8 Conversation Design Principles for Making Better Chatbot Conversations

7 min read
May 28, 2020
Chatbot with chat bubbles on a black and yellow background

Have you ever had a bad experience with a chatbot? There are over 300,000 bots on Messenger so the odds are pretty good that you’ve chatted with at least one that wasn’t quite ideal. Maybe it got lost and wasn’t able to finish the conversation. Maybe it gave you the wrong weather forecast. This one negative experience might have negatively affected your perception of chatbots. Data shows that three-quarters of users who have a bad chatbot experience say they won’t use a chatbot again. But very often chatbot technology is not responsible for bad user experience. At fault is a poor conversational design that results from not following proper conversation design principles.

What is conversational design?

Conversation design is the art of teaching computers to communicate the way humans do. It's a broad area that requires knowledge of UX design, psychology, audio design, linguistics, and copywriting. All of that put together helps chatbot designers create natural conversations that guarantee a good user experience.

Why do we need conversation design?

Unlike mobile apps, conversational interfaces give users the freedom to say anything. There is a huge variety of ways that people ask for the same thing. Very often they also have a problem with naming their problems at all. This makes it very difficult for a chatbot to solve every problem a user might have.

The aim of conversation design is to map out what users might say and teach a chatbot to react in a way that helps users easily achieve their goals. According to Cathy Perl, Head of Conversation Design at Google, it’s also much easier to teach a computer to speak like a human than to teach people to communicate like a computer.

Principles of Conversational Design

In her book “Conversational Design”, Erika Hall proposes eight principles of successful conversation design. She based her ideas on concepts developed by Paul Grice, a British linguist, who described what it takes to be a competent social communicator. Below you can learn about Hall’s principles and find out how to apply them to create human-like chatbot conversations.


Paul Grice believed that there's no conversation without cooperation. It means your chatbot can support a customer only if it cooperates and provides information the user is looking for. Erika Hall underlined that a cooperative system doesn’t require a user to have any specialized knowledge. To be useful, your chatbot should be intuitive and respond using simple language.

If you have a problem with evaluating the complexity of your language, try an app like Hemingway Editor. It can help you simplify hard-to-read sentences. You can also test your story with random users, even children. You’ll be surprised how a simple test can help you remodel your conversation to make it even more straightforward.


Users who start a conversation with a chatbot want to achieve their goal while chatting: book an appointment, reset their password, order pizza, or check your refund policy. An effective conversation design enables both users and your chatbot to achieve their goal without much effort. If you’re not sure what your customers want and what their needs are, do research to find out!


The more contextual your chatbot is, the more conversational it will be. Of course, it’s not always possible to respond in every context, every time. Still, there are a few ways to help your chatbot respond better in any given situation.

Create personalized chatbot greetings. They’ll pop up in various conditions, based on the time a user spends on a page, a page address, or a referring source. You can create a different greeting for users who visit your website for the first time and for those who are recurring visitors. Personalization boosts engagement and improves user experience.

Chatbot personalized greeting

Also, there’s no reason why your chatbot can’t keep up with the times. It can get the ball rolling by referring to the latest sports news, popular movies, or anything that might interest your target audience. People very often start a conversation by talking about current events as this helps them engage their interlocutors.

Remember, however, to update your chatbot in exceptional situations, such as during natural disasters or other periods of crisis. Your chatbot is a representative of your brand. Make it communicate the way your employees would.

Quick and clear

In her book Conversational Design, Erika Hall says there’s no better way to support conversation than to quickly answer questions. The research supports that claim: 69% of consumers say they prefer to use chatbots because they deliver quick answers to simple questions. While creating your chatbot stories, try to avoid complex metaphors, idioms, and long ambiguous statements. They slow down the conversation and take users away from where they need to be. Use simple language, don’t ask a user to choose many things at once, and get to the point.


The conversation is the art of listening and responding. There are great storytellers that can charm an audience with their monologues but your chatbot has a different task. Its aim is to engage users by letting them actively participate in a chat. How? Avoid wordy replies and let users take their turn in the conversation. Don’t send many replies one after another. This will spoil the experience as the user will have to scroll to get the whole message. In ChatBot you can set the speed at which your chatbot replies. This will help make your conversations more natural.

Moreover, always validate user answers so that they know your chatbot understands what they want. This will prevent misunderstandings and help avoid starting a conversation over. When the conversation is finished, summarize what has been achieved during the chat and send the user a friendly goodbye message.


A successful conversation offers reliable information and prevents confusion. A truthful conversational interface delivers content that is expected by users then. Your users should always know what they will find behind the link, buttons, and cards your chatbot is sending. You should never lure users with misleading copy like “Get started” just to make them subscribe to a product they know nothing about. Such methods ruin the conversation and lower trust.

To inspire trust your chatbot must also deliver reliable answers. Remember to update your chatbot content whenever anything changes. Have a chat with it from time to time to pick up possible mistakes or outdated information. If your chatbot lets users down by providing incorrect responses or data, they won’t trust it in the future.


Being polite doesn't only mean using proper language. It also means respecting customers’ time. Erika Hall said that “polite designs are those that meet business goals without interrupting the customer’s pursuit of their own objectives.” (Conversational Design)

When a customer starts a chat to solve their problem, don’t push offers and discounts on them. Anticipate customers' needs and help them resolve their issues quickly and without distracting them. If you really want to use that occasion to ask a customer to fulfill a survey for you, ask politely for it only when a customer completes their task.

Error tolerant

People don’t always understand what others are saying. Making mistakes is in our nature and very often people need to resolve misunderstandings while having a conversation to make it effective. The same is true for chatbots. It's normal that they don't always understand the user. The point is to teach them to quickly resolve misunderstandings the way humans do.

To make your chatbot error-tolerant, try to anticipate common spelling mistakes first. Teach your chatbot these variations to improve its understanding.

Also, don't make your chatbot reply just "I don’t understand”. It won't fix the conversation. Instead, help users formulate their needs in a way that lets you respond to them. You can simply ask or provide prompts in a form with predefined answers to indicate possible options. You can use buttons, cards, or anything that could help get a user back on track. In ChatBot, you can also transfer a user to a human agent or let them create a ticket if a case goes beyond the scope of a chatbot’s capabilities.

Chatbot transfers a user to a human agent

Give your chatbot a human voice

Your chatbot will be as good as you design it to be. If you apply conversation design best practices but still are not sure whether your chatbot provides a human-like experience, test it. Ask a friend to read your chatbot story out loud with you. If any line sounds unnatural, change it. Creating a great story may take time, but the effort pays off in the end.

Now it's your turn. Let us know how your chatbots turn out!