Digital officer Geraint Northam attended a couple of conferences over the summer where conversational content was discussed. For him, it’s a fascinating area with potentially huge implications for the type of content we’ll be creating in the future, particularly within the higher education sector.
Conversational content tries to mimic the natural way humans talk to each other, to help solve various tasks. You may have come across this type of content when using text ‘chatbots’ – artificial intelligence software.
Conversational content is very different to the more traditional content (text, images, video) that we’re used to working with.
Conversational design is the new web design
At the 2019 Pixel Pioneers conference in Bristol, Shopify’s US director Verne Ho talked about how digital conversations are becoming the preferred way to communicate. We are busier than ever before, have short attention spans, multitask, and are increasingly choosing platforms that allow us to communicate seamlessly.
Over at the Analytics and Conversion conference in Bath, Lauren Hale of Liveperson discussed how conversational is becoming the default mode of communication. For example, at T-Mobile 70% of customer support queries come through text chat. According to her, conversational design is the new web design.
What does all of this mean for content creators?
Customer experience expert Alan Colville, who opened proceedings at Analytics and Conversion, described how good customer experience is now becoming more widely expected. Customers are getting it elsewhere, your competitors are most likely doing it, and it’s now time to (in Alan’s words) “take customer experience up a notch”.
Conversational content feels to me like it could become a fundamental part of this improved customer experience – moving away from poorly designed websites and clunky apps, and instead communicating with users through the channels they use all day, every day, such as text.
How the future might look
Looking five to ten years ahead there’s a possibility that our time as content designers will increasingly be spent creating conversational content aimed at attracting potential students, as well as communicating with our current students and staff in this way.
The days of trawling through a bloated website and barely functioning online finance system to track down last year’s P60 will be replaced by a simple text asking Wurzel (the Bristol University chatbot) to “please send me my P60” followed nanoseconds later by a reply: “Yurp. Here it is my babber!”
All of which would mean a huge shift in what content is created, and how it is created. We’ll still largely be dealing with words, but instead of writing headings and sentences to be scanned, we’ll be more like scriptwriters figuring out Wurzel’s tone of voice and basic problem–solving scripts.
Sounds great/scary! When will this future arrive?
Our University competes against others for students, and those students will increasingly expect us to communicate with them in the ways they are most comfortable with.
This is already happening to an extent on social media – Bristol University has Twitter and Facebook accounts where we’re expected to (manually) answer queries from potential and current students. In the future we’ll experience another step-change towards automated chatbot communication with our audience through platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and our Customer Relationship Management database.
When this future will actually arrive though is anyone’s guess. The higher education sector is slow to change. This is ironic given some of the cutting-edge digital academic research going on, as characterised by Ivan Palomares Carrascosa‘s work on Recommender Systems and how they can work with smart cities and digital health.
His talk at Analytics & Conversion painted a picture of the future where students will be served personalised content based on their preferences. For example, wellbeing support that includes their favourite physical activities, or information about navigating around campus and the city by their favoured mode of transport. All served up straight to their phone by Wurzel, the chatbot, of course.