Cognitive agents like Amelia empower humans to interact with machines and digital systems using natural language. In this edition of “The Real Women Behind Amelia,” we speak with Conversational Experience Designer Esther Mahr about the process of designing conversations with AI.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and specifically cognitive agents like Amelia are empowering humans to interact with machines and digital systems through the medium most natural to us: conversation.
The Conversational Experience Designers of IPsoft are pioneering this new semantic era of human-machine interactions. In this edition of “The Real Women Behind Amelia,” we spoke with Frankfurt, Germany-based Designer Esther Mahr about her process for crafting these interactions, the surprising path that led her to this position and her absolute favorite vegetable.
How would you describe the role of a Conversational Experience Designer?
In short, it's about creating the best possible user experience for users interacting with our virtual assistant Amelia. That includes crafting language that Amelia uses to express herself, so she comes off as human-like as possible. Another aspect is making the conversational flows feel natural while aiming to efficiently help the user solve a problem or answer a request, e.g. resetting a password, blocking a credit card or booking a hotel room. And of course it’s also about training Amelia to understand what the user says – the so-called intent recognition. We also look at potential use cases and think ahead in terms of what the experience should be and advise the client on what makes sense and how they can add value to their business.
Many Conversational Experience Designers don’t come from a purely technical background. What was your path to this role?
Well, I come from PR. For the 10 years before I came to IPsoft, I was working at a public relations agency, that was very specialized on B2B communications for IT and high-tech companies.
For me, it all starts with putting myself in the situation of the user.
At that time, AI was becoming a big buzzword, along with digital transformation. I remember thinking, “This is really what's going to change the world we live in within in next 10, 20 years. This is the next big thing — I really want to work in this sector.” I looked around for companies in the Frankfurt area offering jobs in the sector, and that's how I found IPsoft.
You are taking on an additional, second role as Communications Manager, Germany. Did you get bored?
Ha-ha, no, absolutely not. But a couple of things just came together: The strategic goal to increase awareness for Amelia in Germany and with it the need for marketing communications and PR – and I have a background in IT-focused public relations, combined with my in-depth knowledge of the product. I’m very much looking forward to making Amelia a high-profile AI solution in Germany.
What is the process of designing conversations with Amelia?
For me, it all starts with putting myself in the situation of the user. What are my expectations? What are my reactions likely to be? What do I find helpful, what’s unnerving? And of course, we also have to consider our clients’ expectations and goals. Then I try to do research – are there any records, emails or voice recordings of the kind of conversations Amelia is supposed to be handling? If not, I look to interview the people concerned with the process so far -- IT service desk or customer support agents for example -- to get a feeling for the use case.
Do you have any considerations when crafting conversational experiences for mobile, versus web, versus voice?
I haven't done voice yet, but I can tell you for mobile and web, it’s always important to keep information as clear as possible – not too lengthy, rather crisp and short. This is especially important if you think about mobile, of course, so as not to get information overkill. Generally speaking, it’s a mobile-first world, so mobile is something we have to keep in mind in most cases. But we also have to consider the use case. Sometimes the majority of users will be internal employees sitting at their desks and accessing Amelia on their laptops, so you have to take that into consideration.
Would you say that Amelia has a personality?
Generally, she is friendly and service-oriented, of course. In terms of language, I think it depends on the use case. For example, with a teenager looking for a great smartphone deal, she would use a different language than she would toward a senior couple in their 60s booking a luxury cruise, which again differs from how she would talk with an employee who just wants help with some IT issue.
What are some of the things that you're excited to see Amelia do in the future?
Handle a lot of great use cases in Germany!
Five Fast Fun Facts
What is your favorite depiction of AI from science fiction?
Deep Thought, the computer from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Name a technology you’ve recently come in contact with that made you think, “Wow, I’m really living in the future.”
Actually, that was just a few weeks ago. For the first time in my life, I was able to do a post office identification using a video chat on my smartphone. In Germany, when you open a bank account, you used to have to download and print out a PDF and bring it to a post office with your ID card, and they would check your face to confirm that you're the one on the ID card. They have to stamp this PDF, and then you send that to the bank for confirmation. But this last time, I was able to do this via video chat on my phone where a woman just took a picture of my ID, and looked at me, and that was it. No standing in line for ages at the post office, wasting my lunch break. The whole process took three minutes and I found it to be very user-friendly and comfortable.
Name a notable real-life innovator whose contributions inspired you.
Johannes Gutenberg, who invented modern book printing in the 15th century, which fueled the Age of Enlightenment. I’m a bookworm and even in the digital age I can’t imagine a life without books.
A thing your co-workers would be surprised to learn about you.
I spent two years traveling Germany with a theater group as an actress. That was really fun. It was kind of a hippie life.
Your last meal would be?
Oh, man. Can I have two dishes? Depending on the time of the year, it would be fresh German spargel, white asparagus. It’s very popular because it’s only grown and harvested for a couple of weeks around May. So, it would be spargel or a plate of great Italian pasta.