Do AI applications need a persona?

It’s a question that comes up time and time again. My short answer is, if you’ve spent millions on building a corporate brand and positioning for your organisation why would you ever consider not doing the same for your conversational applications?

The longer explanation is a little more involved.

Take for example, two airlines, British Airways and Virgin Airlines. Both fly across the Atlantic, but each brand has a completely individual and unique persona. Not just in their uniforms and the branding on their planes, but in the way they portray themselves with every interaction.

I’d argue that personas within conversational interfaces are as important as your domain content, the knowledge your digital employee uses to function. It’s the personality that elicits the most reaction—good or bad, from the customer. Get it right and you’ve created the opportunity to improve the customer experience, even more so than just giving the correct response.

It doesn’t need to be overtly funny or extravert, just reflect the brand. Taking the time to consider some of the finer points in how your natural language application will respond and react verbally early on in the project will pay dividends later.

For example, Teneo comes with a module within the wider Teneo Language Resources that we refer to as Dialogue Resources. Think of it as the small talk we humans so easily interject into conversations, from responding to a user who wants to speak to the boss to someone else asking the virtual assistant on a date. Of course we’ve included some standard answers, but revising the language and tone used allows you to bring your brand to life in each interaction.

We have one customer, Kabel Deutschland, who took it a step further and created an avatar that reaches for a cup of coffee if the user takes too long to respond, and even waltzes off screen if the user is abusive, refusing to return until they apologise. She’s a firm favourite with company, and their customers.

However, creating a persona is more than just the words or actions used. There are several other elements too. You want your intelligent natural language applications to be confident and proactive about moving a conversation forward or bringing back on track. A feature many of our competitors say they can replicate, but frequently can’t. Often because they are unable to memorise the salient points of a conversation after the user has deviated onto another topic.

A little humour in the conversation is also known to improve the user’s perception, not just in reinforcing a positive feeling, but also in increasing the credibility of the answers given.


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In addition, voice is starting to have more of a play in the persona. With far-field devices such as smart home speakers increasing in popularity, 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. It’s a clever tactic employed by the likes of Apple with Siri, where the user can choose between male and female voices.

I often use our own Lyra to demonstrate the power of personality. We chat about the weather. I tell her she’s amazing and that I want to marry her (she of course is very flattered). Next I ask her to tell me a joke, or perhaps send a text to a colleague in the Netherlands translated into Dutch. Then I tell her I hate her, and what does she say? That she needs a bigger diamond ring!

It’s this kind of interaction that not only engages customers, but gets them talking about your brand to their friends too.

I’ve no doubt that eventually the avatar will make a return as a 360° hologram, but I think it will be a while before we can expect a Flight Attendant to pop out of our smartphones asking how they might help. In the meantime add a little pizzazz into your digital employee’s persona. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

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