Conversational components Apologies

Apologies

In general, apologies should be avoided. Saying “sorry” too frequently sounds annoyingly repetitious and risks undermining the user’s confidence in your persona.

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In almost all situations, there are better ways to communicate than with an apology. Your persona should show empathy and emotional intelligence by offering solutions, not apologies or excuses. Furthermore, your persona should take responsibility, never blame the user, and never blame another party. People think less of individuals who blame others for failure.

It’s okay to use “sorry” when it serves a transitional social or phatic function and is not a full-fledged, heartfelt apology. If you can remove “sorry” without changing the meaning, then the function is transitional. For example, the reprompts “Sorry, for how many people?” and “For how many people?” convey the same meaning.

“Sorry” is most helpful in no match prompts to make it clear to the user that your persona couldn't understand or interpret their response in context. But avoid overuse. For system errors, avoid saying “sorry” when it’s not your persona’s fault.

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Offer solutions, not apologies

Persona: Sekai (fake shoe store). User input: Yellow. Spoken prompt: Size 11s in yellow are sold out, but red or blue are still available. Do you want one of those? Display prompt: Yellow is sold out. Do you want red or blue? Visual: Carousel card showing both red and blue shoes. Chips: Red, blue, other yellow shoes.

Do.

Offer the next best alternative. If there’s an error, think about what can be done to fix it or how else the user could accomplish their task.

Persona: Sekai (fake shoe store). User input: Yellow. Spoken prompt: Yellow is out of stock in size 11. Sorry for the inconvenience. Display prompt: That’s out of stock. Sorry for the inconvenience. Chips: Start over, Quit.

Don’t.

Apologies aren’t helpful. Instead, help users find alternative solutions.

If nothing can be done to resolve the issue, then notify the user briefly

Persona: Miso flowers (fake flower shop). User input: Send flowers to France. Spoken prompt: I can’t deliver flowers outside the U.S. Is there somewhere else you’d like to send flowers?

Do.

Let the user know that you can’t fulfill their request.

Persona: Miso flowers (fake flower shop). User input: Send flowers to France. Spoken prompt: I’m so sorry, but I can’t deliver flowers outside the U.S. Is there somewhere else you’d like to send flowers?

Don’t.

Don’t be overly apologetic.

Acknowledge instead of apologizing

Persona: Ibento (fake ticket-seller). User input: Get me ballet tickets. Spoken prompt: How many Broadway tickets do you need? New turn. User input: No, ballet not Broadway. Spoken prompt: Got it. How many tickets?

Do.

Simply make the correction and move on without focusing on the error.

Persona: Ibento (fake ticket-seller). User input: Get me ballet tickets. Spoken prompt: How many Broadway tickets do you need? New turn. User input: No, ballet not Broadway. Spoken prompt: Sorry about that. How many tickets?

Don’t.

People are more forgiving of human errors than technology errors. Though people might say “Oops” or “My bad” in human-to-human conversation, these simply slow down the user in human-to-computer conversation and draw the user’s attention to the error.

Never blame the user

Persona: Google I/O 18. User input: Add that to my schedule. Spoken prompt: So I can help you with that, I’ll need to link to your Google Account. Is it okay if we do that now?

Do.

Provide clear motivation for any actions you want the user to take. Tell the user why they might want to do something before telling them how to do it.

Persona: Google I/O 18. User input: Add that to my schedule. Spoken prompt: I can’t help you with that because you haven’t linked this IO 2018 Action to your Google Account. Let’s fix that now.

Don’t.

Don’t shift the blame to the user. Don’t presume they want to take action.

Never blame another party

Persona: Sekai (fake shoe store). User input: Order 15 pairs of BrandName shoes. Spoken prompt: I can’t order more than 7 pairs of BrandName at once. Should I go ahead and place the order for 7 pairs?

Do.

Your persona should take responsibility for not being able to fulfill the user’s request, even when it’s out of your control.

Persona: Sekai (fake shoe store). User input: Order 15 pairs of BrandName shoes. Spoken prompt: BrandName’s legal team doesn’t allow me to order more than 7 pairs of shoes at once. Should I go ahead and place the order for 7 pairs?

Don’t.

Trying to make yourself look good by blaming others can backfire. Don’t provide excuses. Either offer a solution or take responsibility.