Sam-Ursu-interview

An Interview With The Dialogue UX Designer, Sam Ursu

A chatbot designer and an artist, a good combo for all the time! Here we bring another educational post and this time we have a new guest speaker Sam Ursu-Dialogue UX designer at Zumanji chatbot Agency. 

Sam initiated his career in 1979 and now he is truly a mastermind in his field. He designed his  first chatbot in 2016 and was obsessed with it. He also knows how to play with words and create a magnificent piece of content. 

Till today, he wrote many articles on chatbot, AI, NLP and other hot topics. These hot topics are not only in these articles but now everyone wants to indulge and get in-depth knowledge about its future. He has command on 3 different languages (English, Spanish, and Italian)

Let’s talk to him!

Botsify: Hi Sam, firstly, thank you for giving your precious time and speaking with us today. Let’s start with your career, What made you choose this profession? and what hurdles you have faced during the time. How did you get ideas or concepts for the chatbots? 

Sam: No problem!  Well, the truth is that I didn’t really “choose” working with chatbots. I think it’s fair to say that they chose me. In 2016, I was working in an office, and my manager asked me to look into chatbots which were quite a new thing for everyone. That time (2016 is when Facebook added them to their platform). I did a lot of research and built out a prototype for the company. But my manager took one look at it and decided that it was too “weird”. And that our customers wouldn’t understand how to use it.

Well… I was very frustrated!  So I spent the next few weeks on my own time designing my own chatbot for my own purposes.  It was based on the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” games. A story game where you help a 13-year-old kid on his first day at school. I put it up on Facebook and forgot about it. A month later, I checked and saw that 16,000 people from around the world had been playing my chatbot game!  Woah…

So that’s when I knew that chatbots were my calling.

As for how I get ideas, it’s not much different than writing, which is what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years or so. You start with the personality and build your way up from there.  

For business chatbots, I think to myself “Who would be the perfect employee to work at this company?” Mind you, it has to be someone who honestly and truly enjoys working there, not a simulacrum of fake, happy-all-the-time “perfect” employee. Even in the most boring and banal jobs, there’s something there to appreciate, so I look for that. That’s how I make chatbots feel alive and interesting, even if the chatbot serves a banal business like insurance or mortgages.

Botsify: To what do you attribute your success?

Sam: Honestly? Chatbots were overlooked for many years because they were seen as something that only programmers or coders could create. And coders tend to create very boring chatbots.

Mind you, I have nothing against coders – I’ve worked with some top-flight programmers to create great chatbots. But the secret to a great chatbot – one which feels like a “real” person with spark, charm, and personality – is to hire a writer. In other words, an artist. Artists excel at using their creativity to bring other mediums to life like a painting easel or the written page, so it’s only natural that they can create and design chatbots that are very engaging.

All my successes came from me designing one chatbot, and someone else seeing it and going “woah, I need something like that.” And then we work together on a shared vision and go from there.  

Botsify: Let’s talk about your Favorite place, hope this pandemic will end soon, maybe the new normal will be different for us. How will this pandemic change the way we travel? And after this pandemic, do you have any plan where you would like to travel? Share with us!

Sam: I shudder to think of what travel will look like in the future. I’ve already seen how airlines want people to wear masks for long-haul trips and have each seat boxed off. It looks miserable, lonely, and hot, and I can’t imagine many people would want to go through that voluntarily. 

Right now, I’ve gotten used to enjoying the pleasures of my hometown. But I really would love to go visit Odessa (Ukraine) again soon. Through the chatbot world, I’ve met some great people who live there (chatbots are huge in Ukraine – even the post office uses them!), and I’d love to see the beach and relax there a little.

Botsify:  Sam, I come across your article “All Hail the Great Rebel Alliance!” Tell me about the concept behind the game that you build and how can you relate it with chatbots? Is it the new feature of the chatbots? 

Sam: For me, every chatbot is a kind of game, even if, on the surface, it isn’t one.  Being a game doesn’t mean there’s “gamification” or working for points but in the sense that the experience is both challenging and entertaining. A movie can be entertaining, but there’s no challenge, there as you just sit back and watch it passively.  

But a good chatbot should spark some kind of the same experience as playing a video game in the sense that you get to explore a new world while also getting something done. Most chatbot designers just focus on the end point or “achieving the business objective,” but that takes all the entertainment out of the experience.  

A good chatbot should deliver what the user came to get accomplished while ALSO making the user wonder “hmm, I wonder what else this thing can do!”

If you’re designing chatbots and aren’t sure how to add a little of that fun and “game play” into your design, start with something simple like a trivia quiz. Everyone loves trivia even about the – no pun intended – most trivial subjects.

Botsify: As we can see all over the world, the economy of the world is moving towards a crisis, what will be the marketing strategies they should follow to engage customers and overcome this crisis?

Sam: That’s really hard to say.  But I think it’s time to get away from the mindset of really crude and frankly inhuman marketing concepts like “funnels” and metrics start thinking more about building relationships.  A good chatbot will not only show your customers that YOU (and your business) have a personality but also develop an individual relationship with each person.  And that’s what makes it special.

Unless you’re Amazon, it’s a fool’s errand to concentrate only on increasing click-throughs and other metrics like that. And please, let’s get away from annoying “drip” messages and “abandoned cart reminders.”  Those things might work in the short-term, but it’s a lonely, miserable away to earn money in the long run.

Botsify: AI technology is the epitome of success in almost every organization. Share your experience, when you write a content piece on chatbot, what is the pain point you keep in your mind to attract or delight your readers?

Sam: I mostly write articles about chatbots when I’ve struggled with something and then I want to share the solution with my fellow designers. I’ve had offers to write “news” pieces and that kind of thing, but that isn’t for me. I find most of those to be a lot of self-aggrandizing hot air, to be honest.

Since chatbot design is still a really, really new field with little formalized training or instruction, everyone is just grasping at straws trying to figure out how to get all the moving pieces and fit them together.  So that’s my focus – saying “here’s this one thing that might be driving you nuts, and here’s what I did.”  

I’m never quite sure who even reads my articles, but one day on Discord I had a person tell me that they read my 3,500-word article not just once but twice!  Woah.  That blew me away. But she was going through the same thing I was in the design process, and that’s how she found my article.  So that made me feel good.

Botsify:  If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Sam: If you’re coming from a coding/programming background, stick to that, and don’t get lost trying to create personalities and dialog.  There are lots of great ways to use things like APIs and code to make a chatbot do some really cool stuff.  But please – PLEASE – hire a writer, a “creative type” to design the chatbot.

Likewise, if you’re an artist, writer, or “creative type,” then don’t get depressed about or overwhelmed having to learn Python and Javascript and all the rest.  And please remember that, sadly, most chatbot documentation (I’m looking at you, DialogFlow!) is written by engineers and coders, so it can be very hard to parse.

There are plenty of coders out there who can “wire up” whatever you can dream up and make it work.  If you can draw a flowchart, that’s all you need in many cases.  What matters is the life and creativity that you put into that flowchart!

Long story short – coders and artists should pair up to get maximum results.  

And build your first chatbot for yourself.  If the process seems fun and gets you excited, then you’re in the right business.  Share the results with your friends or people online, and before you know it, you’ll have people knocking on your door, asking you to build their next chatbot.

Botsify: Last but not the least, as you already know Botsify is an AI chatbot making platform. What is your opinion about Botsify? We would love to have your feedback.

Sam: Botsify is all right, but it’s really hard to stand out in the chatbot world when the underlying fundamentals are all the same. I mean, at the end of the day, a chatbot just returns pre-programmed messages based on user input criteria.  “Under the hood,” most chatbot design platforms are all more or less identical.

Internet users are starting to fragment, especially outside of the United States, and diversifying the platforms and channels which your chatbots can reach people is always a sound strategy.

If Botsify is willing to continue to invest in itself and its users, I think it has a very bright future!

We are very much obliged to have a conversation with you. Thank you for sparing your precious time for us!

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