The Future is Spoken

Conversational Interfaces

October 05, 2020 Keri Roberts Season 1 Episode 4
The Future is Spoken
Conversational Interfaces
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 3 of The Future is Spoken! 

Before we jump into this episode, a quick note to say you can get 15 percent off course fees at The Digital Assistant Academy before Oct. 16, 2020. Register for the Voice Interaction Design course and use the code DALAUNCH to obtain your discount.

In Conversational Interfaces, we speak with Keri Roberts, owner of Branding Connection. Based in New Jersey, Keri helps brands and businesses discover what they are great at and amplify it. She is a content marketer, and this includes a lot in the audio space, such as chatbots, voice interaction, and podcasts.

What makes a company great?

Keri loves talking about what makes companies unique, how they amplify that, how do you put that into your conversation, into your content, into your audio. For her, it has streamlined into one approach - whether someone's interacting with you on a chatbot, on a voice skill, on a podcast, on a blog, they have the same feeling about you and your brand throughout.

What is a conversational interface?

Keri says that a good definition of a conversational interface is an AI conversation with a human element. 

She explains: “Whether it's a voice or a chatbot generally, it's really about the conversation that that AI is having, that a computer system if you want to think that way, is having with an individual.”

A chatbot or any other interface we engage with is obviously not actual human being, but when we interact with it, we want it to feel a little bit human, and that's similar with a voice skill interaction as well. “So that's how I look at it is how do we interact with an AI with a computer in a way that has somewhat of a human quality,” she adds.

What makes a good interface?

Keri also explores what makes a good conversational interface. In her view, it’s one that really signifies the brand of the company that created it. So the conversational interface is really unique to them, so that when we are interacting with it, we feel like we are interacting with the personification of somebody who might work there. 

The other piece that makes a conversational interface really good is that it has to be efficient. In other words, it has to be helpful to the user who is interacting, and it has to give them what they need and want in that moment.

Inclusion and representation in voice

In addition, Keri is big on inclusion and community and making sure all voices are heard, and everyone is thought about. She works to ensure that in her work everyone is included. 

Keri explains: “When we're talking about conversational interfaces, we want to think about who is interacting with that when you're talking about people of different cultures, different backgrounds, different languages, different genders, and then of course different disabilities.”

In this episode, Keri also talks about the importance of brands being clear about their identity before working on a conversational interface, and how to work with other members of a conversational design team when working on an interface. 

Show notes

Find Keri Roberts:




The Digital Assistant Academy

The Academy’s podcast:

0 (11s):

1 (11s):
And welcome to episode three of The Future is Spoken produced by the digital assistant Academy. This Show accompanies the digital assistant Academy's course entitled voice interaction. Design if you Register for the voice interaction design course by October 16th, 2020, you will be eligible for a 15% discount. On course fees. Enter the code, D a L a S U N C H for your discount. That's D a launch we'll include these details in the show notes. In today's episode, Keri Roberts a conversational interface and Branding specialist discusses Conversational Interfaces and their Design.

1 (57s):
She explores how they look and work. And importantly, she discusses Inclusion because an interface or chatbot has to be able to interact with everyone. Keri is interviewed by host Sheila Cagle. Enjoy the episode.

0 (1m 13s):
Hi, Kevin. Welcome to the future of Spoken. Thank you for having me excited to be here. That was great. It's not a pleasure. I'm really looking forward to everything that you can share today. And before we jump into talking about Conversational Interfaces can you tell us about yourself and, and what you do? Yeah, so my name is Carey Roberts. I'm the owner of Branding Connection. And I like to say that I help entrepreneurs and businesses find what they're great at and amplify it. So I do brand and content marketing, and that also includes a lot within the audio space, including podcasts, chatbots, and voice as well. Wow. So you, you have a finger in many different pies, it sounds as though, or from your perspective, would you say that this is somehow all related?

0 (1m 59s):
Yeah, I think they're all related. I am always talking about, you know, companies finding what they're great at, what makes them unique. And then how do you amplify that? How do you put that into your conversation, into your content, into your audio? So that it's kind of streamlined, whether someone is interacting with you on a chat bot on a voice skill, on a podcast, on a blog, they have the same feeling about you and your brand throughout. Okay. So did you begin in marketing and branding and then recently move into Voice and Conversational Interfaces? So my original background is in dance and health and fitness.

0 (2m 39s):
I've been a dancer, pretty much all of my life. And I worked in the wellness arena for a long time. I owned a dance studio for a long time, and I've always been about treating people well, treating myself well, how can we create more community? How can we get more voices heard? How can we connect people better? So the vehicle has been different, but the why behind it has been the same. And when I had the dance studio, one of the things that worked really well was really solidifying our brand. What makes us unique, keeping that across all the content that we did, we installed a chatbot that worked really well from a sales perspective.

0 (3m 19s):
It started a podcast that kind of exemplified what we did as well. And when I moved out of the state where that was, I really was like, I really love this piece. This branding piece is community piece is content marketing piece and kind of, how can I help others? And then when it came to Voice technology, I first heard about it through Gary Vaynerchuk. He had spoken about it on his podcast and I was like, wow, this is another great way to connect us to the people and the things that we love and want most. And so I started getting more involved in it, attended Voice summit, started working with Voice summit, helped them build their brand and content and have interviewed countless people in all elements of voice technology.

0 (4m 3s):
And then actually worked with Voice. If I were to build a Voice scale for my podcast that recently launched as well. So I'm definitely coming at it from that kind of Branding content standpoint, that Conversational

2 (4m 15s):
Design standpoint. Wow. That's fascinating what a fascinating background as well. So, so to your life and your work, you bring this underlying philosophy of like self care and care for others.

0 (4m 29s):
Yeah. And I think it's also about, I'm very big on inclusion and community and making sure all voices are heard and everyone is thought about that. It's not just about one type of person, but really how can we reach everyone? And I think that's something with Voice that is being worked on currently and something that will continue to be worked on and can be done in and kind of a, a new and fascinating way.

2 (4m 53s):
Wow. And inclusion and diversity, as you just mentioned, they're so important. And I know this is a little bit of a digression, but Shyamala the, the Academy's founder, as I mentioned that so much, that voice assistants don't speak to everyone and they don't include everyone. And this is something that is important for the industry.

0 (5m 10s):
It is. And I think, you know, when we're talking about Conversational, Interfaces, we want to think about who is interacting with that. You know, when you're talking about people have a different cultures, different backgrounds, different languages, different genders, and then of course, different disability, how can your voice skill or your chat bot or your conversation to be able to interact with everyone? And one of the things I'm on, and I talked about recently, when we did the Voice tech summit of India, I interviewed her along with someone from sound town. And one of the things that she talked about that they did really well at Ford was when they were doing the in-car voice assistants, when they're creating them for different parts of the world, they adjust them.

0 (5m 53s):
So in India, she had talked about one of the things that was really important. It was it's really loud and the roads are really bumpy and you have to be able to create an interface that can really understand what people are talking. There's a variety of dialects in India. And another thing that's really important to India is a Cricut. And so the way that they developed a voice in the car for, for, for India is very different than the way they may have done it for China or for the us. And so that's somebody that's really thinking, okay, how do we create this brand for this company, but how do we adjust it with this demographic who is gonna interact with it, which is really smart and how it should be done.

2 (6m 33s):
Wow. So very fallen with thinking and a progressive in terms of including people and cultures and nuances that we all encounter when we travel, even in our own communities, actually, because they are so multicultural. Now

0 (6m 48s):
It is, you know, when I, I have spoken to a few other people about conversation design, and one of the things they talk about too, is cultural nuances and differences in our language, which is a big reason why people who are linked in linguistics come into Conversational, Design this idea that you could say something in English and say it in Japanese, for example, and you're saying the same thing, but the tones are different. And as your voice skill is your interface. If it's something that is speaking, doesn't have that tone. Correct. You know, we are really thinking about not just different languages, what we're thinking about tone. We are also thinking about different dialects. We're thinking about how do you hear something?

0 (7m 29s):
There is so much that goes into the interface that is beyond just what is written or what is spoken.

2 (7m 35s):
Okay, good. Well, that's fascinating, Carrie. Thanks for sharing that perspective. Now let's, let's jump into Conversational Interfaces and when I first read that term, I thought, Ooh, I felt intimidated. You know, it sounds very tech heavy, got no idea what it really means. I understand that two words separately. So could you begin by giving us a definition of Conversational Interfaces

0 (7m 60s):
I think the way that I define it, because I am not a technical person by trade it's really about when you're building anything. That is an AI conversation. So whether it's a Voice or a chat bot, generally those are the two that we're normally talking about here is really about the conversation that, that AI is having that computer system. If you want to think that way is having with an individual. And so you're really thinking about if I'm interacting with a chat bot, it's not an actual human being, but when I interact with it, I want it to kind of feel a little bit human and that's similar with a Voice skill Interaction as well. So that's how I look at it is how do we interact with an AI, with a computer in a way that has somewhat of a human quality, but it's never going to be exactly.

0 (8m 48s):
And how do we interact with the human in a way that's best for them and most of them.

2 (8m 52s):
So thanks for that, that definition really good. And I think it's something that people will be able to relate to and connect with. And do you think it's true to say that Conversational Interfaces is kind of a broad umbrella term and then within that we have to go a little bit deeper and focus on the brand's personality and the specifics that we need for a given interface.

0 (9m 19s):
Yeah. I think, you know, I'm sure someone who's more technical will define it a little bit differently, but I do think, yeah, it's a broad umbrella and there are many facets to it to make it robust and to make it efficient and to do it well, definitely.

2 (9m 34s):
Well, okay. So from your perspective, as someone who works in, in Branding and invoice, can you tell us what makes a good Conversational interface?

0 (9m 48s):
Yeah, I think what makes a good conversational interface is one that really signifies the brand of the company who created it. So its really unique to them so that when I feel like I'm interacting with it, I feel like I'm interacting with the kind of, you know, almost like a personification of somebody that might work there. So everybody is going to have a different brand. Every person has a different brand. And then the other piece is that it makes it really good is again, it has to be efficient. It has to be able to be helpful to the user that's interacting and it has to give them what they need and want in that moment. So all of those things, again, that's very broad and seems easier said than done, but those are the things we really want to be thinking about them.

2 (10m 34s):
There's a whole, okay. So if you are interacting just for, by way of example, with a se an interface on the Honda website, you'd expect that personality to come through. And I guess maybe I'd define that as something that is kind of like slightly fun, but very reliable, strong brand persona, well known a, a great reputation. I don't think they have had any issues with a diesel fumes or anything like that. That some of the brands we won't mention have hard. So you'd expect to find that personality behind the Voice Interfaces as soon as you begin interacting with it.

0 (11m 15s):
Yeah. I think it's a good example of, you know, a Honda has different clients then rolls Royce, right? It's it's a different clientele. It's a different, it's this, their elbows in the auto industry, but what they create, what they value, what is unique to them is different. And so the experience that I have with their Conversational Interfaces it should feel different. It still, like I said, should be able everybody should be able to access it. It should be efficient. It should be answering the right questions, giving the information I need, but it should be done in a way that showcases those two and they are different and they should be different. So just like their commercials are different. Their sound is going to be different. Their conversation is going to be different, just like their product is different.

2 (11m 59s):
Now let's stick a little bit deeper in terms of developing a conversational interface, which is something that many of the students that the digital assistant Academy will need to focus on when an individual or a team begins working on creating a conversational interface, you've already touched on many of the different things that they need to consider. And as you said, it sounds simple, but often in life, the simplest things are complex. So where does one begin? So when you're starting to work with the new client, Carrie, and they say, you know, this is my brand, I'm a marketing agency.

2 (12m 38s):
You know, maybe it's a venue and say in Southern Ontario or California or any kind of brand and what, what did you start to do?

0 (12m 47s):
So if the company is very clear on their brand and who they are and who they are trying to attract and what their quality is our, I mean, that's already a huge piece. That's done. I have found a lot of companies that are not there yet, but if somebody is very established, they are going to have that. So that's a great place. The next thing I would say to them is two things. Number one, what are the most frequently asked questions that you get? And then number two, is there anything that your customers or potential customers would want or need that would be best in a Voice first option? So we hear the term voice first, quite often.

0 (13m 29s):
And that basically means that voice first is the best option. So we want to make sure we're not making something redundant or it's making it harder, but it's making it easier. So for example, for this skill that I had created with the company, for my podcast, one of the things they had originally said, it was like, Oh, well just make the skill just simple and play your podcast. And I said to them, I said, well, that's not helpful. They were already playing it on a platform. Now they've got to go to another platform to play it again. Like that's, that's not really what my listeners would need. So that wouldn't be a Voice first thing.

0 (14m 11s):
But for me it was about how can I organize the content? There is so much content, how can I organize where they can ask the Assistant exactly what they're looking for and that's what we've created. So you really want to think about, okay, well, what am I getting a frequently asked? How can I do something that is going to be voice first best, or again, if you're doing chatbots something similar, it's just a little bit of a different interface. Obviously I've used chatbots for clients from a sales perspective where, you know, they say, okay, I keep asking you the same questions over and over. I want to decrease my sales time. And so we created a chat bot to kind of get the answers that they need sooner so that they can the conversation and kind of decrease the amount of time.

0 (14m 54s):
So really those two things, what are frequently asked, what do customers need that would be done more efficiently and faster with a Voice or chat bot, if it's slower than texting or email or looking at on a website, then its not the right solution for those two platforms.

2 (15m 12s):
Mm. And you've made an important distinction there that it's really gotten to be easier for the customer. Not simply because someone thinks, Oh, I have to answer that question again. You know, do what ever. That's not the real reason to resolve and impatient staff member. It's really about making the journey as convenient and easy as possible for the clients.

0 (15m 37s):
It is. And I think, you know, it was, Shyamala working for Ford, you know, with them being in the car. Right. So Voice is a little bit different there. If you can say to your car, Hey, turn on the radio, tell me how to go hear you can just talk at it. You're going to be less distracted with having to push buttons. So that makes sense to have something in that space. Another company that had done it, it was a gas company, a I believe out in the UK. And one of the simple things that people wanted was they wanted to know, you know, what the temperature was for the boiler is the, is it, can I turn it back on what's going on? You know, they wanted some of these frequently asked questions that they can just ask their Assistant very quickly and that helped them tremendously.

0 (16m 21s):
So again, it's going back to what actually needs to be done here. What are the customer's need? And is it faster doing it in this way? If not, it's not the right solution for this class

2 (16m 32s):
For and so then the next step in terms of developing or designing the Conversational Interfaces is to walk to, would it be to start putting down the dialog or would it be working on the technical aspect of it? Where does the process go next?

0 (16m 50s):
So I think each person is going to have something a little bit different in how they work, because I am not the developer on that end. I usually like to have a strategy. I like to have some of the conversations set up first and then worked with the development teams. But again, somebody, it might have a slightly different process. I think the process is really dependent on each individual and each company, but really the end result is what matters. Just like anything else. So for me, if I am working with an organization I'm really going to do a lot of interviewing and asking questions. A lot of times I'll record them to get their answers, do some research on the company. Maybe I'll ask them for their customers. You really want to gather all the research you possibly can.

0 (17m 32s):
And then I kind of go from big to small. So I kind of will write out, ah, what do I think the, the big idea is here? What kind of flow do I want to put in? What are the questions people are asking? And I'll kind of create it in like a big way and then make it smaller time. One of the things I will say that's different from a chat bot or a Google search versus a voice search or a voice skill is the way that we communicate and have that conversation. The way that you speak to somebody, the way you and I are right now is not the same that I would probably text you. So that's something that you want to be thinking of as well. So when I'm going through, I will have conversations and say, when somebody actually say this out loud, if not, then it's probably not the right conversation to be writing for a Voice skill.

0 (18m 23s):
Maybe it was for a chatbot, but you really wanna be thinking about, okay, with somebody, ask this question. So for example, if I go on to Google on my computer and I searched for something and I'm searching for maybe event's on Friday, I'm not going to actually say that to my Voice scale. The differences might be what events are happening this Friday. And my area verses when I type it in its a couple words, but we really want to be thinking of a sentence when it comes to Voice. So from big to small again, interviewing people, gathering all the research you need and then going through, okay. What's kind of the flow here from a basic standpoint, writing, what are some of these questions here?

0 (19m 6s):
And then I would go to my development team and say, okay, here's the concept I have. Here's what I'm thinking. And then for them to say, okay, we can do this, we can't do this. What if we do it this way? You have to have a conversation to see what we'll work from a development phase, as well as what is appropriate for a Google and Amazon Alexa, if that's what you're using, unless you're developing your own and then its kind of a back and forth a little by little. So again, I'm kind of making it sound very easy. There's a lot of processes, but really going from that big to small as how I would first describe it. Yeah.

2 (19m 40s):
Mm now, and that makes sense the way you described and, and the point that you've made about, you know, when someone asks, this is a question is so important and that's the kind of thing that a speech writers wear or learn early on the, yes, it looks great on paper, but you know, when the, the leader or the CEO, whomever reads it, you know, it does it sound natural. Does it flow as the spoken word? And that's something that people who work in Voice Design must, must be conquered as a challenge. And yeah, you said it sounds easy, but of course it's not, it sounds like a lot of work. So it's the, the, the data gathering first as much information as you can and then narrowing things down as you go and coming up with what I would imagine the final conversation options, or do you call it a dialogue?

0 (20m 31s):
Yeah. You can call it a call it a dialog, a flow conversation. Design I think there's a lot of different terms that are being used for it right now, because in some ways it's still New but yes, any of those ones.

2 (20m 43s):
Mm. And do you use any kind of focus or individuals or clients to test out a, a, a company's dialogue or conversation that they've created before you actually make it live?

0 (20m 60s):
And so it depends again on how big the company is. If it's a smaller organization or it's an entrepreneur, you know, I'm just going to kind of work with them and we're kind of testing on the backend. Obviously, if it's a large organization, you might wanna do a focus group. Like you said, test it out. I do think it's good to push something out. It's never going to be perfect. I think a lot of times people want everything to be exactly as it should be in. Perfect. But you want to put something out to the task because you don't know if it's going to work until it is tested and then you get the feedback. So similar to how we look at Google analytics, you do get feedback from the Voice skills. So when I'm talking specifically with Voice here, but I'm sure you get back to see who's saying, excuse me, not who, but what is being said, we don't know who is saying it that you get to see, OK.

0 (21m 50s):
If somebody is asking, you know, how fast does this car? And that's being asked quite often, and you don't have a piece in your conversation that answers that that's a clue to say, okay, we need to create something that, the answers that. So it's important to make sure you are pushing something out or even if it's not perfect. Then the other thing that I would say is that you want to crawl before you walk. So you want to kind of start simple, start easy to start small. How do people respond to that? How does that go then kind of go to the next level, then the next thing and continue to make it robust from that.

2 (22m 24s):
I see. And do you, do you find that some companies or brands that you work with are a little bit afraid of that kind of error factor? 'cause to me it would seem like really a natural thing to do to be open to that feedback. And it shouldn't be viewed as an error or if something needs to be changed or you decide to rework something, its a very much creative process. Isn't it?

0 (22m 49s):
It is. I think again, I think it depends on how large the company is. It depends on what they feel comfortable with. You know, what? It always comes down to that. I honestly think if the skill is coming, first of all, with good intentions, I do think it's important to get a variety. This is where Inclusion comes in. As it comes in, before we put it out a variety of people to test it, do they think something is not inclusive? Do they think it's offensive? Do they think there is an issue with it? I'm you know, you're not going to hit everybody, but maybe if you got 20 completely different people, it's a test it and give their feedback that might prevent some stuff as well. I'm just an example. A little while back Twitter had put out this option where you could do like kind of like this voice recording on Twitter and people could share it.

0 (23m 38s):
So maybe if you wanted to share your voice or you couldn't type something short enough, you could kind of share something. And it was like, Oh this is great. Well, people who are hard of hearing or in the deaf community felt very left out. And that I think is an example of, I don't think anyone at Twitter did that intentionally. I don't know anyone that worked on it personally, but I think it's, you know, when somebody needs to come in and say, are we making this inclusive? Does this to our best of our ability, especially if you're a larger company and you have more people that are, are interacting and do you have the budget to do so, did we do this in a way that would be super helpful or are we excluding someone?

0 (24m 21s):
So that's kind of an example where something happened. Okay. Maybe that was like that. It wasn't a great S but it doesn't mean that they did it on purpose or that it was bad. Now it's feedback to say, let's go back to the drawing board. How do we adjust this? How do we make people who are hard of hearing or deaf included in this new feature? What can we do to test it and to fix it? And maybe we also have to ask their opinion. What do they think would be helpful for something like this,

2 (24m 50s):
As you said, I mean, people, organizations don't deliberately want to offend people. It just might be a lack of knowledge or lack of awareness, or sometimes you call it up in the business plan or a corporate goals that you, you don't research enough. So those were important points. Yeah. Now,

0 (25m 8s):
So I just want to have a say on that too. I think, you know, there are people who are UX researchers and their job is to have an unbiased view and really look at the research doc to support their idea, but too look at the research as a whole. And that's a really important skill to have. And, and again, if a team can afford that, that's great to have that person on your team as well. And this is where, again, my personal feeling about treating people well, including people. But I think a lot of people share this inclusion and diversity is about having a mix of people in a mix of thought or a lot of people tend to bring people that are similar to them on, and yes, you want to have the same values and goals, but you want people that have different ideas and different perspectives.

0 (25m 58s):
That is how you create something that is global and that reaches everyone. And I think that is one of the biggest challenges of Voice is everyone should be able to use it. It's going to be, I think a little while before we get there where it does feel inclusive for every single person, but that is the ultimate goal in that starts with having your team and the people you hire and the people you involve that have a diversity in thought and in background as well.

2 (26m 26s):
Wow. That is such important points. Thanks for adding those. Keri very valuable. Now, are there any books or resources that you would recommend to people who are approaching a Voice Design and Conversational Interfaces in particular for the first time? Anything that you like to rely on? Sorry, such as a podcast or, yeah,

0 (26m 50s):
I think a, because in some ways Voice has been around for a while, but it's still a very new space. And I think one of the best ways that we can learn from other people, many people know of voice bots at AI, but can sell it as a great job of providing just kind of the latest Voice news. So that's really good. Joan, who is the owner of women and Voice, she is a linguist and a researcher and designer herself. And that is a great group as well for people to ask questions and resources. And so I think, you know, when you attend different Voice events, whether they are online or eventually in-person when we go back to that, its really about, again, having conversations in real life, how do you get better at conversations?

0 (27m 35s):
And Conversational Interfaces you talked to real people. So we have conversations with different people in the space. What are you doing are, what do you think about this? Talk to people that are outside of Voice there are a lot of people that still don't even know what it is, you know, what would get them to use it what's missing. So I think having conversations with real people are looking for various Voice events. Like I said, women, a voice is great. The Voice bought that AI and there's a lot of other podcasts and events that are great resources as well.

2 (28m 4s):
No, that's great. Thank you. And before we wrap up Keri is there any guidance that you would offer to students who are starting the Academy that are getting set to take this first course voice interaction design? What, what kind of guiding words would you give them on Conversational Interfaces or other career in Voice designer as a whole?

0 (28m 28s):
I think the biggest advice I can give is to stay curious. Technology is constantly changing and there are a variety of people in this world with various experiences. So the more you stay curious, the more your open to listening, to not get attached, two, one idea or one way of doing something the better you will be as a designer, as a conversationalist, as anyone who is involved in this space and always make sure that you are trying to think about how can I make sure more people are included? Have I done the best I can to include as many people that can use this particular interface? So I think the first thing I would say is to constantly stay curious and always be learning technology is constantly changing all the time.

0 (29m 12s):
And there are a variety of people in this world that have had different experiences and live different lives and have different ways of thought. So its really important to be able to be curious, be open and be willing to learn and not just get stuck in our one way of doing things. I think the other piece is to continue to have real conversations with real people, make sure that you're always asking yourself is this skill that I'm doing to the best of my ability to the budget that I've been allowed, able to as many

2 (29m 42s):
People as a possible that's fantastic. What, what great guidance I think that will really help people and such important points to remember. So thanks so much, Carrie. And it was a yeah, your welcome. It was a pleasure speaking with you today and I'm sure we'll feature you again in The Future is Spoken so I appreciate it. Yeah. Take care of yourself and I look forward to connecting again soon.

1 (30m 10s):
Thanks for listening today. Remember you can find all the information on how to become a certified voice interaction designer along with show notes and that's Digital pre-register before the academies launch in October for a 15% discount by entering the discount code, D a L a U N C H that's a 15% discount with the code Dee a launch. In our next episode, we'll be exploring Voice design strategies and how to create them with strategy pro <inaudible> be sure to add,

3 (30m 54s):
Well, listen.