The [business type] tips you’ll receive every Thursday will help you [do that business better].

Can you see how it’s a subtle shift?¬†Thank you puts the emphasis on the business as the beneficiary.¬†Turning it around with You’ve done a good thing¬†is consistent with what the signer-upper thought they were doing, and keeps the action and reaction in the same line.

This consistency is likely to lead to greater reader open rates… greater engagement… higher reputation… and, ultimately, a better-performing list.

Give it a try. Change up your autoresponder, and see what happens with those who sign up and receive the¬†Well done¬†message instead of the¬†Thank you¬†message. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

craft, Writing improvement

A Reading List For Life

In the next couple of months I’m going to be rolling out a book review series of business-type titles I’ve read recently. These are on my list because others have recommended them to me as I’m building my freelance business, as I’m networking, and as I’m just coming across interesting titles. That’s for another time, though. For now, I’d like to offer a different kind of reading list.

A reading list for anyone, regardless of what business you’re in, what job you do, or where you are in your relationships, spiritual journey, or in your training to hike the Sonora Desert with just two tubs of peanut butter for sustenance.

These are books that I think anyone would enjoy. Moreover, these are books that anyone would get value from, either in a new perspective on the world, new insights about personhood, or an interesting, deeper view of a subject than you can find on social media.

 

Writing Books

Elements of Style; Strunk & White

Strunk and White cover

This is the classic “how to make your writing better” book. It’s short, to the point, and doesn’t pull any punches. Whether you write for a living or not, reading this will give you a more persuasive way to say virtually anything you write.

The 10% Solution; Ken Rand

10Percent solution

This short volume challenges anyone to go back after they’ve gotten everything written and then cut 10% . Rand gives some tips on how to do it, but, more importantly, it’s the¬†why that matters. When you’re trying to influence another, whether it be through written or spoken word, forcing a cut of 10% while still keeping the main message ensures that you’ve critically thought about what you want to say and the most effective way to say it.

Writing Down the Bones; Natalie Goldberg

writing down the bones

My instructor introduced this book when I was taking a creative writing course in college. Written by a poet and writer, about the writing process, Writing Down the Bones has been my guide for directing my writing practice for over 20 years. Highly recommended for inspiration on how to break away from the world, some rules to follow when writing, and general ideas about what to write about.

 

Inspiration / Memoir

Into Thin Air; John Krakauer

Into thin air

Krakauer tells the true-life story of a tragedy on Mount Everest. He is a journalist, so he brings a deft touch to telling the story of loss and misfortune. However, more than simply reporting what happened, Krakauer tells a true-life story with an intensity and authenticity rarely experienced in other narratives, because he lived it. He was a member of the expedition whose goal was to summit the highest peak on the planet, and his unique combination of journalistic skill and mountaineering background give readers a perspective unmatched in exploration narratives.

Never Let Go; Dan John

Never Let Go

Dan John is a former weight lifting and throwing coach for the United States Olympic Track & Field Team (at least, that’s how I remember it). This combination of memoir / essay / just-do-it missive is the first book I’ve ever read cover-to-cover and then went immediately to page 1 to do it again. John talks about weightlifting, about training, about mental and physical discipline, about diet, and about how to actually achieve results, not just talk about them.

When Breath Becomes Air; Paul Kalanithi

when breath becomes air

What do you do when diagnosed with a terminal illness? Kalanithi, a highly-acclaimed surgeon, decided to write down his thoughts as he experienced them, and luckily for us decided to publish them. “That morning, I made a decision; I would push myself to return to the OR. Why? Because I could. Because that’s who I was. Because I would have to learn to live in a¬† different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”

 

Reframe Everything You Thought You Knew About A Popular Subject

Why We Get Fat; Gary Taubes

why we get fat

The old adage is Calories In (minus) Calories Out (equals) Change in Weight. If Calories In is more than Calories Out, we’ll gain weight, and vice versa. Taubes distills his weighty academic tome¬†Good Calories, Bad Calories into a popular version, and for the good.¬†Why We Get Fat examines, and refutes, many simplistic notions of weight gain and loss using scientific research. And he points out places where it would be good for more science, but we just don’t have it yet. This is essential for understanding that sometimes (okay, often), complex systems are complex.

Dataclysm; Christian Rudder

dataclysm

We’ve all seen the rise in dating apps like Tinder and OK Cupid.¬†Dataclysm is from OK Cupid founder Christian Rudder, and provides a lot of behind-the-scenes information and analysis. The point of this book is that as much as people may¬†say they wish for certain characteristics in their romantic partner, their actions tell a different story. Applications to marketing, to business, and to personal life abound.

The Prophet; Khalil Gibran

the prophet

This is a blend of philosophy, religion, and poetry. In The Prophet, the Prophet himself educates a town on their ignorance of the true valuable priorities in life: what work is, what money is, what society is, what love is. I loved reading this simply for the different perspective it offers on how to live a good life and the interconnectedness of us all.

 

Good Fun

The Calvin & Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book; Bill Watterson

calvin and hobbes

Watterson was at the top of the world with¬†Calvin & Hobbes, his beloved comic strip about a young boy and his best friend. The¬†10th Anniversary Book explains much of Watterson’s thought process around developing the strip, the characters, even his arguments with his syndicate over licensing issues. Not just for fans,

The Sparrow; Mary Doria Russell

the sparrow

This sci-fi novel tells of the journey and return of Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest sent to Rakhat to proselytize the natives and save their souls. Many times sci-fi completely glosses over or ignores religion, both of us and them. In my opinion, this book provides the best treatment of considerations of religion in such a context.

The Time Traveler’s Wife; Audrey Niffenegger

time travelers wife

Another sci-fi, and this one was just amazing. Henry and Claire have a fantastic relationship, despite his inability to control his time traveling. But be careful – Henry’s life and Claire’s intersect in ways too numerous to count, and with consequences neither could have foreseen.

Hooway for Wodney Wat; Helen Lester

wodney wat

I love this book! I read it out loud to my daughter one evening, and the first time through I could not stop laughing. Yes, it’s a great children’s story with a classical message, but the physical joy of reading this one out loud is what makes it special.

 

What Do You Think?

Have you read any of these? Would you recommend something different to add to this list? Think I’m completely off-base? Leave me a message and let’s start the discussion. Cheers.