Imagine you get invited to one of your best friends' parties. It is a familiar setting and you know most people. You make the rounds, shake hands and exchange pleasantries. Then you make your way to the next person, someone you see once a year at this particular birthday – let's say Lisa – and you want to ask how she has been.
But then Lisa reaches her hand and says:
Hi, I'm Lisa. It's great to meet you.
Well, actually, we met before...I think it was at this party last year.
We have all been there. You had a long chat about all sorts of things before, and somehow the other person completely forgot. It makes you feel invisible, insecure, and unrecognized, and that is of course not how you want to feel. You deserve much better. But it is not your fault: Lisa simply needs to learn to design for frequency.
What is designing for frequency?
If you are designing conversations for a chatbot or voice assistant, then you will have frequent users. These are people that reach out to your service quite often and get more familiar with the experience. You do not have to explain everything to them each and every time. So, in terms of conversation design, designing for frequency means designing conversations for returning users.
Why you need to adjust the conversational experience
It works the same in the offline world. When you have a favorite restaurant, the first time the waiter may walk you through the entire menu. But as you start coming back more often, you are being recognized and the waiter only shares important updates and changes to the menu. The exchange will be more service-oriented and there is more room for engagement – not just the transaction of going through the menu and ordering food.
It is the same with conversational experiences. The first time your chatbot might say:
Hi, my name is Derek. I'm the virtual assistant of Nudge Noodles. I can tell you about our menu, help you make a reservation, and even help you order our amazing Nudgy Noodles. What would you like to do?
For a first engagement, this is totally fine. We do not know what this virtual assistant is capable of, so it makes sense for it to give us a break down of the options. Good job, Derek!
But imagine getting this elaborate introduction each time you open the chat. You do not want to get the fool introduction, you just want to order a meal. It becomes frustrating very quickly.
For your frequent users, it makes more sense to change the introduction a little bit. This way we are not sharing information that the user already has, and we turn it into a more engaging experience.
So to the frequent user, we might say:
Introduction after a few months
Hi, great to see you again. It's Derek, the virtual assistant of Nudge Noodles. I can tell you about our menu, help you make a reservation, and even help you order our amazing Nudgy Noodles. What would you like?
This way the user does not get the same information each time he reaches out. That is already a nice win, but design for frequency also makes the user feel special. He is addressed in a personalized way and treated like a regular. We let him know that we know him, care about him, and include him in our community.
You have to admit that it is nice to be seen, recognized, and included. This is true in life and in conversation design.
When do you design for frequency?
When somebody engages with your chatbot once and then goes silent for let’s say 10 months, then we probably should remind him of what our superpowers are. So after a certain amount of time, we should treat him like a new user again and do the full introduction – the full onboarding. Wondering why this is not frustrating to the user?
Well, it has been a while and maybe he forgot about our bot’s capabilities. He is familiar with the concepts, but it helps to refresh him on the details.
If you think about it, that happens a lot at social gatherings as well.
Learn from the offline world
We have all been unrecognized and we have all been Lisa at a party. That is OK, it is part of life. However, we should strive to learn from it.
It is often best to learn from experience. To understand how people communicate, to analyze it, to break it down into simple techniques and structures so that we can apply that knowledge effectively to the conversations we design for the online world.
To make conversational experiences better and users feel recognized, let’s try to remember and implement this in the conversation design process.