In a world where Oxford commas and binary code collide… one writer will rise. Her mission? To create the voice of our all-new, fully automated (and entirely friendly) chatbot platform. Her mantra? Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.
Jenny Lou Bement is the content lead on our chat team, an elite squad of RVers who built the proprietary chatbot technology we use to improve user experience across our partner sites.
This is her story.
Q: Hi, Jenny Lou. Thanks for chatting. Permission to call you Queen of the Bots?
Granted. What else would I go by? (laughs) I kid – that title is a true honor.
Q: Excellent. So, this may come as a shock, but there are these things called humans that are pretty good at stuff. Why create chatbots at all?
A: I get this question a lot, so let’s get it straight: humans will ALWAYS be essential, especially at Red Ventures because of the way we work. We’re building chatbots for the same reason we used data science to help automate some of our paid search campaigns: efficiency. We receive tons of basic requests every day. If we address those up front, we can create better entry points for our customers where they and our sales agents both have a better understanding of what they’re looking for. Ultimately, this provides a much more personalized process – faster. All while saving our agents time.
Q: You’ve been part of our top secret* chatbot task force since day one. Tell us about your journey.
A: I started as a copywriter on our Energy business. When I joined the team, it was like being thrown right into the world of startups: “here’s Point A… come up with a way to get to Point B.” The first big question was customer intent. So, I started live chatting with visitors on our sites to get an idea of what they were looking for and how we could better answer their questions. Other than studying previous chat transcripts and hypothesizing, that was all I had to go on.
*OK so it’s not that secret
Q: A few months and countless scripts later, our chat platform is running on 10 businesses. Not a bad glow up. How did you do it?
A: Building a chat platform from the ground up is like a big mental puzzle. It involves a lot of strategic thinking, research, testing, and making assumptions (…sometimes the wrong assumptions). It also requires a TON of collaboration. Shout out to our hard-working team of engineers for building such a remarkable platform, our awesome copywriters for learning a new writing style in record time, and the whole team for being able to scale in a way that will fundamentally enhance our core capabilities at RV.
Q: Positive vibes all around, huh?
A: I love it. There’s a startup mentality on this team that I really enjoy. I like being handed something unknown and being challenged to solve it. There’s nothing more fulfilling than creating something from scratch, sharing it with the rest of the world, and continually refining.
The tricky thing is that it’s never truly finished, even after it launches. You have to look to the future but keep your feet on the ground. And you have to set limits or you’ll just think about it nonstop. There were times when I’d wake up in the middle of the night to write ideas down (laughs). But I think that’s just part of startup culture in general.
Q: I think that’s just part of you being really great at your job. I mean, you basically invented a whole new style of writing here at RV…
A: Haha, you could say that. I hope it’s reframing the way people think about content and what we bring to the table. This is the age in which writers and technology will collide – and that will force something of a paradigm shift. As writers, we’re very adaptable. Even though bot scripting is a very different style of writing, it’s something we’ll have to grow accustomed to. It’s about finding people who have a knack for online chat – people who love strategy and writing short, snappy, conversational content compared to long form posts. And it’s about developing those skills in the upcoming generation of writers. That’s going to be an ongoing battle. As technology continues to grow and evolve, we HAVE to keep adapting… or we’ll end up like the dinosaurs.
Q: Got any tips that’ll keep writers not extinct?
A: Everything’s getting automated. Today, you can find news sites that generate content solely using AI… they’re usually short posts or sports recaps. It’s the first step in the direction of automated writing. I think we’re far off from generative AI that can create compelling content. But writers of the future need to think in this technical mindset. Writing will become more persona-based. So, there will be a heavy focus on choosing your tone, your content strategy, and the path you want to move people through. We’re at the forefront of that here at RV.
Q: We’ve all seen Terminator… Should we be worried that these robots will get tired of AP Style?
A: We’re not creating Skynet… yet (laughs). The unknown can be scary. And like everything, there are some upsides and downsides to AI. I recently went to the Mobile Beat 2 017 conference in San Francisco. Stan Chudnovsky (Head of Product for Facebook Messenger) said something I loved: “We are in the PalmPilot days of AI.” It’s so true. I remember when the PalmPilot first came out. Back then we all thought it was so cool. We had no idea it would become the iPhone. It took time. That’s where we are with bots. We’re still learning how to better wrangle and create these personalities.
Q: What have you learned in the process of creating said personalities?
A: One of the biggest challenges with script writing is figuring out the different intentions a customer might be coming in with and addressing them in a way that’s both compelling and personal. You don’t want your bot to sound like a teacher, lecturing or telling people what to do. There has to be a sense of autonomy. But if chatbots are going to work, they have to control the direction of the conversation and get people where they need to go (in very subtle ways). That’s where features like interactive buttons or hidden chat composers come in.
Q: Buttons. Hidden features. What else can our chat platform do?
A: We can use forms to collect data and make the conversation more personal. We can open links within the chat to keep people from having to leave the site. We can display products through visual carousels like you might see on Facebook Messenger… and some other really cool stuff that is still Top Secret.
Q: Speaking of Facebook, it’s no secret that advanced chatbots already exist. What sets ours apart?
A: We’re involving our content team at the very start. And that changes everything. It’s not just designers and engineers sitting down to build the product, then handing it off for scripting after it’s finished. At its core, Chat is about communication. And as writers, communication is our specialty. RV intentionally chose a content writer to grow with and help develop the product. Anywhere else, I think I’d still be jumping through hoops and fighting to be involved. Red Ventures gave me the opportunity to bypass the red tape – to jump in and figure it out for myself then teach the rest of the company how it’s done.
Q: *Wipes away single tear.* Beautiful. Any advice for aspiring bot builders?
A: Play with every bot you possibly can! Chat with Quartz, download Kik – even Amazon uses IVR button-based experiences to get to a chat rep. You should get an idea of the spectrum of technology that exists today… and then start plotting how you’re going to make it better.
Q: Flash forward a couple years closer to the robot apocalypse. (IT’S A JOKE PEOPLE.) Where will you be?
A: I’d like to work at WestWorld after RV acquires it – that’d be my ideal career trajectory (laughs). But seriously, I want to do this forever. This process has opened my eyes to so many more opportunities and skillsets when it comes to writing. Writing for chat lets me flex my technical and strategic muscles alongside my creative ones. It gets me using both sides of my brain… which is good. I get bored with just one.