By Rachel McConnell, Head of Digital Content at RSA
Before the internet came along, companies collected customer information via forms. Remember filling in those order slips for your mail order catalogue, or completing a job application form? Finding a working biro became the bugbear of many admin tasks!
Then came digitisation. When companies began to sell their goods and services online, they still needed to capture the same information, so it became natural to simply digitise forms.
Over the years designers, content writers and user experience experts have helped to make forms less ‘form-like’. Habitual behaviour means that customers are now used to completing them quickly, and to make things even faster, we now have the luxury of data and intelligent devices that can pre-populate the fields for us!
But still, a lot more can be done to evolve online experiences, and for me that doesn’t just lie with beautiful UI designs. It lies in the language.
Customer expectations have changed.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of text and messenger services, as well as Artificial Intelligence.
Devices that allow us to have conversations easily can make our lives seem suddenly quite efficient.
“Siri, set a reminder for tomorrow morning,” or “Alexa, add eggs to my shopping list,” eliminates the need to scrabble around for a biro to write something down!
Having become used to brands sending us text messages, or fitness apps telling us the mileage halfway through a run, it seems we’re now much more accepting of communicating with a brand in the way we’d communicate with friends.
What does this mean for content?
As a content writer, the problem I’ve always had with forms is inflexibility.
A form provides limited space to communicate with a customer. It’s quite one-sided – the onus is on the customer to decide which bits to complete and read.
A more conversational web journey allows a brand to have a two way conversation with a customer, something that’s largely missing with a form. It might at first feel like an ‘artificial’ conversation, but users soon warm to it.
For a content writer it’s a much more natural way to capture information. Take these two examples:
Admittedly, the second is from a chatbot – an extreme version of a conversational journey, but you can see where I’m going. We wouldn’t bark ‘name?’ at someone in the street if we met them for the first time, would we?
It’s more fun to write
Writing conversational copy provides a great opportunity to give your brand a personality. Much more work needs to go into tone of voice guidelines when writing conversational copy.
If your brand was a person, how would they speak? Would they be serious and ernest, or fun and irreverent?
It’s important to understand the kind of words your brand would and wouldn’t use. “Hello, how are you?” will provide a very different opening to “Hi, let’s go.”
Copy becomes the lynchpin
Copy is the critical ingredient for conversational journeys. The practice of designers creating a page with ‘holding copy’ will become extinct as we move towards a copy-led design process. Shaping the language used throughout will become a critical part of building an online user experience. I read a great blog post the other day by Samantha Bilodeau about Language Design for AI, which got me thinking about the principles for conversational design. She makes the point that the language design should “affect product design, communications, user research, marketing, branding, social media, localisation, and AI-powered conversational spaces.”
It’s true that a user should get the same experience with a brand, however they communicate. Often standard tone of voice guidelines don’t go deep enough for conversational journeys, so content writers will play a pivotal role in developing brand language further.
Web designers will tell you about the importance of accessibility. Content writers will tell you about the importance of simplicity and clarity.
One of the big benefits of conversational journeys is you’re really challenged to use natural language. Using technical words in a conversation wouldn’t sound natural.
A conversational approach forces a company to sound human, which can only be a good thing. In an industry where users often feel puzzled by products and services, breaking down information into copy that sounds friendly and accessible is a good challenge to have, and one we’re embracing with both arms outstretched!