Fix the basics before you buy the new technology

Once upon a time, there was a country that wanted to attract high-value entrepreneurs to set up in its beautiful cities and rolling countryside. “How will we attract such rare, high-net-worth individuals?” the country’s planners asked. “These people are so hard to attract, their time is so incredibly scarce.”

“Let’s develop an idiot chatbot,” someone said. “Something that will drive them mad in less than a minute but will showcase our astonishing technical abilities.”
“What a brilliant idea,” management said. “Make sure that we get a cool launch with lots of press coverage, and that we’ve made our next career move before the shitstorm happens.”

I sat in a room as the above chatbot case study was presented and I thought that I must surely have gone totally mad.

I had in the past worked with countries that targeted high-net-worth investors. They were very successful and they achieved their results by having small, highly talented and dedicated teams that were willing to invest tremendous energy over long periods of time getting to deeply know and understand these entrepreneurs. The idea that a high-net-worth individual should be interrogated by an Artificially Ignorant chatbot would have made these teams have collective heart attacks.

Not everything works better with technology. There are many areas where the human touch, the human intellect still delivers far more value. “80% of customers don't trust chatbots for aftersales advice,” an 2018 PointSource survey stated. “Those looking for healthcare or financial advice want to speak to humans rather than a robot.”

Well-trained, dedicated humans are still better than most robots and tech at most things. It is not an inexorable logic that technology will become better than humans at everything that matters. In fact, what we see is that what technology most excels at is polluting and destroying the planet.

Cyd Harrell talks a lot of sense about good design. “Adding ‘I know you’d like to speak to an agent’ in a warm tone to a bot’s refusal to actually transfer you to an agent or to allow you to state in any way that your problem is outside its list of six acceptable answers is not good AI, UX, or CS,” she explains. Should that need to be explained? Yes, unfortunately, yes.

Designer Maish Nichani states that a chatbot “as a way to find website content is a bad idea. It just signals that the navigation and search are not working. Or that maintaining a chatbot is easier than maintaining a website – e.g. using the chatbot at the DBS website for ‘Cancel my credit card’ gives me an answer, but trying the same using the search bar gives ambiguous results. Why?”

I needed to get our mail/post redirected. As part of the process I needed to enter a redirection code on a website. The letter sent to me with the code had an incorrect website address. (Fix that problem.) So I tried the navigation. Didn’t work. Searched for the search. (The cool designers hide search now.) Couldn’t find it. Decided to use the annoying chatbot called Bill or something with the irritatingly funny face. Put in “redirection”. First result was okay, not what I needed. Changed my search to “redirection code”. First result was good.

Spread the news, girls and boys. The chatbot designers have reinvented search!

80% of customers don't trust chatbots for aftersales advice

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