Filling out forms can be a tedious and painful process. There’s something about it, for many of us, that we dread in the structured process. It doesn’t feel natural. What is natural for us humans? Conversation! The ideal process that makes our brains happy, would look a lot like the kind of chat we do when we send texts or chats to our friends and family.

So why are we suck with forms? Probably because we tend to improve process slowly, taking one step at a time, instead of making the giant leaps that are possible with the technology at our finger tips.

We started originally with the paper form. We’ve all been to the DMV, sat in the gymnasium of chairs, and filled out our paperwork. Titles with neat little boxes for each letter. Some questions don’t apply but you get to read that extra text anyways, as you try to skip the irrelevant parts while not missing some critical checkbox.

The natural evolution when making this electronic was recreating that paper form but on your computer! Not very creative, but at least we gain all the benefits of an electronic system. We won’t lose it, it can’t be as easily destroyed, we can back it up to different locations in an instant. Great progress!

But we haven’t really moved beyond that. When we submit a service request or apply for a mortgage, users get a digital version of that same old paper form. And in many cases, the user interface is actually worse and more confusing than the paper equivalent.

We must do better, and chat is the next evolution. The process is made more natural to what we are comfortable with as humans.

The current state of chat :(

Unfortunately chat has received a bad reputation over the past 5 years. A huge wave of chat apps and voice assistants hit the market and did not live up to this dream. Many of you didn’t make it this far because you rolled your eyes at the idea that chat would be a better user experience.

We all know the reason these first chat apps failed. It’s because the chat agent couldn’t understand you and you became frustrated. This is because the chat agent is trying to act as if it had the intelligence of a human. But the technology has not reached that point yet. We need to be realistic about where we are with natural language processing. Even the big guys who spend billions on this problem like Google and Apple and AWS, can’t do much more than turn on your lights, tell you the weather, or play a song. They certainly cannot guide you through the diagnostic steps of a maintenance issue.

So the solution is simple - we constrain the problem. We are not ready for chat-bots that offer open, free text. It only results in frustration. So let’s not put a user in that position (until the technology of natural language processing reaches maturity, and we can swap in the advanced understanding).

For now, we use chat because it is a more interactive and flowing interface, not for the intelligence and language magic.

We also use chat for the ability to navigate the user to only the next question they need to see. If you are not making a service request, we shouldn’t ask any questions about the category of your issue. If you are making a service request, and it’s plumbing related, we can ask direct questions about the plumbing problem. Is water leaking? Can you still use the shower? We wouldn’t ask those questions if a user reports a broken oven.

Chat with Allen

These smart decision trees can help narrow down the situation. In the case of a chat guided experience for home owners managing a rental property, It saves the tenant time because it helps them express their question clearly without a bunch of back and forth with servicers or the property owner. This means we get the problem fixed faster and the tenant back to enjoying their home. Less back and forth means less time managing the situation for the owner, and less potential points when someone forgets to respond, and have a maintenance request hanging in limbo.

We can imagine other scenarios in the property management lifecycle as well. What if you’re hooking up your bank account? The chat interface will easily guide you through the many steps and branching logic of getting this done. Do you require a security deposit? Pet deposit? How often will you collect rent? Are you prorating for payments already made? Are you collecting any additional payments up front? So many questions and branches. Sure you can fill out a long form and be annoyed by the process. Instead sit back and chat like you do with your favorite friend on Facebook Messenger, while your chat system asks just the questions needed for your situation.

We love our chat based flows at Allen, and hope both tenants and landlords will like them too. Keeping tenants happy mean they’ll want to stick with the property longer, meaning landlords don’t need to deal with those nasty tenant transitions. Landlords stay happy and well informed, so they can deal with situations faster and more accurately. Try out Allen today if this sounds like a better situation for you!