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UI Design: Do Amazon Echo and Google Home Have Anything to Teach Us About The Power of Being Nice?

I ordered a Google Home a few months ago.  It's an interesting if not life-changing first step into the intersection of AI and digital assistants.  I'm a big user of the Google suite of products, and I smiled when I found out that I had to say "OK Google" or "Hey Google" to activate the digital assistant.  Google has a nice way of making a lot of their products softer than they have to be.

That softness makes them less threatening when you realize Google has a lot of your information.  Like when I got into my car a few weeks ago to drive 2.5 hours to Atlanta, and Google told me what the traffic on my route would be - before I told it where I was going.


But back to that implied soft side - which makes Google products seem "nice".  Johna Paolino recently wrote a piece on Medium where she compared Google Home vs the Amazon Echo, specifically on how each drove a different type of vibe/interaction with her and her boyfriend:

"A year ago, my boyfriend got an Amazon Echo. I remember first using the product, dazzled at its ability to process requests from across the room. Alexa, play us some music. Home vs echo

As the year progressed, the wow factor faded quickly.

The product features continued working to their full effect, but I felt very unsettled. I found myself constantly agitated as I observed my boyfriend bark commands at this black cylinder.

Alexa, turn off the lights. Alexa, set my alarm for 8am.

This declarative speech was so incongruous with how he interacts with me, with how he interacts with any human.

Was it how he was asking?

Was it that she was female?

Was I jealous?

Paolino goes on to describe her reaction is driven by two factors - the name of the Amazon product and conversational triggers.  The echo is driven by a female name, and Paolino was taken aback by hearing her boyfriend bark orders at a female voice.  Commenters on her post rightfully let her know that you can change the trigger to the name Amazon or Echo.  That problem can be solved. 

But the use of conversational triggers is interesting to me.  Using "OK" and "Hey" as softening factors is meaningful. It means that people are going to approach communication with Google Home in a softer fashion than they will with the Echo, and that's an important factor when the technology is far from perfect.

That same conversation tone transitions to the messaging we use in HR.  If you're an HR leader and have allowed your teams to use the default messaging that was provided with your ATS and/or Performance Management system, you've missed an opportunity to sound human.  We're rolling out a system right now and the stock messages sound like a mix between Mussolini and the worst HR Manager you've every encountered wrote the default messaging.

If Google Home tells us anything, it's that it's pretty easy to put a human side on your brand.  If you're not perfect, it probably matters more than you think that people like you in HR and are willing to cut you some slack when you mess up. 

Try making HR communications sound like normal people talk.  



R J Morris

"a mix between Mussolini and the worst HR Manager you've every encountered..."

Gold, Jerry. Gold.

Matt Landrum

Ever read one of those software license agreements that has some normal language or humor in them? It makes your whole install experience better.

Carole Matthewson

Hey Google - along the same lines as your point re HR messaging, I'm thinking how nice it would be if Boards of Education everywhere stopped using canned comments for completion of students' report cards. I compare my old ones in a box somewhere to my kids and it's impossible to discern from the comments if my kids' teachers even realized they were little humans. Not only does it sum up kids in one of 4 comments available, seems like it is just as difficult to differentiate teacher performance with tools like that, isn't it?
But I digress. Great post.

Kimberlee, Esq

Yes! This is one of the biggest pieces of job search advice I give people, too; you should sound like a real person in your cover letter, because people much prefer to hire real people than to hire anonymous bundles of skills and experiences.

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