Another day at the office. It's getting close to lunch, but you feel like you haven't done much so far.
You've read all the emails, replied to a few questions, had a meeting with John,
wait - first IM-ed John and reminded him about the meeting...
And now you're pinging Amy to finally give you feedback on the new designs.
Once again, you've wasted so much energy on communication. Is there any way to avoid it?
Technology Was Supposed to Help
Instead, it brought a lot of noise.
Calendar notifications quickly disappear among tons of other "important" distractions your phone delivers. You cannot rely on them to ensure that people remember about your meetings.
If you use slack, it's easy to use integrations to deliver important notifications there. But once again, those soulless bots are quickly filtered out by everyone. They're just repetitive noise.
But speaking of bots - I accidentally found a way to make them more engaging. And it started with a silly joke.
Let's Create a Bot Out of a Real Person
I love making jokes. They make the day brighter and bring a lot of energy to everyone around.
I have this friend called Dawid. He's a great DevOps, so as you'd expect, he drinks a lot of yerba and knows the whole internet inside out.
He also shares the best articles he comes across via our company's slack.
I thought it'd be a great idea to automate him.
So I built a simple bot that for a few times a day reposts the top HN links to slack. To make it more fun, I made it look like Dawid.
I launched it on Monday morning and waited for the laughs.
But nobody noticed.
Obviously people scan the messages they receive. A familiar face or name is enough to determine who wrote what.
Add the fact that bot's messages don't differ too much from what Dawid usually sends and you've got it. Nobody noticed the bot.
Some people even engaged in conversations. Just like when the real Dawid sends his links.
Dawid-bot became a part of the family and lived with us for a while. Ultimately, I had to take it down due to Dawid's complaints. He really enjoys curating the newsletter and wants to keep doing that by himself.
Making Reminders More Human
With the first bot gone, I came up with another idea.
My team often gets deeply involved in building new things. Sometimes our flow is so great that we lose track of time and forget about the meetings we scheduled. Starting with morning standups to quickly sync on our work, ending with client calls.
Fortunately, there's Kasia. Kasia's our Scrum Master and she's also the most organized person in the universe.
When she sees we're about to be late for an important meeting, she sends us a short slack reminder.
This works well, but reminding others about meetings is not the best use of anyone's time. How cool would it be to automate it?
It took a few minutes to build a bot for that.
Kasia-bot blended into our team's slack channel just well. Disguised as Kasia, it reminds us about the most important recurring meetings.
Using her authority gave it enough power to get the team gather up for a call. This had both positive and negative effect. One time it directed people to a wrong conference room. A few of us were late for the call because of it.
In fact, many of my teammates took a longer while to figure out that it was a bot.
Wow! Did you know that it's not Kasia who writes that reminders?
(overheard a week after introducing the bot)
A month later Kasia went on vacation.
What's interesting is that nobody seems to be annoyed by the bot. Even after they learned these messages are automated, everyone still treats them as if the real Kasia sent them. Well, if you think about it those are her words.
How to Build Bots That People Like
There's a long way ahead for bots to replace humans. They fail to build connection and have limited capabilities when it comes to understanding users. That's why most of attempts of using them in customer support fail.
On the other hand, they can still do a great job when it comes to making announcements or reminding about things. When building them, remember about a few things.
Most importantly - don't over-communicate. Both when it comes to content and frequency. The message is intended for humans, who can process limited amount of information.
Take a moment to think if you'd send the message yourself. Would you repeat it that often? In the end, the bot is only your echo.
Make sure your bot is someone who others listen to because they like to, not because he's loud.
And on top of that - behind most automated messages there's a real person. Why not make it clear from the start? This will give the recipient a reference to a real person. If they have any questions, they'll know who they can talk to about it. They'll appreciate that.
In short - build bots for humans.
Epilogue: I Automated Myself
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