Chatbots help humans get stuff done—especially in collaborative spaces like Slack, Kik, Messenger, and Telegram. Typically, bots are designed in such a way that when they first encounter the user, they’ll greet them and explain how they’re going to help.
That’s great, but the question we have to ask as bot-makers is: how can we get users to spend more time talking? Bots must be engaging, free of bottlenecks, and genuinely helpful. The conversational flow needs careful planning.
Related: The ultimate guide to chatbots
So we’ve put together a few tips—most of which focus on how important it is to know your audience so you can make your chatbot as appealing and engaging as possible.
Simplify—nobody likes a confusing bot
The best chatbots have 1 goal and accomplish it well. If it tries to do too many things, it can wind up being flat-out confusing.
Simplify your bot by looking at which features your top users enjoy most. Do this by looking at the conversations of those with the highest retention and engagement rates. Expand on these popular features and cut out the ones that don’t work.
Understand different user roles
If you’ve decided to start on a collaborative platform, you’ve undoubtedly built your bot for collaborative use.
A crucial—and easy to forget—part of this, though, is remembering the different user roles and the permissions granted to them. Some default roles:
- Guests (multi or single channel)
For example, on Slack some team members are restricted to certain channels or permissions. Guests are the most restricted, able to chat in only certain channels. Test your Slack bot with each role to see what the UX is like for different members.
After releasing the bot, look at your analytics for errors, dead-ends, and other confusion points that might’ve occurred due to permissions and user roles.
We all have that annoying friend or colleague who spams the group chat. Unfortunately, your bot might be guilty of the same.
Not only is a too-chatty bot annoying to users, but your bot’s token may be revoked when it surpasses rate limits.
“Don’t greet users with a private message.”
Being considerate is among the most important chatbot design tips, because failure to do so can cause people to stop using your bot altogether.
If your bot notifies users of activity from an automated source, you’ll need to pay special attention towards notification frequency. In any case, offering users a digest of information is preferable over many notifications in a short period of time.
Related: The 3 laws of effective notifications
In addition to message frequency, be careful with sending too many direct messages. You don’t want to interrupt people too often, so only do it when necessary.
It’s better if you send DMs only when:
- You’re providing a service to the individual rather than the team
- The information in the notification is confidential
- The user messaged you first
One way to determine whether your DMs might be too invasive or annoying is to check active and engagement rates in your chatbot analytics. Check to see if users are responding to certain messages—or if they’re reading them at all.
Stay concise and minimize choices
No one wants to read a wall of text, so keep bot responses concise and easy to respond to. A picture is worth a thousand words, so using a photo or emojis can help you get a message across without saying too much.
You might also make use of UI by offering button responses. This simplifies and improves the chatbot user experience by minimizing the choices they’ll have to make, and lets them respond in a click rather than by typing out lengthy commands.
“Keep bot responses concise and easy to respond to.”
Look at how users commonly respond to certain messages, then offer those answers as default option buttons.
A chatbot is pointless if nobody knows it’s there. This is especially important for large teams where there are many users and lots of activity. Make sure your bot has an onboarding process to alert users of its existence and to get them accustomed to its features.
Typically, you’d do this by greeting users in a specific channel. This should be concise and unobtrusive. While providing a tutorial is recommended, you should offer it as an option rather than forcing users to go through it. Also include a help command and route for delivering feedback.
Oh, and don’t greet users with a private message—it can annoy them. Instead, message only the owner of the server or the person who installed the bot.
Hungry for more?
These are just the most basic suggestions when it comes to designing better conversational flows for chatbots. We’d love for you to share your own best practices with us on Twitter: @InVisionApp.
Read more about chatbots
by Ilker Koksal
Ilker is the CEO and co-founder of Botanalytics, conversational analytics & engagement tool for chatbots based in San Francisco. He is a regular speaker about conversational analytics and UI, chatbots, and early-stage fundraising.