Showcasing a dynamic lineup of emerging technologies, trends, and insights, UA Reloaded 19 delivered on its promise to inspire technical communicators to “break through to the other side of user assistance.”

Participants were treated to a preview of the exciting research and developments in chatbot dialog design and user acceptance, artificial intelligence (AI) in human-computer interaction, augmented reality (AR) in remote field assistance, video creation for user assistance, and tips to harness the creative energy of science fiction thinking, among other innovations in user assistance.

This year marked the third year of the conference, hosted jointly by SAP and tekom at the SAP campus in St. Leon-Rot near Heidelberg, Germany. Around 150 technical communicators and students attended the two-day event to hear the experts and develop their own insights on practical applications for the new technologies. SAP initiated the conference together with tekom, with the ambition to focus on new technologies and trends that have potential to influence user assistance.

“We’re focusing on the whole interaction paradigm change,” said Sven Leukert, vice president of User Assistance at SAP, in his opening remarks at the conference. “We’re going to bring the information up where the user needs it. The experience is what matters. The technologies we use are not all perfect yet.”

Program Opens Gateway to Digital Transformation in User Assistance

Technical communicators were motivated to attend the conference out of an interest in taking a proactive approach to digital transformation in user assistance. Conference participants seriously evaluated the potential for emerging technologies in their organizations, as well as boundaries and challenges that they would face in implementation.

Social Cues in Human-Chatbot Interaction was the first presentation of the event, given by Dr. Stefan Morana, a post-doctoral researcher at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Dr. Morana focuses on the design of digital assistants and the design of human-chatbot interaction using natural language. Chatbots do not replace humans, he said, but can reduce wait times by answering standard questions, saving businesses $23 billion in customer service costs. However, chatbot interaction can feel uncomfortable for some people. Dr. Morana uses the Computers Are Social Actors (CASA) paradigm to investigate how user expectations increase for computers that rely on natural language processing, such as chatbots, and result in interactions that should be factored into good dialog design.

Practical tips for chatbot implementation and a Social Cue Design Kit, based on Dr. Morana’s research, are available at chatbotresearch.com. Dr. Morana advised the audience to start small by designing just one or two chatbot dialogs to gauge user acceptance.

AI is already improving user assistance and customer service by reducing friction and building loyalty for the user. Dorothee Möller, principal digital engagement consultant EMEA at Nuance Communications, presented innovative examples from the marketplace. She also emphasized that bots are not going to replace human beings, but they can enhance the experience both for users and people working in the background, such as agents in a call center. She showed a data-driven dialog design tool from Nuance that analyzes call-center dialogs to identify the most common conversational patterns.

Experts emphasized that how you design the chatbot dialog depends largely on the preferences and expectations of your audience. Joris Groen, creative director of Robocopy, a company that develops and promotes the role of the conversational designer, shared best practices for conversational design and trust markers based on human psychology. He walked participants through an iterative process for conversational design and provided detailed examples of how to develop a chatbot persona that is tailored to specific user groups.

The audience was invited to unlock their creativity with science fiction thinking as a new approach to enterprise innovation, presented by Ann Rosenberg, senior vice president and global head of the SAP Next-Gen program, a purpose-driven innovation university and community aligned with SAP’s commitment to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. She provided examples of how science fiction of the past has influenced some of today’s leading innovations and encouraged the audience to capitalize on shortened innovation cycles to achieve their visions for the future.

Participants eager to discover new tools to assist them in their work had the opportunity to talk with experts from Adobe. Konrad Moser, principal digital solution consultant at Adobe Systems, presented the Adobe suite of tools in Make, Manage, Measure, and Monetize Digital Experiences, where he showed the audience how to manage digital experiences across multiple channels and multiple assets, as well as how to measure experiences to close the feedback loop and create more effective content.

Panel Discussion Explores Lessons Learned, Skills, Technology Hurdles

In an engaging, interactive panel discussion, subject matter experts explored a range of topics, from lessons learned with early digital assistants and use cases in the field of education to the bizarre phenomenon of the Uncanny Valley. Audience members asked for advice on practical matters, such as importing existing content into a chatbot framework, as well as tips for localization and translation of chatbot content.

“You always want to make sure you’re keeping the customer in control,” said Amy Lanfear, content experience director at Microsoft, on the topic of deciding which actions need user assistance from a chatbot. “There are a lot of scenarios where you don’t really need the steps; rather, you just want the action to be done. It’s really about the virtual assistant asking the customer: ‘Do you want me to just do it, or would you like me to teach you how?’ What’s the most elegant, friction-free way to do that?”

Dr. Morana explained the phenomenon of the Uncanny Valley, based on research that indicates that as a robot becomes more human-like, user acceptance or trust increases, but after a certain level of human-like attributes – around 70 to 75 percent – user acceptance or trust can dramatically drop. This is the Uncanny Valley. To avoid any risk, he suggested, “As a designer, you need to ask, how human-like do I need to have it? The best thing is to test your bot with different user groups and see how they react.”

There’s great potential for emerging technologies in education, explained John Sumpter, head of the Digital Leaders Programme at Jisc, where he works to empower leaders to respond more effectively to digital change. “Artificial intelligence is already helping professors predict what their students are going to learn,” he said. “The technology is coming on amazingly, as we’ve already heard, but it’s coming back to control. How deep we can go with AI and chatbots to allow it to help students is going to rely on how much control institutions are willing to give up.”

As the skills profile for technical communicators evolves, some audience members wondered how to balance the need to be an expert with generalist skills – user interface (UI) text writing, technical documentation, video creation, chatbot scripts, etc. “We’ve learned over the years that it’s hard for one writer to be an expert on everything,” said Lanfear, who explained that it’s difficult to scale the work across different forms of user assistance. “We’ve moved toward more specialization – video experts, for example, and expert freelancers who can help us scale. There’s a need for certain types of expertise to deliver a great experience.”

Hands-On Workshops Put Emerging Technologies into Practice

In comparison to the previous year, the program for UA Reloaded 19 included a greater number of deep-dive workshops that allowed participants to really focus on topics of interest for their workplace. Topics included hands-on introductory sessions about video creation for user assistance, presented by TechSmith and SAP; a survey of use cases for augmented reality, presented by AMPLEXOR; and tips for reusing existing text-based user assistance content for chatbots, presented by SAP.

The UA Reloaded Future Forum was another space for participants to gain hands-on experience with new technologies and talk with experts about implementation scenarios and best practices. Throughout the two days, participants accessed the UA Reloaded 19 app for additional information. At the conclusion of the first day, participants, experts, and hosts met on the terrace for an evening networking event, complemented with Peruvian food and pleasant spring weather.