Gamification of Voice Assistant Onboards
May 04, 2021
7 MIN READ

A Guide to Voice Assistant Onboarding—Gamifying the Experience

In a global survey, Opus Research found that “Increasing user adoption and ongoing user education” was among the top 5 greatest challenges in the implementation of voice assistants for businesses across industries. Finding the right blend of helpfulness, prompting, tips, and notifications has been an ongoing challenge for companies hoping to show increased user engagement through voice experiences.

Understanding human psychology and applying the principles of risk and reward increase the likelihood that people will engage in your voice experience and keep returning for more satisfying interactions. The behaviorists give us some clues as to what makes an experience rewarding enough to accept the risks involved.

The psychology of technology adoption

In 2009, Dr. BJ Fogg, Behavior Scientist at Stanford University, published the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM). The model describes three conditions required for a desired behavior to occur:

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Prompt

In his writings, Fogg referred to prompts as “triggers”. If you want to encourage a behavior, “Put hot triggers in the path of motivated people.”  In other words, if you’re triggered to do something that is pleasurable, you’ll return again and again without even thinking about it. The key to building a positive behavioral response lies in the simplicity of the task, according to Fogg. If the task is too hard and people get frustrated, they won’t return.

The application of these principles is highly evident throughout the gaming industry, including in video and online games. The most popular of these games have one thing in common: they give just enough back while promising greater rewards in the future. Motivation and prompts are high and the risk of losing is outweighed by the promise of a greater win down the line. 

Applying behavioral science and lessons learned from the gaming industry, companies can begin to solve the challenge of onboarding and engagement for their voice-enabled apps, products, and services. The gamification of voice AI onboarding unlocks the potential for more personalized experiences for users and monetization opportunities and efficiencies for companies with voice-first strategies.

Applying behavioral science and lessons learned from the gaming industry, companies can begin to solve the challenge of onboarding and engagement for their voice-enabled apps, products, and services.

Make people feel successful

Frustration is the adversary to motivation. People don’t want to feel like failures and when they do, they may blame the voice assistant. The frustration scenario with voice assistants is pretty familiar. Someone asks for something and gets an incorrect answer or “I didn’t understand that”, or “I didn’t find that” response from the voice assistant.

The situation escalates to the user raising their voice and repeating the command—even though louder speech rarely improves comprehension. When the request fails again, the user can resort to name calling or simply giving up, and the moment to create a positive connection between the user and the voice assistant is lost. That person will be less likely to go to the voice assistant for the same type of request again.

Improvements in voice AI technology are increasing the accuracy of responses, especially in instances where voice assistants are customized and equipped with speciality domains that understand the context, lexicon, accents, and languages of its users. The challenge for companies employing these advanced voice assistants is overcoming the pre-conceived notion of what voice assistants can do and how to interact with them.

Using the power of positive reinforcement, voice AI designers can create onboarding programs that orient users to expect rewarding experiences. Keeping in mind the psychology of user behavior, voice assistant onboarding journeys should make it easy to get started.

Improvements in voice AI technology are increasing the accuracy of responses, especially in instances where voice assistants are customized and equipped with speciality domains that understand the context, lexicon, accents, and languages of its users.

From there, a series of early wins followed by a reward for a successful attempt will begin to condition users into feeling successful—increasing the possibility of more frequent interactions in the future.

Form the habit of engaging with the voice user interface

The goal with voice assistant onboarding strategies is to create habit forming behaviors that keep users engaged on a regular basis and anxious to return for more. 

Applying human psychology and the gamers’ perspective, five elements emerge as keys to forming user habits that result in increased engagement and satisfaction:

  1. Simplicity and choice
  2. Fast delivery and personalization
  3. Engaging the conscious and unconscious
  4. Positive feedback
  5. Achievement and FOMO

Simplicity and choice

Getting started with a voice user interface should be so easy a child could figure it out. Push a button or utter a wake word or wake phrase and the interaction should start immediately. When the user stumbles and doesn’t ask for something immediately, the voice assistant can suggest something simple, like: “You can ask me to turn on the lights or navigate to your destination.” 

Getting started with a voice user interface should be so easy a child could figure it out. 

Success with this first interaction provides reassurance that using the voice assistant is simple and reduces the friction that fear of failure creates. Choice and the feeling of being in control is what sustains the feeling of happiness. According to a 2011 report in Psychology Today, the number one contributor to overall happiness is the sense of autonomy and feeling in control. 

Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered.”

Researcher Angus Campbell

In voice assistant applications, there are a number of ways to give users a sense of control. Allowing them to ask for things the same way they would talk to another human is one. Multi-modal interfaces is another. While voice-first may be your goal, voice-only should never be part of your roadmap.

Fast delivery and personalization

The advent of mobile apps and the immediacy of internet search results has created a certain level of impatience when interacting with technology. Acknowledging the need for users to get what they want, when they want it, without having to navigate exhaustive menu options, provides a sense of instant gratification.

Increasing engagement is achieved by delivering the reward faster and eliminating the effort required to get the reward—not by delaying satisfaction and trapping users into staying with the system longer. Gamers know this. The increased use of the voice assistant occurs when customers return time and again to satisfy their immediate needs.

Once the challenge of delivering a fast and accurate response is solved, voice AI designers need to seek the “wow factor” that builds the reliance on the voice assistant. Do you offer points for engagement? Power user status that unlocks something of value? Specialized notifications? Loyalty points toward future purchases? 

The increased use of the voice assistant occurs when customers return time and again to satisfy their immediate needs.

Gamifying the onboarding process requires that users understand from the beginning that their continued engagement will result in a variety of experiences that are worth sticking around to discover.

A game of conscious and unconscious decisions

Creating a user’s journey that begins with easily completing simple tasks and builds to providing more challenges and rewards is critical to gamification psychology. Giving too much too soon can be both frustrating and overwhelming for the user.

The goal for user engagement is that the person interacting with your voice assistant does so at both the conscious and subconscious levels. While we may believe we are making decisions based on logic and reason, our subconscious emotions are playing an influential role. Connecting emotional reactions to your voice assistant by carefully choosing the tone and quality of voice, making the user interface visually appealing in mulit-modal environments, and creating pleasing notification sounds all contribute to a positive subconscious experience for the user.

The goal for user engagement is that the person interacting with your voice assistant does so at both the conscious and subconscious levels. 

The combination of a pleasing auditory and visual experiences and positive rewards delivered at varying intervals and in various ways combine to create a level of dependence on the voice assistant..

Positive feedback

Along with other rewards, giving users positive feedback at every stage of their voice assistant journey increases levels of user satisfaction. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter. The same chemical that is linked to pleasure-seeking behavior, is also linked to learning processes.Teaching your users to interact with your voice assistant is easier when doing so stimulates the pleasure centers in their brains. Keeping it interesting enough with higher levels of usage and unlocking more experiences creates a stickiness with the voice assistant beyond its functionality.

The concept of positive feedback is simple. Executing it in the voice assistant will take some finesse. While you don’t want to always state, “Good job” to your users after successfully interacting with your voice assistant, you can provide feedback in other ways.

Teaching your users to interact with your voice assistant is easier when doing so stimulates the pleasure centers in their brains.

Recalling past favorites and offering to perform a familiar task without being asked may encourage users to try more complex queries. Developing a personality for your voice assistant opens the door to adding humor and casual conversation into the interface. In the gamification model, users can collect points to redeem for rewards or unlock special offers.

Achievement and FOMO

The most successful games and apps include both an opportunity for users to show off their achievements and engage them in a level of fear that they will be left out—Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). 

If your users don’t engage with your voice assistant, what might they miss out on? How can you communicate that possible loss of opportunity or experience? How can you create a community where people want to show off their usage of the voice assistant?

These questions can only be answered by voice AI developers who know their customers and can connect context with how the voice assistant is used. An excited customer might “show off” the voice assistant to every passenger in their car or every visitor to their home. While this behavior helps to cement the customer relationship and builds brand evangelists, it also serves as free advertisement for the device manufacturer.

In the process of designing a voice user interface, the onboarding and user engagement strategies are too often left to the end. From the very beginning, developers and designers should consider gamifying the voice experience to appeal to user’s emotional needs for gratification and reward. When motivation is high and users have the ability to invoke the voice assistant, putting the right prompts and rewards in place will ease the onboarding process and build a roadmap for greater user engagement.

Mike Zagorsek

Michael Zagorsek is COO at SoundHound Inc. He enjoys how technology and voice interaction can enhance everyday life for everyone.

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