Article | 9 min read

Conversational UX: A beginner’s guide (+5 best practices)

Conversational UX is quickly becoming a key ingredient in an exceptional customer experience, but getting started can be difficult. Here’s everything you need to know about conversational UX (and how to successfully implement it) before you dive in.

By Lydia Durkovic, Contributing Writer

Published December 9, 2021
Last updated March 23, 2022

In 2013, our world witnessed one of the most poignant and romantic love stories in recent memory between Joaquin Phoenix and…a robot. It’s a tale as old as time: Guy gets phone, guy falls in love with phone’s operating system, and a beautiful relationship blossoms.

Her may be an extreme example, but the movie offers an important lesson for businesses: Humans and technology can have interactions that—at the end of the day—are deep, meaningful, and shockingly human.

This communication is known as conversational UX. Although it probably won’t land you in a whirlwind romance, it is quickly becoming one of the most critical components of a successful customer experience.

What is conversational UX?

Conversational user experience (UX) incorporates chat, voice, or other technologies to mimic natural human conversation. Essentially, it’s two-way communication between humans and robots.

While the idea of robotic interactions may feel futuristic, the reality is that conversational UX is already all around us. Consumers are telling virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa and Siri to play the latest Taylor Swift song and using the chat feature on their favorite shopping websites to ask questions. Thanks to conversational UX, they’re able to quickly access information, get product recommendations, book appointments, make purchases, and much more—all without ever interacting with another human.

Whether it’s voice-enabled or built on text-based interfaces, conversational UX is becoming a natural part of the modern world—particularly in regard to business and customer communication.

Why is conversational UX important?

While conversational UX itself is nothing new, in recent years, it’s shifted from something that’s “nice to have” to an essential feature for businesses across all industries.

A 2021 report from Insider Intelligence shows that nearly 40 percent of Internet users prefer interacting with chatbots than virtual agents. The same report also predicts that by 2024, consumer retail spend via chatbots will reach $142 billion—a big jump from $2.8 billion in 2019. Another benefit of conversational UX? A better agent experience.

  • Improves CX

    As an expected part of the customer experience, conversational UX is key to driving customer satisfaction.

    75% of consumers will happily spend more money to buy from businesses that deliver great CX.

    Consumers want to engage with businesses in a way that’s convenient and on their terms. When they can use chatbots and other technology to get the information they need through their preferred channel, it makes for a positive experience. This can heavily influence retention and revenue—according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 75 percent of consumers will happily spend more money to buy from businesses that deliver great CX.

  • Increases opportunities for conversions

    Conversational UX can also help with lead generation, prospecting, and cross-selling and upselling.

    For example, a chatbot can collect website visitors’ names and email addresses before they ask a question, which provides context for agents and leads for marketers. Additionally, a bot can check if a consumer is eligible for a discount on an upgraded hotel room or ask if a buyer would like a face mask to complement the cleanser in their shopping cart.

  • Enhances agent efficiency

    When tools like voice assistants and chatbots are available to handle basic questions and requests, your agents have more time to focus on other inquiries that require a human touch. With less mundane tasks and improved workflows, they’ll be able to serve more customers.

    Your agents have more time to focus on other inquiries that require a human touch.

    Consider Spartan Race, which used Zendesk’s Answer Bot to help its small team of agents tackle spikes in customer requests during races. Spartan Race experienced a 9.5-percent decrease in chat volume, extending its team’s live chat availability by three hours each day.

    Conversational UX can boost not only agents’ productivity but also their overall satisfaction. And happier agents are more likely to deliver better support, which results in better customer experiences.

5 conversational UX best practices

Conversational UX is beneficial for both consumers and companies alike. But before you invest in the technology, consider the following principles for a successful conversational UX design.

1. Lay the groundwork

conversational UX groundwork

Before you can dive into the fun parts of conversational UX, you need to take a step back and work through the not-so-fun stuff—logistics.

Take some time to evaluate:

  • Channel deployment: Where will this experience live? On your website, your app, your social channels, or a combination of the three?
  • Interaction preferences: Will your interface be voice-based, text-based, or both?
  • Additional capabilities: Does the conversational UX you envision require the use of advanced AI features and machine-learning functionality? Or, is a simpler setup an option?

Once you understand the logistical needs of your conversational UX, you’ll be able to determine the complexity of your setup and find the right solution for your business.

Messaging best practices for better customer service

Get your free guide on eight ways to transform your support strategy with messaging–from WhatsApp to live chat and everything in between.

2. Build context-gathering chatbots

conversational UX chatbots

Some chatbots tend to fall short in their ability to appropriately gather customer context—the details that inform the conversation. The best way to avoid this gap? Account for both mandatory variables and optional variables when designing your chat flow.

What are variables?
Variables are pieces of information (i.e., context) that allow your conversational UX interface to progress through the various flows you set up. If the customer says x, the chatbot responds with y.

There are two different variables your bot can gather:

  • Mandatory variables: information that is necessary for the conversation to progress. All conversational UX scripts are built around these required variables. For example, if a customer wants to make an appointment, then the desired date and time for the appointment would be mandatory variables.
  • Optional variables: additional details the user may provide through their responses or website interactions without being prompted. They’re not necessary to continue the conversation, but they can be used to speed it up.

Contextual chatbots use this information to provide helpful, thoughtful answers and adjust the conversation flow to skip unnecessary steps—leading to an efficient and enjoyable user experience.

Consider how a contextual chatbot could have been used to improve the following interaction with a customer:

conversational UX chatbots

Although the customer’s need is eventually met, this interaction falls painfully short in two ways: The customer is required to repeat their request multiple times, and it quickly becomes apparent that Sally is interacting with a robot—not a human.

A contextual chatbot would account for the information provided within Sally’s first response, eliminating the additional questions and skipping to the final communication. The result? A seamless customer experience that feels productive and—somehow—human.

3. Know your use cases

conversational UX cases

Success in conversational UX occurs when the design of your system aligns directly with your customers’ intent. The bot’s script should address relevant questions for your audience, but in order to make that happen, you need to know precisely why and how users are interacting with your brand interface.

Start by identifying whether the majority of your customer interactions are sales-related or support-related. That way, you can design appropriate conversation flows and configure your system to route customers to the appropriate team.

Sales use cases for conversational UX
If the majority of your customer interactions are sales-based, focus on designing use cases that lead to conversions. These customers may be using your conversational UX interface to:

  • Find pricing
  • Book an appointment
  • Purchase a product
  • Connect with the sales team

Support use cases for conversational UX
If your customer inquiries are primarily support-based, your conversational UX design should revolve around knowledge-sharing use cases. These customers may be using your conversational UX interface to:

  • Gather information or ask a specific question about products/services
  • Solve a problem (e.g., technical issues or item returns)
  • Get in touch with the support team

Not sure how to tell whether your setup should be designed for sales use cases, support use cases, or a combination of the two? Use a sales CRM like Zendesk Sell to track customer interactions on your site. This tool will help you determine which interaction types are most popular so you can create flows for those primary use cases.

4. Write like a human, not a robot

conversational UX human

Drafting the perfect script isn’t easy, and one wrong turn could derail your entire user experience—and your business growth. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 50 percent of customers will switch to a competitor after one bad experience, and 80 percent will make the jump after more than one negative interaction.

If you want to deliver a positive conversational experience that establishes and maintains customer loyalty, consider the following tips when building your script:

  • Keep it short: It can be tempting to get fancy and wax poetic—don’t! Be respectful of customers’ time with a script that provides quick, concise answers.
  • Keep it simple: Your customer base includes people of all ages, backgrounds, and education levels. Err on the side of caution by ditching jargon for clear, straightforward language that mimics natural conversation.
  • Account for conversational hiccups: Don’t assume that each interaction will follow the script. A customer may not immediately understand how to frame their question in a way your interface understands. Provide opportunities for customers to re-state what they want before shutting down the interaction or routing them to a live support agent.

The end goal is to address your buyers’ needs but in a way that feels helpful, friendly, efficient, and—above all else—human. If you can accomplish that with your script, then you’ve officially nailed it.

5. Review and refine your processes regularly

conversational UX review

Customer needs and preferences change over time, and so should your conversational UX. To consistently offer an exceptional customer experience, you’ll need to revisit and enhance your setup on a regular basis. Block off time monthly or quarterly to:

  • Review the efficacy of your flows. Are there areas where the process frequently breaks down or where users run into issues? Pay close attention to negative interactions and try to pinpoint those triggers. If you can’t identify opportunities to improve that process, determine what additional support you need to address those pain points.
  • Analyze customer conversations. Go through and read the conversations customers are having with your chatbot or voice assistant. See if there are any frequently asked questions or recurring topics that your conversational UX interface is unable to address. Use this information to fine-tune your script or build out additional use cases based on common customer needs.

This process can be time-consuming, but once you’ve identified potential issues within your system, you’ll be better equipped to map out solutions that lead to a more positive user experience. If you’re short-staffed or have a high volume of customer interactions to review, let a chatbot support platform like Zendesk do the heavy lifting for you.

Take the first step toward conversational UX

Conversational UX is quickly becoming the differentiating factor between businesses that excel in customer service and those that fall short. If you’re ready to transform your user experience but aren’t sure where to begin, kickstart the process by investing in a customer service solution such as Zendesk. Our software can help you automate, analyze, and improve your customer interactions through conversational UX.

Messaging best practices for better customer service

Get your free guide on eight ways to transform your support strategy with messaging–from WhatsApp to live chat and everything in between.

Messaging best practices for better customer service

Get your free guide on eight ways to transform your support strategy with messaging–from WhatsApp to live chat and everything in between.

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