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How small talk in chatbots improves the patient experience

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Small talk is delightful. It’s an easygoing, inconsequential conversation where you’re not running to reach an answer. It flows like wind, from one talker to the next. Small talk appears trivial, but it’s a way for strangers to know each other and for friends to bond over little details.

In office, people indulge in small talk during watercooler run-ins, in elevators, and in big meetings where they don’t know each other. Small talk is used to break the ice with casual questions like ‘how are you?’, ‘How’s the weather in your city?’, ‘How was your day?’. 

In human conversations, small talk serves many purposes. It’s like a bonding ritual. If the two people are meeting for the first time, it acts as a conversation starter. But if they already know each other, it serves as a conversation kickstarter before diving into the real conversation. Small talk is the foundation of good conversations and great relationships.

In a chatbot, small talk enhances the user experience by bringing a feeling of connection. By adding answers to inputs like ‘How are you?’ and ‘Are you really a robot?” in the chatbot’s architecture, we make it less robotic and more humane. We give our chatbot a human character that builds an invaluable connection with the user.

How can small talk help in a healthcare chatbot?

A good healthcare chatbot is the one that answers users’ questions with accuracy, timeliness and empathy. 

But a great healthcare chatbot is the one that understands the moods of users, urgency of the situation and answers accordingly.

For instance, when you’re panicking about waking up to bloodshot eyes, the chatbot calms you down with some first-aid steps. If you’re in a rush to book an appointment, the chatbot sends you proactive information on which doctor is nearest to your location. If you’re feeling low, the chatbot brightens up your mood with some light-hearted conversation. Just as a good friend would do. 

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The highlight of the above conversation is the personal touch in the conversation. It doesn’t feel like we’re reading a conversation with a chatbot. That’s the magic of small talk. Phrases like ‘that’s dreadful’, ‘wish you a speedy recovery’, add a human element and creates a connection of care between the bot and the end-user.

Small talk in a healthcare chatbot also helps create trust. It eases them through important and time-sensitive tasks— like emergency calls to ambulances — with empathy. Contrary to this, robotic responses in yes or no and apathetic comprehension of chatbots frustrates users and they go elsewhere in search for answers.

But how can chatbots mimic human-like conversations and engage users in delightful conversation? By leveraging the power of AI and NLP. 

How to implement small talk?

There are certain guidelines that one can follow to tailor such conversations.

  • Decide the voice and tone of your chatbot. Every response should reflect the personality of your chatbot.
  • Initially, you’ll have to hardcode some of the small talk in your chatbot. So, brainstorm ways in which users can ask questions. Do some research and make some educated guesses to decide on the most relevant questions that your targeted audience may ask. Cover the edge cases as well– from casual questions to genuine queries that users might ask. 
  • Write answers to each question as per your understanding.
  • Keep the small talk brief and clear. Don’t go too far from the crux of the conversation.
  • There can be multiple levels of small talk. Each parent question can have a child query. The child query can only be asked when the parent question has been asked by the user and the chatbot has responded to it. 
  • Small talk should always be accompanied by a call to action or a solution. Example- You: “Do you really exist?” Chatbot: “Yes I exist as a computer program. An intelligent human created me, so you can trust me. How can I help you?”
  • Train your chatbot to learn from the conversations of small talk. 
  • Small talk is language-specific. So give users an option to talk to the chatbot in their native language.

Small talk makes the interactions with chatbot intuitive. By adding a small talk feature, we can increase the number of conversations and engagement levels of the user with the chatbot. So, if you have a healthcare chatbot, consider incorporating small talk. It doesn’t even require you to do a complete overhaul of your chatbot development.

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