Much like computers, humans have different operating modes that we unconsciously activate in specific social situations, e.g., an interview, a conversation with a friend, or a negotiation. Entering certain modes can automatically drop our defenses and cause us to freely share important information in great detail. Realizing the potential of engaging different user modes, we set out to discover which mode we wanted to activate through conversations with users.
After much trial and error, we found that emulating a friendly conversation between two professionals provides the most actionable data; people in this mode are willing to tell you about really important things but they’ll index on it being work-related.
Over seven years and hundreds — if not thousands — of interviews, our team has learned how to unconsciously activate this mode. It sounds simple, but can be tricky in practice: build your software to talk to users the same way you would speak to them. That is, when building your interactions, ask yourself, “Would I say this out loud to someone?” Setting the tone with a response like, “Cool, got it — thanks”, goes a long way.
We’ve seen this work so well that two-thirds of our users end their conversations with our interface by saying things like, “It was great talking to you, have a wonderful weekend!” And it’s important to note that we’re very upfront about the fact that our users are conversing with a machine!
But the language is not enough. You need to build trust throughout the conversation with your user to really get them to open up.