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Study Shows Brands Should Develop ‘Friendly’ Virtual Assistants

virtual assistants

Consumers prefer virtual assistants with a ‘friendly’ personality in terms of comfort level, efficiency, and likelihood of re-engagement, according to a new study by conversational AI platform, Haptik, that is giving a warning to why brands should focus on the design and functionality of chatbots and other virtual assistants.

The study was conducted by Brinda Mehra, a psychology student investigating the effects of inserting personality in chatbots and virtual assistants, and its influence on customer experiences primarily across three domains- likelihood of re-engagement, comfort levels and estimation of productivity and efficiency. (Read the full report here)

As a part of the study,  Haptik conducted experiments using bots with three distinct personality types:

  • Transactional bot (impersonal and serious bot solely focused on efficiently completing tasks).
  • Prosocial bot (attempts to mimic a ‘helping hand’, engaging in social niceties and easing users through task completion).
  • Friendly bot (emotional and energetic bot that uses slang and pop culture references, simulating conversations between close friends).

The study revealed that urban English speakers overwhelmingly prefer virtual assistants that exhibit a friendly personality – rating them higher than more impersonal, purely ‘transactional’ assistants when it comes to factors such as comfort level and efficiency while completing tasks. They were also more likely to re-engage with ‘friendly’ assistants.

In the first experiment, participants, aged between 18-50, were asked to order food using each of the three bots. Although their ages varied drastically, their demographics were  roughly the same. All participants had completed or were completing some level of tertiary education, had access to a smartphone or laptop (if not both) and were fluent English speakers living in metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Hong Kong.

They were then asked to rate each of the three bots on a Likert scale, on three parameters – likelihood of re-engaging with the bot, their comfort level with the bot, and the efficiency with which the bot completed the task at hand.

The results of the experiment were as follows:

  • 40% of participants said that they felt extremely comfortable interacting with the friendly bot.
  • Participants were nearly three times more likely to state that they would definitely want to interact with the friendly chatbot again, as compared to the transactional bot.
  • The friendly bot was nearly four times more likely to get the highest rating for productivity and efficiency, as compared to the transactional bot.
  • The average ranking of the friendly chatbot was around 22% higher than that of the transactional bot.

The overwhelming preference for the friendly personality was further validated by the second experiment, with participants being asked to rate the three types of personalities based on viewing an interaction with a chat-based dictionary.

The participants of the second experiment were aged 11 to 15, indicating that the preference for the friendly bots applies across age groups. The findings revealed that 67% of participants expressed a preference for the friendly bot, over the prosocial and transactional types. Qualitative feedback collected from the participants indicated that the friendly bot made them “feel like they were talking to another human being”. The use of gifs, slang and emojis by this bot also appealed to them.

What this means for the future of user engagement?

The study revealed interesting insights that can have far-reaching effects on how we understand man-machine engagement today.  “The popularity of the friendly bot gives enterprises a new perspective to look at conversational AI solutions,” said Prateek Gupte, VP – Product at Haptik.

“The evolution of virtual assistant personalities is currently enjoying the beginning of its golden age.  This study is an important contribution to the literature on the subject. At Haptik, we have continuously stressed on building bots that have both a distinct personality along with targeted utility.  Chatbots and virtual assistants, after all, are essentially the 24×7 voice of enterprises and brands to engage with end-users. Therefore, they are best served to have bots which can make conversations fun for users and something to look forward to,” Gupte mentioned.

Interestingly, Haptik has been doing significant work in the field of enhancing user experience in chatbot engagement. Its research team conducts extensive, granular level analysis of each element involved in chatbot conversations, such as the font, sound design, tonality of conversation, length of sentences, and even the emoticons used.

“While there have been previous studies on bot personality, they have largely focused on general conversation chatbots like Mitsuku or Xiaoice. Our study is a rare experimental investigation on the role that personality plays in the context of enterprise virtual assistants,” says Kartik Poddar, Haptik’s Business Head.

It will certainly inform our approach to designing superior conversational experiences for our partners – by enhancing our understanding of how to make human-to-machine interactions a lot more engaging, while still keeping our partners’ unique brand voice and personality in mind.”



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