The Conversational Interface

The Conversational Interface

07 October 2017

Sometime between age 3 and 7, you surely came across a magic carpet that flies, and Ali Baba opening the cave of treasures’ gate by saying “Open Sesame”, stories so great that span across all cultures and captured our imagination, inspiring us to make these dreams come true. The flying carpets became airplanes in the 20th century and now the dawn of talking with systems and things is rising, the technical term we use to describe it is “The Conversational Interface”.

No variation of the story included Ali Baba using a fingerprint recognition device to open the gate, nor pressing buttons to enter his password, the author used his imagination and introduced the easiest and most fascinating way to get things done, speaking. Only now in 2017, speaking is done over messaging platforms.

What is a User Interface?

A user interface is the point of interaction between a user and a system, the purpose of the interface is to understand what the user wants and translate it into a language the system understands and vice-versa.

In traditional systems (think web or mobile apps), this user interface is usually constituted by screens, buttons and forms. The user clicks some buttons and a code behind translates it into zeros and ones for a machine to understand, the user needs to learn how to get things done on this interface.  

User Interface in Real Life

The user interface is not limited to computer systems, it’s the point of interaction between you and any organization. If you go to a restaurant, the waiter is your user interface, you will speak to him in your natural language, specifying details about your orders, and he will write it down in a way the chef at the kitchen understands and then comes back to you with the dish exactly as you ordered it, if you are lucky enough!

Why Does it Matter?

It matters because it’s a very important part of the customer experience. In computer systems, this is the only element that shapes the customer experience. You have great code? Great database design? Cloud infrastructure? The customer doesn’t see all that, he only interacts with the user interface screens. So pay close attention to that if you want to provide a good customer experience.

How The Conversational Interface Works

In a conversational interface, the user doesn’t need to download your system, doesn’t need to learn it and doesn’t need to click buttons or fill forms, he simply speaks to the system, be it by voice or writing, he speaks in the same natural language he uses with his friends.

Here is an example of how the magic works. Let’s say you want to track your spending for the past month. In a traditional banking system, the user needs to go to the menu, choose account functions, choose transactions, and choose a start date and end date for the transactions he wants to see, and then choose “debit” as the transaction type. In a conversational interface the users needs to say “How much did I spend last month?”, and get the same result of all the previous steps. Are you impressed yet?

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