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Who Should Your Chatbot Be? 5 Personalities Users Will Love

Tony Scherba
December 12, 2017

Think back to your most recent chatbot experience. Do you remember what the bot said? How it made you feel? Probably not. Most chatbots provide useful information, but they do so in a generic and (let's be honest) boring way.

To create customer experiences, chatbots shouldn't sound like bots. "It's all about storytelling,"Michael Nicholas, co-founder ofBORN AI recently told me. "Some of the most successful and engaging chatbots I've heard of employ masterful storytellers to guide the narrative a user will experience with a chatbot."

The right personality for your bot will depend on its use case as well as your brand's persona. When weworked with the City of San Franciscoto create PAIGE (Procurement Answers and Information Guided Experience), we experimented with multiple personalities to get the feel just right. "Grumpy librarian" was a top contender, but we ultimately went with a slightly friendlier personality to keep city employees from pulling out their hair as they learned about procurement procedures. The goal is to encourage people to interact with our bot the same way they interact with other humans.

That said, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when building a bot with personality. A chatbot for a Wild West cowboy tour should sound very different than, say, a chatbot used for ordering food. Imagine if Wendy’s implemented a boring bot. Users would miss the sharp wit ofthe famous Wendy’s Twitter account, and the fast food brand would miss an opportunity to connect with its fans.

Still not sure which personality is right for your business? Consider whether any of the following five options jibe with your brand and its reason for building a bot:

1. The Kind Soul

Wouldn’t it be nice to get a pick-me-up every time you talked to a chatbot? The creators of Woebot thought so, too. When users feel glum or lonely, Woebot commiserates with them, acting like a caring friend during trying times. Its personality was inspired by Kermit the Frog and Spock from “Star Trek,” as it’s empathetic and compassionate yet logical and always working on improving its “human” emotions.

Imagine customers heading to your website and having a conversation with a bot modeled after Robert Downey Jr., a famed philanthropist and charitable person outside his A-list movie roles. Not only would your customers engage with the bot, but they'd come away with a positive, uplifting brand interaction to boot.

2. The Sassy Friend

Sometimes you need friendly advice from a mentor. Other times, you need Donna from "Parks and Recreation" to tell it to you straight. As Leslie Knope’s trusted advisor on everything from boyfriends to treating yo’self, Donna is the living embodiment of good-natured sass — the perfect role model for a chatbot.

If sass works for your brand, take your cues from Poncho, the Facebook and Kik bot with a hint of attitude. Ask a dumb question, and Poncho will either give you a curt answer or make a quip about it. (If you ask, for example, whether God is real, it will reply, “I don’t know. I’m catnostic.”) Don’t fret, though: Poncho always has your back.

Back in the old days, SmarterChild — one of the first chatbots — took sass to an extreme. Clever users who insulted the bot would find themselves forced to apologize if they wanted the bot to give them an update on the baseball game. Not every brand can pull off attitude as well as SmarterChild, but for some, a rebellious streak is the perfect fit.

3. The Ball of Energy

Some chatbots are like that friend who's ready to hit the next bar while you’re ready for pizza and bed. Mezi, a personal travel assistant, is always excited to help you book your next flight or hotel. Like many human travel assistants, the bot is perky, attentive, and highly capable — the perfect fit for brands with “can do” personalities. To spur conversation, it even uses emojis and exclamation marks to mimic the way real people text one another.

Brands that exude youthful energy and a desire to help should take inspiration from Ellen DeGeneres. No one is more famously upbeat than Ellen, and a bot that strives to inspire could take no better role model. As long as the chatbot still answers questions instead of dancing on couches, users will appreciate the added flair.

4. The Eccentric Nerd

Talking to Sheldon Cooper, protagonist of “The Big Bang Theory,” would get old quickly for most. For some brands, however, a bit of smarmy intelligence is the perfect fit. At tech companies, for example, everyone loves a good computer joke. As software themselves, chatbots are the perfect tools for infusing a little dorky humor into user interactions.

Not sure how to do it? Ask Kai, the chatbot from Kasisto, to tell a joke. You might hear one about the nature of time or one about how humans never spend their rainy day money when it rains. Like an android recently awakened on Earth, Kai has both immense knowledge and a nerd's sense of humor.

5. The Good-Natured Flirt

Jessica Rabbit isn’t bad; she’s just drawn that way. If she were a bot tasked with helping a businessperson book a flight, she’d probably throw a playful tease before sending the booking information.

Flirty chatbots add a layer of fun to otherwise mundane conversations. For example, if you ask Rose — the chatbot at the Cosmopolitan at Las Vegas — what she looks like, she’ll tell you she’s out of your league. If you ask her to help you pick a restaurant, she’ll tell you which place “slays all day” and where you should go “if you really want to YOLO.”

Yes, your chatbot's job is to serve up information. But by infusing character into the conversation, you can turn humdrum interactions into new opportunities for customer engagement.

Consider infusing one of these personalities into your bot or creating one of your own. Whether your bot plays the wise old man, a friendly local, or a chivalrous knight, its personality will keep users coming back.

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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