How Conversational UI is Changing User Assistance

Just a few years ago, it seemed that people would invariably favor the stability of a desktop computing environment to a mobile experience. Then smartphones came along, offering a rich user experience (UX) on top of a robust infrastructure.

People increasingly began to access information — including user assistance (UA) in the form of help, wizards, and tutorials — through their mobile devices. Content had to be short and concise to suit the smaller screens. Now conversational user interface (UI) is the new game-changer in how people interact with computers and UA experts must once again rethink how to provide integrated and seamless assistance.

User Assistance in the Intelligent Enterprise

“There’s a big shift in how people consume information that we need to take into account. For example, we need to consider providing information in new ways and devices,” says Sven Leukert, vice president of User Assistance at SAP.  Studies show that a new generation of tech users is less inclined to read traditional flat-text documentation, like printed manuals.

This combination of changing user habits and digital innovations is bringing about the digital transformation of UA at a time when many SAP customers are in their own digital transformations to become intelligent enterprises. An important aspect of SAP’s strategy for the Intelligent Enterprise is to provide a UX that is integrated, consistent, and seamless across the entire organization.

“The Intelligent Enterprise strategy is about the qualities that our customers expect when using multiple SAP products together, that things are smoothly integrated and consistent as you move from one UI to the next,” says Leukert. “That’s what we need to mirror in our approach to user assistance.”

Integrated User Experience with Chatbots

SAP users have a variety of channels available for receiving assistance, including in-app help, UI texts, and more detailed information on dedicated sites like the SAP Help Portal site. To complement these more traditional channels, UA experts at SAP are beginning to deploy conversational UI technology on a limited scale in the form of chatbots. User-friendly and accessible, conversational UI is already becoming increasingly pervasive in our daily lives through our phones, cars, tablets, smart home devices, and digital assistants. As this interaction becomes more natural to people in their private lives, they expect a similar consumer-grade user experience at work too.

“People are noticing that this technology is making their lives easier, as well as more efficient and productive,” says Marianne Macgregor, a user assistance development architect at SAP who is helping to roll out chatbots enabled with UA content. “By making user assistance available in a chatbot, we can increase the user experience for people working with our software, so that they get a more user-friendly environment. They do not need to search or make their way through cross references. They get the answer immediately, which means they can carry on working.”

Given the volume and depth of SAP user documentation, however, there can be some skepticism as to whether a chatbot is “up to the task.” UA experts at SAP are careful to steer clear of the pitfalls that plagued early chatbots, some of which were perceived as intrusive, limited in their language processing and artificial intelligence (AI), or hindered by poorly designed dialog flows that dead-ended in user frustration.

It’s a matter of implementing the technology wisely, according to Leukert, who says, “We need intelligent bots that can consume our millions of information pieces and make sense of it to surface the right information in the right situation. That’s the key step that we’re working on at the moment.”

Enablement and Best Practices for Chatbot Deployment

While a simple chatbot can be deployed relatively quickly, the effort required to create the taxonomy and metadata that underpins the chatbot is time-intensive and demanding. This framework helps ensure that the content is organized clearly and enhances its findability. Best practices advise tasking a limited number of knowledgeable experts with creating the taxonomy for the entire organization. To ensure the consistency of the SAP taxonomy, SAP participates in a taxonomy board comprised of various stakeholders across the company.

SAP Conversational AI supplies the end-to-end, cloud-based chatbot platform that makes it possible to deploy a single, integrated UA chatbot that can run in SAP Co-Pilot or in other environments supported by SAP. Leveraging AI and machine learning from SAP Leonardo, the service supplies the intelligence for the chatbot to understand questions and return the correct information. Natural language processing capabilities enable the bot to respond to a wide range of language variations. A productive chatbot needs to be versed in at least 50 to 60 variations for how to say the same thing.

Designing Dialog Flows for User Acceptance

UA experts who deploy chatbots need a slightly altered skillset that combines conversational writing, technology, and an understanding of psychology. In the past, key qualifications of the job profile were to be able to write well and concisely. That’s not enough anymore, according to managers, who say UA experts must now also understand things like the concept of a taxonomy, and how to design and write for dialog flows.

To develop these skills among its employees, SAP now offers internal courses about designing chatbot conversations. One of the more difficult aspects writers will need to learn is how to design dialog flows effectively to include the many language variations for saying essentially the same thing, while infusing an appropriate amount of empathy and keeping unconscious bias in check. The psychology of chatbot interaction is extremely important to gaining user trust and acceptance. Experience has shown that UA experts cannot afford mistakes with chatbot conversations.

Register Now for UA Reloaded 19

Find out more about chatbots and conversation design at UA Reloaded 19, a bold, one-of-a-kind conference that dares technical communicators to break through to the other side of user assistance. Explore the latest innovations to create cutting-edge deliverables, including non-traditional formats like video documentation, science fiction thinking, and emerging technologies such as augmented reality and AI. UA Reloaded is being held May 15-16 at the SAP offices in St. Leon, near Heidelberg, Germany. A tekom (German Association for Technical Communication) conference supported by SAP, the event offers participants an exciting program filled with interactive lectures, deep-dive workshops, technology demos, and networking opportunities.

Registration for UA Reloaded 19 is now open!