Writers of Silicon Valley Podcast: Hillary Black transcript

Writers of Silicon Valley Podcast: Hillary Black transcript

Patrick interviews Hillary Black, chatbot extraordinaire and author of “How To Design A Chatbot” on how to create chatbots people actually use.

Patrick Stafford
June 18, 2020


Writers of Silicon Valley is a UX writing podcast featuring interviews with content strategists and UX writers from around the world.

The UX Writers Collective is proud to host transcripts for every episode.

Hillary Black is VP of Strategy & Conversation Design at Black Ops where they’ve created multiple chatbots for clients in the insurance, finance, and retail industries.

To listen to this episode, find Writers of Silicon Valley wherever you listen to podcasts:

This episode was originally hosted at Writers of Silicon Valley.

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Patrick:

You’re certainly one of the people at the forefront of that movement, which is why I’m really excited to talk to you about it. I just think there’s a lot of talk about you need to get into conversational design as a writer, you need to understand what’s happening. But there are very few people actually doing it.

So, it’s good to talk to someone who’s actually in the midst of it and in the weeds, because I think, and maybe you can comment on this, it seems to me like there’s a danger of it becoming… almost being seen as a fad, when really, it’s not. This is an actual serious change.

I’d be interested to hear your perspective on that, because I talk to people sometimes, and they say, “Chat bots, it’s just the flavour of the month,” or, “Voice design, it’s just the flavour of the month. You don’t really need to worry about it too much.” What do you think about that? I mean, obviously you disagree with that because you’re running a business based on building chat bots, but when it comes to that sort of perspective, what do you think about that sort of take?

Hillary:

Yeah. I mean, people definitely say that, but people said the exact same thing about social media. People said the exact same thing about community managers and social media managers, and every new social platform that comes out, people said the exact same thing that you’re saying. How do you measure this? How do you prove it? It’s just a fad. And so I explain this to people a lot, that I was in the exact same position when I first started my career in social media. I was one of the first people doing community management, and so I was very familiar with people saying these sorts of comments all the time, whether it be my family, potential employers, or just anyone that I knew.

I really think that we’re at a similar point right now, where especially with conversation designers, with chat bots, people are saying this is just a fad. But if it was a fad, why would it be around since Smarter Child, since Siri, since Alexa? Why would it be on Facebook Messenger for two years? Programmes are seeing really great performance. Right now, we do still have that early mover advantage, however, it’s the same thing that eventually everyone jumped on board with social media. I think we’re going to see the exact same thing with chat bots.

Patrick:

Yeah. I think one of the reasons people say it’s a fad is because they look at a crappy chat bot that hasn’t been designed well and doesn’t solve a problem, and they think, “Well, this is stupid.” And they’re right. There are lots of bots that are stupid. But there are lots more that are actually useful and interesting and doing something cool. That’s the same with any new technology. There’s always going to be a lot of crap at the start, at least.

Hillary:

Yeah, exactly. I think too that the expectations when chat bots first came out were super high, and it was definitely a struggle between people expecting that they would be super smart and be able to do everything and know everything, and AI isn’t there yet. I think that we will get there eventually, but right now, we still have to have humans involved. We still have to have strategy and design, and it’s a lot harder than it seems to the outside world of just, “Oh, it’s this bot. It already knows everything.” Well, that’s not true at all.

Patrick:

Yeah, totally. All right, cool. It’s interesting you mentioned social media management, because so much of your background, from what I understand, is in that, and certainly you get really into your career started with that. That’s where I really would like to start, because I’ve spoken to a lot of UXD writers with the podcast so far, and they all come from different areas. You know?

Some come from technical writing, someone comes from journalism, other people come from different types of copywriting. I suppose the one person who was researching nuclear weapons in a PhD before she started getting into the UX writing. So, these weird and disparate backgrounds. You’re the first person I’m speaking to who really has a social media management background. How did you get into that?

Hillary:

It’s so interesting that you say that. I do notice that any even conversation designers that I’ve talked to, the few that I have talked to, they all have very different backgrounds than I do. When I was in college, I was an English major. I always had an interest in writing, and I wanted to be a blogger. That was kind of where the internet was at that point, I think, is that there was all these editorial sites. There was a bunch of different blogs. I had my own blog in college, so I really started my career in that direction. Through that, I learned about Twitter and Facebook, and it was around the time where different websites were starting up accounts in order to promote their work, and so I started doing that. I started doing that both for myself and for the different websites that I was writing for at the time.

Then in about, I think, 2009, I think, was when I started managing social media accounts for the companies that I was working for, and then 2010, I started doing more of that. Everywhere that I was working, I was both writing and I was doing social media. So, it wasn’t a name then. It wasn’t social media management. It was really just copywriting.

Then in 2011, I got a job at what was like a social media agency. We worked with influencers and we helped brands work with influencers, and then we also managed the Twitter and Facebook accounts for some pharmaceutical brands in the United States, some over the counter, very unsexy brands that just were trying to acquire users via Twitter, trying to sell their products. From there, I just started doing that full-time. I was like, “This is great, I love this, I’m good at it. It seems like it’s going to be a thing. It seems like it’s going to be a job.” And so I just went from there.

Patrick:

Super early for that type of work too, from what I understand, because I remember back… so, you were saying 2010, 2011, that’s still what people call the time of weird Twitter when it wasn’t super corporate or anything and people were… it was almost very early 2000s internet-esque. People were still trying to figure out the norms for social media.

Because I remember in the 2012 election, that was when people really started seeing the impact of social media in other spheres of influence. Before that, if you were a company with a social media agency in 2010, 2011, you were pretty forward thinking. You were on the ball.

Hillary:

Oh, absolutely. Then it was more about how do we leverage influencers. That was when influencer marketing was really starting to grow, because those were the people that had the big followings on social media, and they had more followings than any brand did at the time, because this was kind of right when Facebook pages were coming out. When brands were just like, “Okay, let’s start up all these profiles and do all this stuff,” and then it kind of grew from there. But before that, when I had my first blogs in college, I still was on MySpace. That was still one of my channels that I had.

Patrick:

Oh, man. I haven’t thought about MySpace in a long time.

Hillary:

I still think about it. I still think about it all the time.

Patrick:

It’s funny, because I’ve seen people comment with all the controversy that Facebook and all the other social networks are getting into, I saw someone say recently that actually Tom from MySpace probably has the best deal out of anyone. He took his early buyout and now he’s probably on a beach somewhere just enjoying life, not having to worry about any of this.

Hillary:

Yeah, exactly.

Patrick:

What I wanted to ask you about this time in social media was you’ve probably picked up a number of tools or principles that have carried through into your chat bot design. I’m curious what those are, because this is really a new… well, at the time, social media management, community management, that part wasn’t necessarily so new.

But certainly in social media, it was. I’m curious, what did you learn during these years that you’ve carried through to today? Are there any principles that still stick out in terms of interacting with people, what people want, what people expect, what people don’t want, that sort of thing?

Hillary:

Yeah. There’s definitely, I guess I would say a strategy philosophy I started to develop.

Particularly one of the most impactful jobs that I had throughout my career was at University of Michigan, which is a very big university, and it was really in developing both our existing social profiles and building new ones, and that was when we got onto Pinterest and got onto Snapchat, got onto Instagram, and so just thinking about story telling and thinking about the intention of why you’re on these profiles, what are you trying to convey to your user, what’s the goal that you have, and how you’re going to use your voice to communicate with your audience, and especially being in different brands, from pharmaceutical brands that we’re reaching out to elderly people, or college students, and how is that going to differ?

That’s something that I really have carried into conversation design, and it feels very natural to say, “Okay, who is this audience that we’re trying to talk to? What do they care about? What do they want to hear? How do they talk?” We should sort of mimic that behaviour, and also just putting myself in the shoes of the audience. I think that has helped me to sort of be able to create these strategic chat bots of just saying, “I know what the other person wants me to be saying or how they want me to speaking, and I can sort of create the dialogue from both sides,” if that makes sense.

Patrick:

Totally. It’s really human-centred design, and that’s where I think, where I mentioned earlier, these chat bots that don’t appear to have any purpose, or they cause people to think that chat bots are just a fad. They start from this perspective of, “Let’s do a chat bot,” and not, “What’s the problem that we’re trying to solve, and is a chat bot the best solution for that problem? I’m sure you’ve encountered that with any number of your clients before, where they think that a chat bot is the solution, when instead, it’s just a solution, and it might happen to be the best one for their particular situation.

Hillary:

Absolutely. I think with personality, there’s a lot of different opinions about does a bot need personality, and that’s a very successful strategy in social media, of brands that have funny Twitter accounts. And then once that was starting to catch on, everyone was doing it and everyone is trying to have the wittiest Tweets when it might not be serving your brand in the right way.

I think that thinking about your personality doesn’t mean that your bot has to be super funny. It means that it has to convey your brand voice and you, but it also needs to be functional. But I think that if you’re talking about good bots and bad bots in terms of the experience, it’s somewhere between maybe it has one function but it has no personality, and the user thinks that’s okay. Maybe it’s all personality and no function, which might be not a great experience for the user.

But I think that it needs to have both, and I think that while people might think they prefer to have a bot that’s functional that doesn’t have personality, they probably prefer both.

Patrick:

Yeah, absolutely. How did you actually get into doing this? Because I know you ran social media at Vine, if I’m not mistaken.

Hillary:

I did.l that was my last job that I had before I started working for myself.

Patrick:

I miss Vine very much, by the way. I’m very sad.

Hillary:

I do too. People tell me this on a daily basis, and to be honest, I truly miss it and it’s very sad to me that it is gone, but things happen, and I think that that was one of the first, if not the first of a really big social platform that people were on that fell, I guess [inaudible 00:16:52].

Patrick:

Well, it’s interesting because so much of what’s happening with modern influences and even social media trends all started on Vine. So much started there. It’s responsible for launching any number of careers.

Hillary:

Yeah. Not only is it the careers of the influencers, but there were so many moments in popular culture that originated on Vine that still are in existence. To be a part of that was really, really cool. Obviously it was sad, but it was cool.

Patrick:

I still don’t understand why it was shut down. I mean, I’m not expecting you to have any inside knowledge here, but if you do, that’s great. But I just don’t understand why, to me it seems like such a unique proposition, that to me it was just like, “Well, why not just keep it around?” I don’t know. I don’t run these companies.

Hillary:

Yeah. I mean, I think of course that’s the answer that we all want is keeping is going, but it’s also really expensive to run a platform like that.

Patrick:

Sure.

Hillary:

And I think that’s really what it’s coming down to, is every other social platform has ads, and Vine didn’t have ads, and there wasn’t really a place for that, and so just thinking about the unit economics, it just, I guess, didn’t work out. I mean, I don’t know for sure, but that’s what I would guess.

Patrick:

Yeah. I knew things were changing when I would be scrolling through my Vine stream and there would be Vine “celebrities” saying, “Check out my Instagram.” I’d be like, “Oh, okay. I see what’s happening here.” So, you moved from Vine to writing chat bots. Is that the next step after Vine? Is that what happened?

Hillary:

Yeah, sort of. I guess, to bring that full picture, Black Ops is the company that I work for now. I had been with them since the beginning when they started, which is probably three years ago or three or four years ago. They initially were doing building websites and mobile apps, and I was just helping to manage their social media presence and help them with their marketing.

After I left Vine, I went freelance, and so I was a freelance social media consultant for about a year, and they were one of my still clients that I had. About probably a year and a half years ago or two years ago, right around the time that Facebook announced bots for Messenger, they built some of the very first bots. It was something that we sort of just took a chance on. One of our clients had said, “Hey, we heard about this bot thing. Look into it, see if you could make one for us.”

Hillary:

So, I sort of just sat alongside them and advised them, “This would be cool.” They built a just fun bot, and at the time, there was nothing on there, no one knew what they were doing. It was very buggy. But we learned a lot through that, that people actually wanted to use this. We learned that we could help, through all the expertise that we have, through working with brands to build apps and build websites and do social media, that we really could help them with bots. So, in very early 2017, we got put on this list of rockstar agencies to watch, and they coined us as the chat bot agency, which was kind of news to us at the time, but we just took it and we were like, “All right, we’re a chat bot agency. We’re going to start this, we’re going to become the experts in this and we’re going to help brands learn how to build chat bots.”

Two years later, here we are, and that’s what we’re doing. We have released our own open source framework for people to build bots and are working on some really exciting stuff. I have helped throughout all of that sort of create out strategy for conversation design, create our entire process of how we work with brands start to finish to create a truly strategic bot so that we can actually acquire customers and we can do it in the correct way, we believe.

Patrick:

What’s interesting to me about this is that you’re really… I mean, you might suggest otherwise, so I’m interested in your perspective on this, you’re really learning on the fly here. You haven’t done chat bots from five or six years ago. I mean, obviously you have this huge amount of social media experience, which is super valuable and feeds into that design, but you’re really figuring things out as you go, to me on the outside it seems like. Is that what it feels like creating this type of design process?

Hillary:

Yeah. I mean, I would say at this point, there’s not really rules. You can kind of do whatever. Of course, we learn by doing and we learn by always improving the process as we’re going through it, and we learn by AB testing and all of that.

Obviously, not coming from a UX background, I don’t have that form of expertise to lean on, but I think just looking at all of the best practise, looking at all of the bots that are out there and just seeing how can we make this better every single time that we’re doing it is really helping to move that industry forward, and being people that are talking so much with so many different brands and agencies and bot providers and Facebook and Twitter and everything out there and everyone out there that wants to talk to us, I think that that has helped all of us to just sort of move that forward and become more well versed in what we’re doing.

Patrick:

Well, I mean, you say you don’t have a UX background, but you’re talking the talk. You’re talking about human-centred design. You’re starting with your problem and then you’re looking for a solution that’s actually going to provide value to the customer. That’s essentially boiling down UX into a couple sentences. That’s what you’re doing. So, even though it’s not necessarily officially UX training or whatever, it’s still the same thing, it’s just maybe using a few different words to describe it.

Hillary:

Yeah. Yeah. I think too that it’s also loose as to what conversation design even means. I’m sort of just doing all that I can to put what I think is strategic ways to do it, what I think is creative ways to do it, which is sort of how I approached by career in the beginning, of this is how I believe brands can be strategic on Twitter, and just sort of trying to contribute to that, and we try to contribute to the industry with technology and with blog posts and all of that, and just to always be having an open mind when we’re talking to everyone.

Patrick:

So, there’s a lot of discussion about how big chat bots are going to be for customer service in the next five, 10 years. For writers in tech companies right now, so they’re copywriters or UX writers or technical writers, how important is it, do you think, that they start getting an understanding of how to create chat bots, how to create a design flow for a conversation, and how to create dialogue that speaks to their end user? Is it something that is essential for them to getting their heads around, or at this point is it more like if you’re interested, get into it, but otherwise you can sort of let it pass by?

Hillary:

Sure. I can’t really say that learning how to build chat bots is something that everyone should see as essential, because I don’t know. So, certainly if you have someone that can help you, that’s great, and I truly wish there was more of a community for people that are really great at the technology piece of it and people that are really great at the design piece of it that don’t have those other skills to sort of come together. 

I’m lucky that I have two really great tech people that can help me. But I would say just in terms of continuing to develop your skillset of different types of writing, whether that be conversation design, whether that be figuring out how to take your FAQs page from your brand’s website and make that more simplified or make that conversational, so many times when I can go onto the website and chat with someone and answer the same questions that I could look on your website and scroll down and view them is sort of just my preferred way of doing that.

I think that there’s a lot of people that feel that same way, and I think that we’re seeing a lot more of the chat types of things within apps and within websites. Certainly, it’s not a skill that could hurt you by not having it. I don’t know that it’s going to take over anything that they’re doing or that if they don’t they’re going to be sort of left behind, but to me, as a writer, it’s always like if I can learn something, why not?

Patrick:

Yeah. This is the fear I have. I have massive FOMO, so if I see writers doing different types of things like creating Alexis deals or creating a chat bot, my automatic thought is, “Crap, I need to go home tonight and I need to start working on that right now, because if I don’t perfect this by tomorrow, then I’m not going to have a job and I’m going to be unemployed.” So, I get very freaked out about that sort of stuff.

Practise makes perfect, so you’re right, any time that you can learn a new skill, you might as well just dive into it, because why not? What do you have to lose? So, for those people who want to learn more but aren’t necessarily in a space where they can build something, what would you recommend they do to start practising and getting their skills up for writing this kind of thing?

Hillary:

Well, read my blog and join my Facebook group. No. In all reality, obviously practising is the best way to do it. 

I think that there are so many resources out there just in terms of being able to mess around and create demos of chat bots by using video prototyping, which Bot Society is a website for that, or you can go and use Chat Fuel and you can sort of just see how it feels to write a chat bot in an environment where it’s not for your company, it’s just for fun, or it’s just a way to sort of see how that feels, and how the different functions that you could have or how if you are writing a conversation and then you go to test it or you press the play button, you see that message looks really long.

I think just if you think of the way that people were building websites, and using Square Space is very different than developing a website all yourself and knowing how to customise everything and do all of that, and something like Chat Fuel is kind of like Square Space but for chat bots.

Patrick:

Yeah. Chat Fuel is great. I think it’s probably the best tool to get started with, just because it’s maybe a little confronting at first with all the blocks of content and so on, but once you start getting into it, it’s actually quite straight forward. But for people getting into it, which includes myself, I am a big proponent of just doing it, but more importantly, explaining your process. 

If you just go and create a chat bot just for fun, just to show what you can do, you should write up an article afterwards and then explain why you did what you did, because to me, that’s almost the more important part than just creating the chat bot. You need to explain why you’re creating it, what’s it for, what’s the audience, why did you decide to do certain things apart from other things, and what’s the end result. If you are an employer reading that sort of thing, that’s going to be more impressive than just looking at a bot out of context with nothing to educate you about why you’re using it.

Hillary:

Yeah, totally. I think actually most of what you are suggesting is something that I do a lot of times before I even start building a bot, before I even write hello, is sort of sit down and think about, “Okay, I want to…” if you’re building a bot for your company, it’s kind of like a clear picture to you, or if you have an idea, you’re saying, “I want to try to build a bot.” For example, we built one for my wedding that I’m having in a month. 

We built a very simple chat bot for our guests to be able to text with us. So, I would sit down beforehand and say, “Okay, who is the audience for this? What types of functions am I going to want to include?” And sort of create an outline for yourself that is a mini strategy. Then you can say, “Here’s what I want this to accomplish, here’s all the different things I’m going to talk about, and here is who my audience is so I know how to talk, and then you can sort of start breaking it down one flow at a time and start writing.

Then once you start writing, then you start testing. Then once you’re testing, then you’re writing more, and you kind of just build on that, and then a great idea is to once you’re done with all of that and you have your finished product, to sort of write up, “Hey, this is what I think this is,” and then give it to someone else and they can tell you all the things that they want to change about it.

Patrick:

Yeah. At least then you’re well ahead of everyone else, basically, because if your objective is to try and learn this skill so that you can do it professionally, just the fact that you’re thinking about these questions and you’re writing them up means that you’ve already got a headstart. You don’t have to get permission to start doing any of this stuff.

Hillary:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that in terms of trying to infiltrate your job and get them on board with a chat bot, I think there are a lot of ways that you can present the values of it. There’s so many great resources in terms of books or articles and stats that can sort of help you to convince them that this is a great idea to get ahead. And as you’re doing that, you’re kind of baking yourself in as a part of that project. But I do think that something to do, since there are not very many jobs in conversation design at all, is to just start doing it on your own and just start practising , start making things for fun or making things that you want to use, and just sort of creating your skills.

Patrick:

Yeah, that’s the key, making something that you want to use, not something that you think other people want to use, because that’s always going to end up in failure. You know, I was going to say, I was going to mention your book. You did it for me, so thank you for that. In your book, you’ve got this great workflow of how you actually go about creating a chat bot and what’s your process. You’ve sort of just outlined it there very nicely. 

What I liked about it was that the process is not something that you need to have any particular set of skills to start. You can just have an idea. You don’t need to know how to code necessarily. All you need to know is what does the audience want and how do I give it to them? Because I think people get, and I certainly had this mistake, they start thinking, “Well, I don’t know how to code, therefore I can’t create a bot.” And certainly you can use code to create custom bots and so on, but tools like Chat Fuel, which plug into Facebook directly, are a perfectly good alternative to just building something on your ownl.

Hillary:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great way to start, and, yeah, as you mentioned, the e-book that I have, I really just tried to outline very simply my process of how I have done this over the last two years through all the bots that we’ve created and the ones that I’ve created on my own, because I still do that and I still want to just be continuing to create things and refining my process and saying you can learn this, and you can become good at it and you can build skills on it, the same that you can become a better writer by writing.

Patrick:

Yeah, absolutely. Exactly right. What are you most frustrated by with chat bots right now? Because there’s a lot of bad ones. Is there anything that sticks out to you as practise that you’re trying to avoid or that particularly annoy you?

Hillary:

I guess a lot of times I will see chat bots that are basically a website within a chat bot, and it’s sort of like someone or a brand copying their entire website and just put it into a bot when it didn’t really need to be there. And so I think the idea that whether it is trying to acquire customers or sharing account information or learning about products, as long as that has a purpose, and that purpose could be having fun, but as long as the purpose is communicated correctly in the beginning and the user knows what to expect, then I’m happy with it. If I don’t know and you’re just sending me a bunch of notifications about nothing and I’m not gaining anything and I’m not learning anything, then I just will delete it.

Patrick:

Yeah. It’s just like any web experience, right? If you go in there without any context and it’s not providing you value, what’s the point? Unfortunately, people just tend to think, “This is cool, so I’ll do it.” But if you’re a user, cool just isn’t enough to take you through or anything. That’s the same for something like an Alexa skill, right? It’s the same thing for voice design, which is also conversational design. If it’s not doing anything particularly useful, you’re not going to use it, even if the tech is really cool.

Hillary:

Right, exactly. I think there was a similar time when apps first were coming out that people were just literally copying their website, their mobile website, and putting it into an app and calling it an app. That’s not what an app is. You have the technology, congratulations, but it’s not doing anything for you, and it’s not doing anything for your users at all.

Patrick:

Yeah. I think one of the things that I find really frustrating with new tech like this, and you were right, the same thing happened with apps and mobile websites and every other technology you can think of, one of the things I really don’t like about it is that the people who should be involved in the start of the process aren’t. To me, a chat bot is a content first initiative. Often, people who write the content aren’t involved until the very end. I’ve heard of stories about companies, their support team will build a chat bot and the chat bot will be given to a writer, and the technicians will say, “Yes, we’re going to do this and this and this and this and this.” And the writer will say, “Well, actually, that doesn’t make sense because you’ve got to do this first and this first,” or whatever, and they’ll say, “Well, we don’t have time to change it. We just need the words.”

It’s so frustrating to hear, because this is content led. You really need content people at the very start, or at least integrated with a team doing it all together. Have you encountered that in your travels so far? Because I see it, not necessarily at my employer, but I hear from within the industry, and it just drives me crazy, to be honest. Do you hear about this sort of stuff happening?

Hillary:

Yeah. I mean, I’m really lucky that we have always, and it’s probably because I am so adamant about it, we have always done it this way, that we are very much doing design and tech at the same time, and that’s really one of our differentiators from all the other businesses in our industry, is that we do have this design and strategy process that other people aren’t having, and they are running into the problem where someone wants to build a bot, and so they just do it. 

Then it’s done and then they experience, of course, as content people, we think the experience is so bad and we think the language is not right and all of that, and I certainly don’t want to say that developers can’t write, because some, of course, can, and they can still get there with that outline, but there’s so much more that can be done, and you have such a better chance of the user actually engaging with the bot and staying all the way through to the end and converting at the end if you have the person that is writing your website copy, the person that’s writing your social copy, the person whose job that it is to get these users to convert during this process.

Patrick:

At the very least, they should be involved. They should have oversight.

Hillary:

Oh, 100%. Yeah. They should absolutely be in the meetings, they should be involved, and I think that it is so essential to the performance of a bot that it has these thoughts going into it from the beginning.

Patrick:

And I’ve said to people, if your company’s creating a bot and you’re not involved, try and get yourself into that meeting by whatever means necessary. You know? Try and beg, borrow, steal, I don’t know. Get into that meeting with those people and start providing value, because then they’re going to be able to see that, oh, actually, we do need some content writers, or we do need a copywriter here from the very beginning.

Hillary:

Yeah. I think with smaller companies, especially, it probably is coming down to budget and wanting to get the project done very quickly. But I just think for the success of it, it really is very, very helpful to have some form of a content person involved.

Patrick:

What are you interested in right now? Is there anything that you’re seeing in this space or even outside of this space that’s exciting you? Maybe something that’s coming down a couple years from now that you’re foreseeing, or just something out of the corner of your eye that maybe people aren’t expecting? What are you excited about within that?

Hillary:

One thing that I really… I haven’t experimented with, but I’m sure we’re going to be, and I’m really excited about, is Google click to text ads. Basically what happens is that if someone is searching for a service in Google, say I’m moving, and so I need a moving company in Google. You would see the top result and it just has a phone number, and you click it and it opens a bot.

I just think that that’s the future to me, and I think it’s so cool, and I haven’t done a lot of SMS bots even, but I am really excited to see how iMessage potentially changes the experience of SMS bots a little bit because it is one of the more difficult ones that you still have to say, like, “Text back yes or no,” and that’s just not a great experience. But that’s certainly one of the areas that I’m excited about, and then voice as well.

I think that that’s just such an open, giant place that I don’t have any experience with and don’t know a lot about, but I think that there are some very cool implementations that could be super helpful to people that I’m excited to see how that sort of changes.

Patrick:

Absolutely. Code Academy actually has a new lesson up about building Alexa skills, and I’m excited to go into there and start messing around with it.

It obviously has the same content principles, it has to provide value and it has to be human-centred, but, yeah, that’s certainly a space where I think there can be a lot happen, because with wearable technology and the explosion of wearable devices, there’s going to be so much more reliant on voice rather than screens in the next five to 10 years, and building these types of skills, I think that’s going to become a really in demand skill, and, yeah, I’m excited to see where it goes.

But I think it’s still at that place where people are like, “Is it a fad? Is it not a fad? Is it going to happen?” So I think it will probably take a couple more years for it to actually shake out and see if it’s worth exploring.

Hillary:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think with social media, I feel like it took 10 years. I hope that it doesn’t take that long this time.

Patrick:

Same here. 10 years, do you think? Although I guess MySpace was around, yeah.

Hillary:

I think that it did.

Patrick:

Yeah.

Hillary:

I really think that for people to not think twice about investing their marketing dollars in social media, I feel like it took 10 years.

Patrick:

Well, yeah. But it’s funny, because when you said 10 years, I was thinking starting 2008, 2007, but really, no, it started well before that, because Facebook was 2004, and even that wasn’t the first social media site. It was around before then. So it was probably 2012, 2013 where that shift started happening.

Hillary:

Yeah, absolutely.

Patrick:

Excellent. Well, look, we’re coming up on our time now, and I don’t want to keep you for longer than I said I would. So, first of all, thank you for coming and talking to me. This has been excellent, and I think people are going to get a lot of value out of this conversation. Now, I ask everyone this, and I haven’t prepared you for this, so sorry to put you on the spot. But for people who are wanting to do what you do, for people who want to get into conversational design, building bots, maybe even going onto build voice skills, what’s something that you would recommend they read, apart from your book?

Hillary:

Apart from my book, the very first book that I read when I started designing chat bots is called Designing Bots. You can get it on Amazon. It was written by the guy that created Slack Bots. It’s just a really good book that breaks down a lot of the history, a lot of the fundamentals, and then just it’s very platform agnostic in terms of the strategies.

And so I think, while it is a little bit older, it certainly has so much knowledge in there that can sort of lead you towards the point that you might realise, “Oh, I actually really want to be involved in the strategy part of it. I don’t necessarily want to be involved in the writing part of it.” And that’s something that I feel like over time we’re going to see a separation between all the different jobs within chat bots and things that people might gravitate towards. I think that it just does a really great job of explaining every part of a chat bot, from beginning to end.

Patrick:

Perfect. That’s Designing Bots by Amir Shevat, I think you’re referring to. Is that right?

Hillary:

Yes, that’s correct.

Patrick:

Yeah, excellent. Cool. But, of course, they should also read your book. Tell us about your book and where people can find it.

Hillary:

My e-book, which is called How to Design a Chat Bot Script From Scratch, right now is only available in my private Facebook group. If you go onto Facebook and request to join chat bot conversation designers internet club, and in the reason, you can say that you heard me on this podcast, you can get access to my e-book, which goes from beginning to end of exactly how I design chat bots. It has my exact template that I use for writing all of my conversation scripts, it shows the prototyping tools that I use, it shows everything that you need to know, from creating your goal, to personifying your audience, and how to really start writing your bot from scratch.

Patrick:

And I can vouch for it because I’ve read it, and it was excellent. I thought it was really great how it just broke down step by step what it is you need to do, super approachable. Go to the Facebook group, read the e-book, and where else can people find you online?

Hillary:

You can find me on my website, which is internetbestfriend.com. You can find me on all social media @internethillary, and then it’s Hillary with two Ls, and you can find me in my Facebook group.

Patrick:

Excellent. Well, Hillary, thank you so much for coming on. This has been a really great conversation, and I’m sure after this conversation we’re going to see explosion of amazing chat bots from every listener, and then can have you to thank for that.

Hillary:

Yeah, I hope so. If anyone builds any chat bots, please send them to me. I would love to test them out. It was so much fun talking to you.

Patrick:

And that was my interview with Hillary Black, chat bot creator extraordinaire. Again, if you enjoyed this podcast, please, leave a review on Apple Podcasts, share with your friends and colleagues, be sure to download Hillary’s e-book as well. The link is in the show notes. Again, use the code podcast for a free download. I’ll see you back here in two weeks for another interview. Take care.

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