Humans at Heart
Chatbots

Humans at Heart 1/4: Chatbots,
and making sure yours doesn’t
weird people out

Chatbots

Author: Becky Kinnersley

If you’re not talking about them, your colleague sure is. Chatbots are undeniably the next ‘Big Thing’ in market research.

It’s because, to our merit, the Insight Industry is quick to pick up on trends in the marketing industry. We know that adapting cutting-edge consumer innovations to research is the best way to boost participant engagement and uncover great insights. The latest of these innovations is about redefining consumer speech-based interactions with computers.

Much like the mobile optimisation trend a mere 4 years ago, the new bridge between social and computer sciences means previously fictional sci-fi inventions (because “5 is alive!”) are quickly becoming a necessary tool in market research.

AI Artificial Intelligence

The problem is, however, that there are still too many challenges around chatbots to make them a viable option for each individual researcher. So, with AI still undergoing continuous (and extensive) development in the UK alone, how can we even begin to think about managing them across multiple languages for global research?

 

Challenge 1: Help, I’m socially awkward in multiple languages!

It is paramount to recognise the chatbot translation process as something beyond just ‘straight translation’.

Before programming a chatbot, you need to work out how you want it to behave. You might want it to fulfil quantitative research needs and elicit fact-based data responses, or you might need it to serve qualitative research needs and have it probe or direct conversation down certain routes.

Before programming a chatbot, you need to work out how you want it to behave

Either way, there are many pitfalls to be carefully circumnavigated. One example is the built-in ‘awesome’ factor, where chatbots are programmed to be encouraging and reply with ‘Awesome, great response!’ (or similar), regardless of the participants’ response. This quickly becomes awkward when your participant gives negative feedback.

For chatbots used in global marketing research, not only do all interpersonal reactions have to be painstakingly programmed to match our own cultural sensitivities, but this then has to be performed for other participating countries and markets. As any global researcher knows, each culture has its own, unique way of communicating with subtle (or not so subtle) differences. For example, in Japan, participants tend to respond with ‘yes’ to questions to let the interviewer know that they’ve understood, before giving their actual answer. A chatbot programmed for UK-based participants could easily mistake this for a positive reply and move on to the next question.

It is therefore paramount to recognise the chatbot translation process as something beyond just ‘straight translation’. Rather, it’s an adaptation to each language through local, ­cultural intelligence - the accuracy of which can make or break your research.

 

Challenge 2: We refused to ask for directions and now we’re stuck in Uncanny Valley.

Uncanny valley’: the phenomenon where talking with a machine that is almost like a human – but not exactly like one – leaves you with an eerie, unsettled feeling.

Chatbots are culturally adapted by their authors to work in their local domain. However, attempts to have chatbots emulate natural human conversation are thwarted by the limitations of current technology and, above all, resources. This results in taking participants into the ‘uncanny valley’, the phenomenon where talking with a machine that is almost like a human – but not exactly like one – leaves you with an eerie, unsettled feeling.

Chatbots talking to a machine that is almost human

‘Uncanny valley’ runs the risk of affecting participants in such a way that they alter their language and responses to meet the quasi-human machine. This impact on their natural engagement with the research can often result in missed nuances and less accurate insights.

  1. So, when you’re working across multiple languages, it’s no surprise that translation sensitivities apply doubly-so. Any translation team working on human-like chatbots will need to -
  2. Incorporate ‘shortcut language’ and ensure that the most current language is being used;
  3. Apply all the above to programming.

The result is making the participant feel as though they can identify the chatbot as automation and thus engage in a more relaxed and natural way. At Empower Translate, we ensure this by using specialist, in-country translators to review chatbots scripts, and by giving them an extensive brief so that they have an in-depth understanding of the target audience. Ultimately, it allows even multilingual chatbots to interact with your participants in a way that generates accurate and actionable data for insights.

 

The countdown is on…

One thing is clear: chatbots are destined to be an essential part of the researcher’s toolkit. Much like the first online survey 20+ years ago, and mobile optimisation more recently, uptake is crucial to staying ahead of the game with participant engagement and ease of data collection.

The countdown is on, chatbots are destined to be an essential part of the researcher’s toolkit

Right now, adapting chatbots to other cultures may seem like a daunting task. However, with the right team of in-country specialists, it can be an immensely rewarding and exciting experience that will bring your global research along leaps and bounds.

Becky Kinnersley

Becky Kinnersley

Becky lives and breathes translation and technology, often bringing the two together in new and innovative ways for the translation industry. In her spare time, Becky likes to polish her 'Project Manager of the Year' Award.

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