As the tech giants start to realise the importance of personality in delivering an engaging conversational AI experience, will consumers start demanding more charisma from their devices and digital services?
For businesses with a strong cultural brand this could be a huge differentiator. In the same way people select which radio station they listen to based on the DJ, they could soon be choosing the digital personalities they interact with in the same way. Do you prefer a bit of sarcasm and wit delivered along with your messages or would you like a more consolatory tone when being told your favourite team lost the match last night?
Our R&D team have been analysing how personality affects a conversation for many years. You can see some of the theories in action with Loebner prize winning chatbot Elbot, although don’t expect a normal conversation. He’s specially trained in psychological techniques to keep the chat going until you’re ready to reach breaking point, just try asking him the sum of 2+2. Indeed, more often than not, he will consciously give the wrong answer just so that he can argue the point, even if it’s defending the fact that 2+2=5!!!
The perception of control increases satisfaction
But there’s a hidden agenda here, and it’s all to do with the psychology of the conversational system. In this scenario, it’s possible to cajole the user into a long conversation – the very goal of a ‘chatbot’ - because people are ‘pre-programmed’ to believe that robots should be able to compute mathematics. That’s because it’s human nature to react to stereotypes. We fill in any gaps according to our expectations and react predictably to inconsistencies.
Teenagers have been subject to reverse psychology by their parents for years. But just like persuading someone to ditch their unsuitable boyfriend, it has to be used subtly. Known as reactance and first described by Brehm in 1966, it can be used to manoeuvre users into having predictable conversations, whilst still providing them with the illusion that their reactions are unique and original.
If for instance Elbot denies knowledge or refuses to correct a wrong answer, the user will persist in their line of questioning until the issue is resolved, all the time receiving answers which were intended for just this situation. The perception of control within dialogue simulation is important if the user is to have a positive experience. We constantly see that users are only satisfied if they believe they are in control of the conversation situation, to the point that we sometimes receive emails telling us that Elbot has bug in his mathematics algorithm.
Personality engages customers
Personality is essential in conversational applications for all kinds of reasons. For instance, as far-field devices such as smart home speakers increase in popularity, so consumers are becoming more used to automated help that doesn’t have “face”, and avatars are frequently no longer used. This allows the customer to build an image in their own mind about the “person” they are conversing with, but personality still allows an organisation to project its brand.
But personality isn’t just to please customers or to define a brand, as Elbot proves it’s personality that engages the user. The more immersed in the experience the user is, the more they use the conversational interface, and the more data you receive in return. This information can then be used to further personalise the conversation, and deliver actionable data to the business.
While some businesses will want to continue to project their brand in their customer engagement, for consumer orientated interactions such as mobile personal assistants, smart home devices and in-car entertainment, personality choices can be a way to differentiate.
In just the same way we like to choose a ringtone for our phone or a voice for our sat-nav, in the future we won’t have to worry about whether or not we get along with our digital devices, because we’ll have already chosen the personality that suits our mood.
Andy Peart is CMSO of Artificial Solutions, an international business that “Makes Technology Think,” believing that people should be able to interact with technology intelligently, using their own voice, in their own terminology and across whatever channel they choose.