Conversational interfaces have been touted by many as the next big digital frontier. Many researchers believe conversational AI will soon be developers’ first priority, surpassing cloud-native and mobile-first projects in importance. Chatbots — built on a foundation of containerized microservices and connecting to back-end systems are not only an easy way to break into conversational UIs, they’re an onramp to building and training artificial intelligence. Well, what is a Conversational UI?

What is a conversational UI?

A Conversational UI gives the privilege of interacting with the computer on human terms. It is a paradigm shift from the earlier communications achieved either by entering syntax-specific commands or clicking icons. Conversational interface allows a user to tell the computer what to do. Conversational UI is more social in the way the user ”contacts”, ”invites” and ”messages” than the traditional apps that are technological in nature where the user downloads and installs. So far, humans were forced to learn the language of the computers, however, with technological advancements over time, the tables have turned and computers are finally learning to understand our language.

Before the adoption and advent of chatbots, customers were assisted by shop assistants during their visit to a shop. The shop assistant used pre-defined scripts to respond to customer queries. Fast forward to the time after the chatbots hit the market; chatbots and conversational interfaces on a website are creating experiences and interactions with the customer in the same way a shop assistant would do in the past. Conversational UI takes two forms – voice assistant that allows you to talk and chatbots that allow you to type.

Voice Assistant and Chatbot

Technology mammoths like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have not only introduced voice assistants but are also making voice assistants smarter by the day. Hey Cortana from Microsoft, Ok Google from Google, Hey Siri from Apple and Echo from Amazon are classic cases of voice assistants responding to the user by voice. Users can ask these voice assistants to show the trailer of a movie, book tables at a restaurant or schedule an appointment and we are only beginning to scratch the surface.

On the Chatbot front, Facebook M is a classic example that allows real time communication. The human-assisted chatbot allows customers to do several things from transferring money to buying a car. Slack’s slackbot is another shining example of a chatbot. This human-assisted chatbot allows the user to do many things. If there is a slackbot for scheduling meetings, there is also a slackbot for tracking coworkers’ happiness and taking lunch orders.

Why are companies betting high on Conversational UI?

There’s more to conversational interface than the way they recognize a voice. Conversational interfaces have kindled companies’ interest by presenting an intelligent interface. The intelligence does not result merely from words being recognized as text transcription, but from getting a natural-language understanding of intentions behind those words. The intelligence also combines voice technologies, artificial intelligence reasoning and contextual awareness.

The interface is platform-agnostic working well across desktop, smartphone and smartwatch. Conversational UI also work well in devices that do not have screens, as that of Amazon Echo. The most alluring feature of conversational interfaces is the way they facilitate frictionless experiences for a user working with a computer.

How conversation interfaces serve the business purpose?

Apple, Facebook and Mattel have one thing in common. They have all set up conversation-based interfaces powered by the AI chatbots that have come good to serve several business purposes. Yesterday, customer responses were a phone call or a web-search away. Today, it is a chatbot away. Chatbot takes its place in chat products and also serve as stand-alone interfaces to handle requests.

Take 1–800-Flowers for instance. They encourage customers to talk to a chatbot and order flowers. The company is now leveraging the natural-language ordering mechanism through Facebook Messenger to make this possible. That’s not all. 1–800-Flowers came up with a startling revelation that 70% of its Messenger orders came from new customers once it introduced the Facebook chatbot.

KLM, an international airline, allows customers to receive their boarding pass, booking confirmation, check-in details and flight status updates through Facebook Messenger. Customers can book flights on their website and opt to receive personalized messages on Messenger.

Are conversational interfaces on the rise?

Conversational UI is evolving into the interface of the future. The conversation assistant capability made available through Nuance’s Dragon Mobile Assistant, Samsung’s S-Voice and Apple’s Siri is just the beginning. Looking into the future, language and reasoning frameworks are going to blend with big data and machine learning to give way for conversational user interfaces that better understand customer needs and wants, better understand the customer and his surroundings.

More and more business models are poised to benefit from chatbots. Retail, healthcare, real estate or even HR are some of the industries that will see major business value with chatbot integration.

In conclusion, it is obvious that there is a major shift in how we design and interact with computer interfaces. We’ll be entering a new era of computing, where advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence are creating a resurgence of interest in conversational interfaces and natural language processing, creating the potential for conversation as the new mode of interaction with technology.

For the most part, the problem of recognizing spoken input has been largely solved, now opening up a new challenge: how do we go about building a user experience that is modeled after natural human conversation?