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As more conversational AI assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, become mainstream, brands are looking for ways to make their own conversational experiences shine in the midst of the competition. Today’s rapidly shifting conversational marketing landscape has seen many technological advances, but some companies still fall into the trap of bland, robotic script writing that leaves many customers and prospects confused.
The good news is that rigid, robotic conversational experiences can be avoided by understanding key principles behind conversational writing. The key is to simply make your writing flow in a natural manner.
In this article, we’ll discuss four expert tips for conversational writing. We’ll focus on how these principles apply to creating conversational experiences, however these tips will provide value for anyone creating content. If that sounds like you, read on.
How many times have you read an article or interacted with a chatbot and thought to yourself, “That was way more complicated than it needed to be.” It happens all the time. Instead of writing conversationally, the people behind the words want to sound smart, and they think using a diverse vocabulary and technical jargon is the answer.
Spoiler alert: It’s not.
Keep your writing as simple as possible to engage customers and prospects. Think about how you would normally think or speak, and then translate that communication style as best you can into your conversational interface writing. Most people don’t think and speak in technical jargon, so why would you build a conversational experience around that style?
Unfortunately, we’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to writing naturally. We dedicate way too much time to simply thinking about writing rather than doing it. This is something Derek Gleason, content lead at CXL Institute, has seen time and time again.
“If you find yourself trying to write, you’re doing it wrong,” Gleason says. “Just write. So often, I’ll get a convoluted paragraph from someone and comment, ‘OK, but what do you really mean here?’ They’ll give me an explanation in the Google Doc comment that is a thousand times clearer than what they wrote but still think they need to ‘translate’ the comment version into something more ‘proper.’”
An easy way to get around the fear of having to “translate” your tone is to simply read your writing out loud. If it’s clear and flows well, you’ll know you’re on the right track. You’ll probably also find that your sentences are shorter when you actually speak and think and they aren’t overstuffed with multiple concepts and ideas.
When you’re putting together a chatbot script, think about how great customer service reps speak with you. Chances are, they don’t overwhelm you with a diverse vocabulary and technical jargon. They likely explain a concept to you in simple terms so you can understand it and form an opinion about it yourself. Imagine this communication style—or better yet, experience it by talking through different customer support scenarios—to clearly express core ideas in your chatbot scripts.
While grammar rules are important, don’t lean on them to the point that your writing becomes robotic. There’s nothing wrong with adding certain colloquialisms or slang that your audience understands and appreciates.
“Writers who want to be ‘grammatically correct’ often struggle to make their content engaging,” says Andy Crestodina, cofounder and chief marketing officer of Orbit Media. “The reason is simple: Actual conversations are not grammatically correct. They break all kinds of rules. They use weird words and strange structures.”
Using a casual tone doesn’t mean you should take everything you know about grammar and throw it out the window. It means you have some wiggle room to have a little fun and show some personality. Taking liberties with spelling and being open to colloquialisms and slang terms can make writing feel more conversational.
Taking liberties with spelling and being open to colloquialisms and slang terms can make writing feel more conversational. Click To Tweet
That said, you need to know your audience well to determine the type of dialogue they expect from your brand. A consumer retail brand’s voice may be much different from a highly technical data security company. It’s all about audience context.
You also need to consider all the different conversational channels you’ll be using. If you’re developing a chatbot exclusively for text communication on smartphones, the writing may be shorter and snappier than a website chatbot.
The best conversational writing experiences can be likened to a great movie with an award-winning script. They should be sharp, crisp, concise two-way interactions that don’t waste words.
“There are similarities between great conversational writing and great film dialogue,” Gleason says. “We don’t really want to hear people ‘um’ and ‘ah’ and stop and start over or drone on. We want believable but slightly-too-efficient-compared-to-real-life conversations. We’ll indulge that conceit in movies, and it’s pretty much what we want out of conversational writing, too.”
To approach creating conversational experiences like they’re a film dialogue, focus on the most important questions that a customer or prospect might bring up. Create efficient answers based on those questions.
It’s like two characters in an Aaron Sorkin movie: When one character is finished talking, the other swoops in with a snappy response without hesitation. Your chatbot responses shouldn’t sound rehearsed, but they should sound definitive, deliberate, and on-brand.
And while we’re on the subject of movies, avoid monologues whenever possible. Great conversational writing experiences should directly address a customer’s or prospect’s inquiry, not dump multiple messages and sources of information at random. If a chatbot pings a user five or six times before a user responds, it’s not much of a dialogue.
When people interact with your brand, they expect your company’s representative to be knowledgeable. That’s why your conversational writing efforts should always incorporate your brand’s collective expertise.
Crestodina believes this is crucial for any piece of content your brand produces.
“The easiest way [to write conversationally] is to simply include quotes from outside experts in your content,” Crestodina says. “If yours is the only voice in your article, it’s likely going to feel like a monologue. But as soon as you add quotes, along with faces and names, into your article, it will feel more like a conversation.”
Your chatbot script can take a page right out of Crestodina’s playbook by incorporating expert insights directly in conversations. The bot might connect users to a knowledgeable employee at your company, offer testimonials from current customers or incorporate rich media like explainer videos.
Now that you know what it takes to build a memorable conversational experience, it’s time to take that information and apply it toward building a chatbot for your brand. Our guide to building a chatbot provides four simple steps anyone can use to complete the process, even if they don’t have coding experience.
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