In 1966, the first chatbot, Eliza, was created to act as a psychotherapist. You might never have heard of Eliza, but you have surely encountered its youngest descendant: ChatGPT. After its release at the end of 2022, it only took ChatGPT a few weeks to become a global phenomenon. Since then, it has shaken the world with its capabilities, divided people into AI fans and AI adversaries, and continues to be the topic of the day in articles, TV and radio programs, podcasts, and casual conversations. It has caused an earthquake in large businesses and released a tsunami of newly born AI tools, with new ones flooding the market every day. What happened? And why does it matter to you? Could mastering conversations with AI become an essential skill and a new competitive edge for us as professionals?
The perfect storm
The fast advance of accurate and affordable AI chatbot technology, available to everyone, is the result of the perfect storm of recent years. The pandemic challenged the daily lives of people and businesses and pushed society into the digital world. It accelerated the need for 24/7 digital self-service. On the other hand, developments in technologies and telecommunications such as AI, 5G networks, and the growing availability of smartphones and internet access enabled its adoption. Then came the boom of investments in innovations, which – combined with the increased speed and complexity of our lives – pushed consumers to the simplicity and instant deliverability of chat as their first choice of communication. To top it all off, the financial crisis led to staff shortages, increased the need for cost savings, cut budgets, increased competition, and shifted the focus toward automation. The result is a heightened expectation that by the end of 2023, we will live in a world that has been changed forever by generative AI.
American engineer, entrepreneur, and writer Peter Diamandis has put it this way: “By the end of this decade there are going to be two kinds of companies: those that are fully utilizing AI and those that are out of business.” This could also apply to our work positions and professions. Jobs will be there, and new positions will open up. But they will require new sets of skills based on the ability to utilize AI. “Conversational” is the keyword here.
The conversational revolution
Conversation today is no longer defined as communication involving the interactive exchange of ideas, thoughts, or information between people. It has now been broadened to the exchange between people or human(s) and machine(s). This is nothing new – as businesses and consumers, we have witnessed conversational marketing and conversational commerce since 2015 at the latest. But in the near future, the “conversational” trend will take its place in many more daily interactions. It will become the way we communicate with the technology we use and a must-have element for our own products and services.
Based on research by Facebook in 2020, 68% of adults surveyed said that their preference for messaging with a business when they need to contact it has increased since the pandemic.  This results in new business models and reflects on products and services.
Conversational commerce (selling products and services through messengers, chatbots, SMS, and smart speakers) refers to the usage of messaging apps in online shopping. Juniper Research defines conversational commerce as: “The process by which end users of conversational devices, such as smartphones, are able to leverage them for commerce purposes through a chat interface.”  The increased conversational aspect of e-commerce creates a more natural, informative, and personalized conversation between brands and consumers in chat format. Due to the multiple benefits for businesses, customers, and employees, conversational commerce is quickly being adopted in other industries too.
The customer is king
According to Juniper Research, today’s retail market is consumer-led.  Therefore, the brand does not determine what channel interactions take place. Instead, the customer chooses how to communicate. Using AI chatbots for business can really improve the user experience and turn it into conversational commerce. It can make it easier for people to find what they are looking for and provide them with the customer support they need, instantly and whenever it is required.
In addition, conversational commerce is one of the fastest-growing and most popular trends in marketing and sales globally. According to a study by Juniper Research (2022), global spending for conversational commerce will rise from US$13.3 billion in 2022 to US$25.1 billion in 2023. This growth of 89% will be driven by verticals such as retail and e-commerce. E-commerce and retail will account for over 35% of spending via chat conversational commerce channels in 2023, equating to US$9 billion of spending globally. The total number of chatbot messaging apps accessed globally will increase from US$3.5 billion in 2022 to US$9.5 billion by 2026. By then, 50% of sales in conversational commerce will happen through chatbot interactions. Conversational commerce thus offers opportunities for brands to reach and interact with their audience directly through messaging apps, enabling personalized and targeted communication.
|During the pandemic, the shift towards conversational business spread across all industries and professions, including conservative ones such as the tourism industry. One of the hotels on the Umni AI chatbot platform, the 5-star Casa di Fiore Spa & Medical hotel, succeeded in saving nearly 7,000 staff working hours in 2022. The hotel chatbot interacted with over 83,000 users, with up to 45% of the communication and inquiries happening outside of regular business hours. The hotel team began working on its AI digital assistant, Miss Fiore, in 2021 – months before the hotel opened its doors. The hotel implemented a pretrained AI chatbot with speech-to-text/text-to-speech on its website, gave it a name and avatar, and also a voice. Today, an average of 75% of the users of the chatbot are repeaters. Customers are getting more and more used to AI chatbots and all the conveniences they offer.
From nice-to-have to must-have
The global bot services market size was estimated at US$878.35 million in 2022, US$5.4 billion in 2023, and is projected to grow to US$15.5 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 23.3% during the forecast period.  The global conversational AI market size was estimated at US$6 billion in 2022, US$8.3 billion in 2023, and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 42.38% to reach US$101 billion by 2030.  The rapid adoption of voice assistants, chatbots, and virtual assistants is a result of consumer habits shifting towards conversational and interactive experiences across all industries. The more consumers experience such convenience from various businesses, the more they will expect to communicate this way in their daily lives – not only for customer support, sales, and marketing, but also for HR purposes, teamwork, personal use, and even when engaging with policies and documentation.
Benefits in a nutshell
Here is what a well-trained AI chatbot, industry-focused or business-specific, means for any business from any industry:
- Extending hours of operations and customer service to real-time instant assistance 24/7
- Increasing sales
- Gaining the loyalty and interest of customers that want to engage after hours or live in different time zones (up to 45% of users in the chatbots)
- Saving time and resources
- Collecting customer data and receiving valuable insights
- Optimizing staff performance, improving efficiency and productivity by automating routines and freeing up resources for other critical areas
- Making the company's marketing even more interesting and attractive
- Creating an interactive customer experience through engagement and gamification
- Personalizing the customer experience
- Providing interactive training tools to employees
- Gaining a scalable and cost-effective business instrument
And there are many more benefits and opportunities that an AI chatbot can provide.
The trend is: Customers want it, use it, and expect it. For businesses, conversational AI has gone from good-to-have to must-have. The technology is here – faster, smarter, more affordable and accessible than ever. It can help businesses and professionals to rapidly change the way they plan, build, improve, create, and shape their products, service teams, and processes. In its many forms and use cases, AI is becoming part of our daily (work) life. It adds new functionalities to the many instruments and tools we already use. AI chatbots will play a focal role as connectors. Therefore, mastering conversation with AI to utilize all the tools, for work or leisure, is becoming an essential skill and the new competitive edge for us as professionals to secure our spot in this new AI era.
Creating engaging conversational content
So, as technical communicators, what can you do to learn and adapt to the art of conversing with AI? Here are five suggestions to consider:
1. Familiarize yourself with AI
Understanding AI chatbots and their capabilities, limitations, and underlying technologies is first on the list. Fear or rejection of technology arises from a lack of information on how it works and how to use it. Familiarize yourself with the concepts behind AI and chatbots, such as natural language processing, machine learning, and conversational interfaces. This will unleash a wealth of ideas for their use. Business AI chatbots are only as good as the teams behind them, so prepare yourself to become a master. As technical writers, we not only need to know how to use such tools but also how to create and manage them so they can be used by other people. The fastest way to gain experience and master this skill is to create an AI chatbot from scratch.
2. Deepen your knowledge
Learn more about conversational design principles. This involves creating dialogs and interactions that feel natural and intuitive to users. Explore how to structure conversations and generate responses for an AI chatbot that engages users and provides them with the desired information. Pay attention to best practices on how to write prompts. At school we learned how to write essays; now we need to learn how to properly communicate with AI tools to receive the best results. AI technologies can assist us in content generation and even in writing prompts, but people are the ones with the critical thinking, intelligent creativity, experience, and strategic direction necessary for effective conversations in the digital world. Also, keep users’ characteristics in mind and start paying attention to how humans write and talk. The experience and data gained from organic conversations are worth more than those generated by AI.
3. Simplify your language
Writing for AI chatbots requires adapting the writing style to communicate in a conversational tone. Practice breaking down information into easily understandable pieces – as if you were chatting with a friend. Employ a more informal and friendly style to create a user-centric experience. Simplifying also means shortening sentences and using simpler vocabulary. The rule of seven is as valid today as it was 30 years ago: Use no more than seven sentences in a paragraph, no more than seven words in a sentence, and words with no more than seven letters.
4. Customize to your needs
In many cases, the AI model will be specific, and the chatbot needs to be trained for the precise needs of the business, organization, or even individual. For such scenarios, writing high-quality responses becomes a skill. The quality of the chatbot's responses significantly impacts user satisfaction and therefore overall business success and growth. Practice creating responses that are accurate, concise, and helpful in your daily life. Understanding the importance of providing clear instructions, addressing potential misunderstandings, and offering additional resources when necessary will improve the overall quality of your communication.
5. Respect ethical standards
Ethical considerations have become a major concern with the development of generative AI and conversational tools such as AI chatbots. You need to be aware of present and upcoming regulations as well as potential biases, privacy concerns, and ethical implications related to AI chatbot usage. Whenever consuming the results of the performance of AI tools or using them to create content, you need to keep in mind issues such as truthfulness, transparency, copyrights, and third-party data usage. Ensure that your AI chatbot upholds ethical standards in content generation and respects user privacy. According to UNESCO, “Digital literacy is the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate, and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship. It includes competencies that are variously referred to as computer literacy, ICT literacy, information literacy, and media literacy”. 
Sooner than we might expect, the description of digital literacy will also include “AI literacy”.
The road ahead
By mastering conversational language in the world of AI chatbots, professionals can adapt their skills to confidently and safely use AI technology to create engaging and effective conversational content. It benefits users, businesses, and professionals, and therefore society in general. It improves the user experience, enables effective communication, enhances problem-solving capabilities, facilitates personalization, prepares individuals for changing technology trends, opens career prospects, and fosters lifelong learning. These skills empower individuals to leverage AI technologies effectively and responsibly in various aspects of their lives. The possibilities are countless. The choice is yours.
 Business Messaging Research Study, Facebook, September 2020.
 Juniper Research white paper, 2022: “Conversational Commerce – the future of click-and-mortar”.
 Juniper Research white paper, 2022: “How chatbots will facilitate the omnichannel experience.”
 Bot Services Market Research Report - Global Forecast 2023-2030, Research and Markets (2023).
 Conversational AI Market Research Report - Global Forecast 2023-2030, Research and Markets (2023).
 UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2018), A Global Framework of Reference on Digital Literacy Skills for Indicator 4.4.2.