Like or it don’t, your business will become increasingly dependent on bots. But your first step towards making them something customers want to deal with can actually be straightforward.

Let’s start with the simple stuff. What’s the lowest effort change you can make to instil your lifeless bot with some semblance of humanity? Give it a name.

Siri has a name, Alexa has a name, Cortana has a name. But why?

But crucially, a name is also a connection. A name is humanising. Imagine two AI voice services, identical except that one opens every interaction with ‘Hi, my name’s Maria and I’m a robot.’ I’ll bet dollars to donuts that, for CSat at least, she performs better out of the two.

Beyond that, name is brand, and brand is important when you want consumers to value your product over others. Brand is why Microsoft opted for ‘Cortana’, a reference to a futuristic AI in one of their flagship video games.

Key takeaway: draw three dots on a balloon and it has a face.  The change itself isn’t necessarily what matters – it’s the impression it gives your audience.

Let’s stay with the topic of introductions for a moment. Not just for each interaction, but at the macro level – new technology introduced to consumers. At the moment, we’re rarely telling customers how to use it.

Although auto attendants have been kicking around since the 1970s they are still the cause of a lot of aggravationWhy should that be? Why aren’t customers who grew up using IVR more comfortable with it?

There’s a good chance the blame lies with the designers.  Any bot operates within certain conditions. There are inputs it can use, and inputs that won’t trigger a response.

A UK energy provider has one of the easiest to use IVRs. It will ask you a question, but before you reply it clarifies: ‘you can answer using full sentences, or just list some keywords like meter reading, or billing information.’

Our industry should have been doing this kind of leg work over the last 30 years of widespread IVR deployment. Because we haven’t, we’ve added to customer effort. That’s not just extra clicks or transferred calls, but the mental effort of uncertainty. Am I dumb if I explain my situation to this machine? What am I supposed to say?

You’re probably forming this objection right now: ‘If we’re humanising bots, why draw attention to the artificiality?’

Well, because the object isn’t to trick our customers. When we talk about humanising bots, we’re modelling behaviours that fit with how humans really interact. And something humans do well is establishing rapport, which is a sort of ‘best practice guide’ for talking to one other.

The deaf lady working at my local supermarket will ask you to speak clearly and to face her, so she can lip read. To put that another way, she sets the terms for how to communicate with her effectively.

Key takeaway: Humans are already comfortable with other humans. If you want them to get comfortable with bots, give them (simple) instructions.

So far we’ve only made progress on our opening line – maybe we need to paint with a broader brush.

In an earlier post, I talked about this great quote from Shep Hyken: ‘Kindness and courtesy are at the root of a positive customer service experience.’

If you regularly deal with customers, you can’t hear this enough. But what does it mean for AI?

Superficially, it means they need the vocabulary of kindness and courtesy. I can’t count the number of times an automated system has said something like ‘state your name’ instead of ‘can I take your name please?’

(Is it silly to find that rude? Bots doesn’t know what they’re saying. But then, the industry has had decades to test, refine, and deploy these responses…)

It’s certainly worth making sure your bots are polite. A certain credit provider has various automated payment services with responses ranging from ‘too direct’ to ‘starting a fight’.  We can only assume that they’re not interested in impressing customers who are calling to pay bills – although I wonder how many are paying those bills for the last time before jumping ship.

What about beyond the superficial? The kind of AI we’re talking about will probably not be deliberately courteous – not really.

The courtesy is in how you choose to deploy it. Rather than interactions, think about journeys; are bots a resource for guiding staff and aiding customers? Or a way to save a buck and keep some people off the phones?

Key takeaway: Any asset is judged in the context you give it. Be human-centric in your delivery – your AI strategy – and you’re halfway to humanising the resource itself.

When was the last time you went through the same experience you give customers? Does your IVR measure up? When you take our Customer Experience Audit, you’ll find out.