Vive La French Tech! Chatbots, French Style

A Chat About Bots

Conversational UI, that natural interaction between human and technology, is a hot topic worldwide, and the localization requirements for creating a great contextual natural user experience are fascinating and challenging, none more so than in the case of chatbots.

La French Tech. See for more information!
La French Tech. See for more information on the French technology startup and investment community.

As Arle Lommel from CommonSense Advisory says: [bctt tweet=”Chatbots pose challenges fundamentally different from what is seen with traditional content. The shift to conversational structures and the need to embrace “messy” terminology are among these.” username=”localization”]

There are other challenges too. Plan ahead.

What’s Going On Globally?

Here’s a great example from France by way of an article featuring Amina Esselimani, a top French user experience design thinker, published on the Prototypr blog: Conversational interface for chatbot & voicebot: the French touch.

The article itself gives good insight into why chatbots should be used, and the methodologies involved. I was fascinated by the human-oriented design language used by Amina to describe her work, using phrases such as “happy path” and “repair conversations.”

Her comments about using the “Wizard of Oz” design requirements technique, engaging with conversational style content experts, and iterative testing with real users really resonated too. [bctt tweet=”We’ve moved from user-centered design to human-centered design, and dealing with how humans actually communicate and simulating that kind of exchange can indeed be very messy in any language!” username=”localization”]

I also checked out some of the chatbot solutions Amina worked on, such as the Oui.SNCF bot. I wondered if it had a French personality (personality is a critical design element in conversational UI) and what the tone would be my questions about the ongoing SNCF rolling strikes.

Hofstede's six dimensions of national culture. A useful starting point, but real users doing real jobs in real places are the best way to determine the appropriate bot personality for the job to be done.
Hofstede’s six dimensions of national culture, in this case comparing France with Ireland and the United States of America. Hofstede’s work is a useful starting point when developing a bot personalit, but real users doing real jobs in real places are the best way to determine the appropriate bot personality for the job to be done.

All utterances were handled very diplomatically, I must say, even making sense of my mangled French language utterances!

Out.SNCF chatbot available in multiple languages too.
Out.SNCF chatbot is available in multiple languages too. I stuck with French!

Alexa en Français

You might also like to read Wired’s fascinating, and sometimes humorous artlcle, Inside Amazon’s Painstaking Pursuit to Teach Alexa French in the run up to its launch in France.

Amazon Echo (Alexa) launch advertisement.
Amazon Echo voice assistant was launched in France in June 2018. Alexa was trained to be speak and act “French”.

[bctt tweet=”Cultural differences create conversational landmines. And you just can’t be sure that everyone will like you. As it turns out, that as true for people as it is for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.” username=”localization”]

More information on globalization methods for conversational UIs and chatbots?

To understand more of the challenges presented by chatbot and conversational UI design and the cultural considerations involved, then check out my SF Globalization presentation and handy checklist on the subject of chatbot design for  global and local audiences: “Alexa, Tell Me About Global Chatbot Design and Localization!”

All images by Utan O’Broin


Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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