Blog

for my blog entries

Empathy and Chatbots:  Not So Exclusive

Empathy and Chatbots: Not So Exclusive

by John Onorato

I have a friend who is a salesman in a high-end clothing store.  

I recently asked him how he does it so well.  “Think of it like a sixth sense,” he replied. “I can tell how a person is feeling right when they walk in.  In five seconds or less (usually less), I can tell if a customer is happy, stressed, or sad.”

How does he do it, though?

“I watch the way they walk.  I look at their eyes.  I can tell if they came in to browse, if they have something in mind, or if they want to talk.  And I know just how to respond so I can make my commission.”

Compare this with an experience I had recently with a chatbot created for a national florist.  A different friend had a good experience with it, and encouraged me to try it out.  It took me through my order and was quite efficient about it.  As I was taking out my credit card, it said “Have a colorful, fantastic day!”

Ordinarily this would be considered friendly and perhaps even pleasing.  Of course, I had just spent the better part of the last hour looking through floral arrangements … for a funeral.

Sure, this came from a chatbot hosted on Facebook Messenger.  (edit:  Since this writing, the company has taken funeral arrangements off of the chatbot interface.  I did not contact them, so I do not think there is any causal relationship there.)  It had no idea what actions I might have taken on the company’s website. 

Chatbots are extremely popular right now, though, and more are coming.  Facebook released the chatbot API in April 2016; in June there were over 11,000 chatbots on that platform alone.  As of September there were over 30,000. 

These bots are supposed to represent artificial intelligence.  They don’t.  Right now they offer scripted, highly structured experiences. 

Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for the florist’s chatbot to wish me condolences, after watching my shopping habits?  This should be a no-brainer for ecommerce folks.  It ought to be easy for a bot to see what I’m doing and respond accordingly.

Of course this still wouldn’t be actual artificial intelligence.  The easiest way to make this happen would be through a script.  But still.  When chatbots actually do get intelligent, things are going to get awfully interesting.

What happens when a bot can examine a user’s actions, derive their most likely mindset, and be able to respond accordingly?

Perhaps more importantly, what will happen when they can empathize with us?

Understanding the Users

The term “digital body language” refers to a person’s combined digital activity.  My digital body language with the florist chatbot should have prompted an offering of condolences, as opposed to the cheery thanks it did offer.  It’s hugely important to understand what users do online, and not just record what they say.

So why should digital body language be so important to ecommerce vendors and chatbot developers? 

Because digital interactions are based in large part on nonverbal communication, just like the real-world interactions we have every day. 

When interacting with people in the physical world, we continually assess and process thousands of nonverbal cues.  Just a few examples include eye contact, gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions.  As anyone who has gotten into an argument over text knows, it’s impossible to know what an interaction truly means unless we have access to these signals. 

In the burgeoning age of AI and chatbots, it’s just as important for a website — or a chatbot — to be able to interpret these signals.

Sadly, even as important as digital body language is, it is still underutilized by ecommerce.  For the most part, it remains an umbrella phrase, covering profile-based personalization and after-the-fact analysis.  Chatbot vendors have attempted to humanize their products, and they’ve as yet to succeed. 

To date they have failed to assess, examine and fully parse the aspect of human communication that’s most powerful and meaningful:  The unspoken.

This is soon to change, however.  Utilizing and exploiting the power of digital body language is hardly science fiction.

Using digital body language

So what’s the breakthrough?  It might sound like it’s science fiction, but it’s not.  In the same way as we infer another’s nonverbal signals when we are in the offline world, we can use innovative customer experience technology that can infer the mindset of a customer.  In real time.

With the help of these advanced solutions, it is possible to keep track of real-time digital activities, such as hesitation, click-through rates, scrolling speed, browsing behavior, navigation use, and more.  This allows retailers to stay ahead of the curve and stop using behavioral models based solely on past behavior.  Instead they can capture, utilize and respond to actual current digital behavior.  They can quickly zoom in on the psychological needs of each shopper, in order to be more effective when assisting them with the decision-making and buying process.

Machine learning makes it possible to develop models which are able to assess and categorize the mindset each customer has when they visit the site.  As they assess this per shopper data, these algorithms would be able to categorize a user’s intent.  To do this, they would simply look at the user’s actions.  Then using this knowledge, a brand can alter their offerings. 

Where do chatbots come in?

The answer is simple.  If we can look at a user’s behavior on a website, if we can quantify their mindset — and if we can then offer the user customization based on that data, if we can then personalize their experience — then we can code a chatbot that will do the same thing.

Looking at the example with the florist, their chatbot would determine that it should offer me condolences, based on the fact I was looking at funeral arrangements.  Not only that, but it would also assess the actions I took on the website — what page I visited, the movements of my mouse, which pages I looked at, which I passed over, which images I lingered on.  It would use this data to infer my mindset as I browse. 

A savvy chatbot would be able to see that I was simply looking at all the choices on the site, and offer to assist me by narrowing down my options.  It would also be able to tell if a more focused user came to the site, ready to buy.  It would then engage a subroutine to help guide them through the process as fast as possible.  It may also be able to tell if a user would be open to suggestions on an order:  For instance, if I might be willing to go with a wreath versus a more traditional arrangement.  Either way, it would then suggest some popular options.

Simply put, a well-coded chatbot would be able to do what my salesperson friend can do with his customers.  It would sense my mindset and be able to react to it.  It would behave in an empathic manner, even if it is not able to empathize in the human sense. 

My friend was not happy to hear about the information in this article.  “Next thing you know,” he said, “chatbots will be able to tell your waist size, just by looking at you.”

That’s just science fiction, though.  For now.

Posted by ThreeOwlMedia in Blog, Technology, 0 comments
How to Kickstart Your Kindness

How to Kickstart Your Kindness

“Be kind whenever possible.  And it is always possible,” says the Dalai Lama.

So kindness is important, right?  

Of course it is!  After all, the Dalai Lama says so.

Kindness:  It’s a pillar of strong character.

Kindness:  It’s a big part of a balanced spiritual life.

Kindness:  It’s valued by every religion in the world, and every society.

We have all heard the saying “People may not remember what you say, or even what you do.  But they will remember how you make them feel.”

So the unspoken invitation is to help others feel how we ourselves want to feel.  I don’t know of a single person that truly wants to be treated badly or unkindly.

If we all want kindness, then why is practicing kindness so difficult?  Why do we not act kind more of the time?  Why do more of us not realize the benefits kindness brings to society and to the person being kind?  

After all, kindness is often its own reward.

Kindness Found in Words

One of the reasons kindness is so difficult is this:  In our English language, we do not have a word to express our happiness when other people succeed.

The fact we don’t have the word shows that we lack even the concept of an individual being happy when another person succeeds.  

two hands and a heart

The colloquial definition of “success” is often tied to a profit motive.  Even the dictionary (in this case, Google) ties the two together in the second definition of the word:  “Success: The attainment of popularity or profit.” And the third definition mentions “prosperity,” which is another word often tied to a profit motive.

Profit is fine.  I’m not here to judge anyone with a profit motive (or without one).  But I’ve observed that when you have that motive in mind, and someone fails to meet your expectations, the profit motive often becomes the most important thing.  When that happens, kindness disappears.

Kindness disappears when humans value profit over people.

Kindness disappears when we are taken advantage of.

Kindness disappears when we fail to consider others.

When we think that we are the only person in the world, kindness falls away.  If we really were the only person in the world, there would be no need to be kind (other than to ourselves).  

Of course, we are not the only person in the world.  On an Earth housing over seven and a half billion people, kindness is more important than ever.

Kindness In Languages

There’s a word in the German language — “schadenfreude.”  Literally meaning “damage joy,” it refers to the pleasure that we derive from another’s misfortune.  For example, we might feel a sense of schadenfreude when we learn our ex-boyfriend’s new relationship isn’t working out well.  Or that his house burned down. “He got what he deserved,” we think, not stopping to consider his inherent goodness, or how much trouble this caused him.

As an aside, English does indeed have an equivalent to this word, though it’s rather obscure.  Not nearly as well-known as its German cousin, the English word is “epicaricacy.”  The three parts of the word are Greek:  

  • Epi, meaning “upon”
  • Chara, meaning “joy”
  • Kakon, meaning “evil”  
globe encircled with country flags

There is another word in English that refers to the concept of being happy about the success of others.  That word is borrowed from the French, and it is “compersion.” The root “compère” means partner, or accomplice, and it comes from the Latin compater or compatrem (meaning “godfather”).  A relatively new word, its origins and full etymology are not clear.

I am very interested in language, and especially how it molds and shapes our brains.  So the fact that certain words even exist in a language often gives clues to how the speakers of that language behave.

The Sanskrit language originated in Ancient India over 3,500 years ago.  It is an old Indo-Aryan language, and is related to Greek and Latin. And of course, our own English language owes much to Greek and Latin.

There is a word in Sanskrit that means joy, especially vicarious or sympathetic joy.  It refers to the pleasure which springs from delighting in the well-being and successes of others.  

That word is “mudita.”

Sanskrit word "mudita"

Mudita is a joy that is pure, and not touched by self-interest.  One feeling mudita likely has no direct interest in, nor any direct income from the accomplishments of the other.  Think of the joy a parent might feel when they see their son walking for the first time. Or the feeling you might get when you watch your dog exuberantly playing with her rope toy.

Jealousy is an opposite (an antonym).  So is unfettered envy.

Though I’m not going to dive into Buddhism right now (I find myself to be an “Accidental Buddhist,” and I imagine I’ll write more about that later), I will say that many Buddhist teachers refer to mudita as an inner spring of infinite joy.  This is available to anyone, at any time.  “The more deeply one drinks of this spring,” it is written,  “the more secure one becomes in one’s own abundant happiness, the more bountiful it becomes to relish the joy of other people.”

I don’t know if anyone has done any scientific comparisons of overall happiness level of Sanskrit-speaking countries versus that of English-speaking countries.  But I’d be really interested in reading the results of one.

Where We’re Going, Where We Can Go

In our Western cultures, we are taught to value competition.  Struggling against others is supposed to be a fuel that pushes people towards ever-rising levels of success.  Indeed, many of our most visible industries, such as film, music and sports, all spotlight a culture built on the idea of achievement, no matter the cost.  No matter the hurt we cause, no matter how we might undermine someone else, no matter who we might step on in our quest to “reach the top.”

happy group with arc above

Yet out of the other side of our mouths, we profess to value peace.  We say that harmony is a lofty goal. We maintain that we are working together for a better future.

We can’t have it both ways, though.  The sad truth is that when humans are taught to value success at any cost, and excellence no matter the price, we get results that are not in line with what we’ve professed, as above.

I myself am not involved in any of those industries.  Still, I’m a freelance writer, and there is ostensibly plenty of competition in that field as well.  

What if it was better, though?  Success and abundance are not pie.  There’s not a finite amount of prosperity to go around.  We can all be successful, if we only listen to the truth in our hearts.  We can all be abundant.  We can all be prosperous. We can all be joyful, if only we choose it.

So the next time something nice happens to a coworker, try telling them “Hey, I’m really happy you got that promotion!”  The next time an acquaintance tells you they just won the lottery, try being pleased for their good fortune, and ask what they’re going to do with the money.  

In doing so, you just might change the world.  And that’s a world that I want to live in.

exuberant group
Posted by John Onorato in Blog, Relationships, 0 comments
You Need to Identify Those Pain Points!

You Need to Identify Those Pain Points!

I’d like to talk about pain points again today.

Now that we know what a pain point is, how do we identify those points?

So I’m walking around in my house as I’m talking to you. And – OUCH! I step on a Lego brick that my hypothetical 6-year old son Kieran left on the floor.

Say hello, Kieran! 😍

Well, he can’t, because he’s hypothetical. But will you look at that? My foot is bleeding.

What’s my pain point here?

Is it that I don’t have a bandage that will staunch this blood?

Nope! That’s a solution, not a problem.

Is it that I stepped on a Lego? Well, partially. (Thanks, Kieran!)

Is it that I have a Lego-induced wound in my foot? Getting closer.

Is it that I’m losing blood and OMG I’mgoingtobleedoutandDIE?

Yep, that’s it!


Problems and Solutions

So my “pain point” is that I’m losing blood, and the bandage is the solution, or one way of addressing that problem.

Now let’s say I’m a bandage manufacturer. Or at least I’m writing for the marketing department of one.

A traditional marketer will try and sell bandages. They’ll be wonderful bandages! They’ll stay on great, and won’t hurt when removed. They’ll keep your body’s natural healing power in, and keep out the ravages of infection. And this Care Bear bandage will swaddle your ouchie in a nice warm hug!

Oh, and it’s 100% waterproof, too! 😁

Yet our traditional marketer (let’s call him Joe) is addressing only the solution, not my actual pain point.

My pain point is that I want to stop my foot from bleeding, right? So I don’t die.

When that’s understood, Joe will address his marketing very differently.

Won’t you, Joe? ❤

Sure, since I work for a bandage manufacturer, the solution will still be a bandage. In this case, at least. But it will be a bandage that clamps one side of the wound tightly to the other, for minimum scarring. It will be a bandage that prevents bleeding even when the skin is sweat-slick. It will be a bandage that acts as a second skin, to keep on healing and keep out germs.

And the solution might not even be a bandage. It could be a butterfly closure or a glue or even some kind of medical tape that stops bleeding right away.

The important thing is your solution needs to directly address the pain points of your customers. Any marketing you do needs to speak to those pain points, and how to fix them. Your marketing is actually not about the product or service itself.


Solutions Provided in Terms of Horsepower

There’s a quotation often attributed to Henry Ford. “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’ ”

Whether he actually said that or not is irrelevant (aside: he didn’t). But if you realize that Ford helped usher in the Industrial Revolution by creating cars made for personal use, it makes sense.

See, this quotation isn’t about turning a blind eye to customer feedback. It’s not about horses, and it’s also not about cars.

It’s about identifying the underlying pain point that his customers had, which was “How do we get from Point A to Point B quickly and efficiently?”

Horses were the fastest and best land transportation at the time, so naturally people thought in terms of horses. (Well, yeah, trains, but did you ever take a train to get a gallon of milk at the corner store?)

Ford didn’t. Ford thought in terms of fixing the problem, not in terms of improving upon already existing solutions.


ThreeOwl Media Helps With Your Problems

It’s important to zero in on the root pain points your customers have. When you do this, your approach changes dramatically. The way you speak to your listeners changes. You don’t promote one solution. Instead, you shine a light on how your solution addresses a specific pain point.

In other words, you connect with your audience.

You build trust with your audience.

Because you understand your audience.

And here’s where I come in. Because I’ve made it my job to understand my audience.

It is my job to understand your audience!

I love people. I love talking to them, I love finding out about them, I love connecting with them, and I love understanding them.

When I was younger, I was never good at this. But I got better — way better — and now I love finding out what makes people tick.

To say that people are my passion is to understate it completely.

Yes, people are my passion. But they’re also my life. We’re all so interconnected, and yet so diverse! We all depend on one another, yet we are capable of so much on our own. Yes, as a child I was never good at social situations. But as an adult, I am fulfilled by them.

Let me help you!

With your marketing efforts, with your manuals and documentation, with your correspondence, with your video scripts … whatever! Any thing you need written, I am happy to write it for you.

And if you already have written material, I guarantee I can improve it.

Simply contact me to arrange a call or meeting! Use the Contact Me link, found under About Me.

I look forward to helping you with your writing projects!

Posted by John Onorato in Blog, 0 comments

How I Can Help with Your Pain Points

What are your pain points?

A writer must know the pain points of his audience beforehand, in order to create quality copy for that audience.

A pain point is a problem that your customers are having. It might be an actual problem, or it can be simply perceived.

Entrepreneurs often create opportunities for themselves by naming pain points, then creating solutions for those points.

I am a freelance writer. I do it full-time. For my primary market — my niche — I have chosen to serve conscious business leaders and coaches who are so busy changing the world, they don’t have time to write.

So when putting my work out there, I have to identify their pain points around writing. I talk about one of those in my mission statement, found in the above paragraph.

Maybe they don’t have time to write.

Maybe it’s not convenient for them to write.

Maybe they have more of a visual brain, and not so much a word brain.

Maybe they already write, but they feel like they’re not good at it.

And that’s where I come in!

I love the act of coming up with words, then stringing them into sentences and paragraphs. I’ve been doing this ever since I was old enough to push crayons around a piece of paper. My father told me I was good at it — he’s a college professor with several books under his belt, so it’s not just something nice he said about his kid. I’ve had teachers tell me. Bosses. Friends. I even had one friend steal my journal, just to read my poetry.

To say that writing is my passion is to understate it completely.

Yes, writing is my passion. But it’s also my life. That’s how my brain works. That’s how I process feelings. That’s how I express myself. That’s how I relate to the world.

So let me help you!

With your marketing efforts, with your manuals and documentation, with your correspondence, with your video scripts … whatever! Any thing you need written, I am happy to write it for you.

And if you already have written material, I guarantee I can improve it.

Why don’t you contact me to arrange a call or meeting? Use the Contact Me link, found under About Me.

I look forward to helping you with your writing projects!

Posted by John Onorato in Blog, 0 comments