Home > Articles > Networking

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

The Art of Writing Perfect Prompts

The art of writing the perfect prompt is to convey ideas clearly and concisely. No extra words. No fuzzy language. A well-constructed prompt guides the caller to say only things the recognizer will understand. If a recognizer is able to understand almost everything that a caller might say in a particular context, then the prompt can be less directed. For example, a system might just say "Hello, and welcome to Thrifty Car Rental. What would you like?" Callers might say hundreds of thousands of things to answer this question, and thus the recognizer would have to be able to recognize most of them to be successful. Most recognizers don't work this way at the moment. If, however, the recognizer is looking for a particular word (such as a manufacturer of automobiles), the prompt must direct callers to answer specifically. For example, by having the prompt ask, "What's the automobile manufacturer?" instead of "What type of automobile?" we could minimize the chance that callers would say words such as "van" or "sedan."

In addition, prompt language must be consistent with:

  • The original concept of the design

  • The way the company expresses itself in other media

  • The rest of the text spoken in the application

Writing Effective Initial Prompts and Commands/Command Phrases

Initial prompts must convey ideas clearly so callers can understand what they are expected to say. This doesn't mean that we need to provide callers with a long, drawn-out explanation at every turn of the dialogue. Once we establish that a particular calling population is comfortable with a speech-recognition system—and once we confirm that the caller has successfully answered some basic questions, like "Is that correct? Yes or no?"—then we can start to drop the "Yes or no" part and just ask the basic question.

As we've already discussed, it's important to be clear and consistent when writing prompts that present a list of options. For example, it may not be a good idea to have an initial prompt that says:

"Main menu. You can say 'Reports,' 'Exchange,' or 'Security.'"

The problem? There might be little or no context for the options—and the words themselves offer few clues. Both "Reports" and "Exchange" can be either nouns or verbs, and "Security" could refer to anything from data encryption to insurance coverage.

If, however, we rewrote the prompt so that all the selections were expressed in the form of imperative sentences that provide greater precision, callers could quickly understand the ideas—and their responses would also feel more conversational:

"Main menu. You can say 'Get the reports,' 'Make an exchange,' or 'Change my PIN.'"

Consistency is always important when designing prompts or when those prompts contain commands that the caller is to use later on. For example, the Wildfire Communications "voice-activated personal assistant," also called "Wildfire," uses the command "Describe it" to enable users to hear information about their phone messages (rather than listen to the actual message), such as the time the call arrived. But the clever thing about the design is that the user can say "Describe it" for any object—and Wildfire will tell the "header" information about that object. If a user said, "Describe it" while working with an e-mail message, Wildfire would tell the caller additional information about that message, such as who sent it, the subject of the message, and so on. By teaching the user a single command—and employing it consistently throughout the application—Wildfire makes it easy for its users to get more out of the system without learning new commands.

Designing Effective Retry and Timeout Prompts

How many retry and timeout prompts should a system give a caller before considering it a failure? I generally recommend presenting no more than two; anything more is likely to irritate a caller.

While it's sometimes acceptable to repeat the same prompt twice, often the designer will want to vary them to give the caller more information to help them answer the question correctly or get them back on track. As with help prompts, the best way to begin writing a retry or timeout prompt is by answering the question "Why would the caller not have said something valid at this point?" By considering all the possible answers to that question, we can write prompts that address most—if not all—of them. Many of the possible answers relate back to examining how the original prompt was written. For example, if we were designing a system for a motel by an interstate highway (frequented largely by travelers arriving by car or truck), we might assume that we needn't ask "Will you be parking a vehicle in our lot?" Instead, we'd skip ahead and ask, "What's the make and model of your vehicle?"

However, there will be at least a few people who won't be traveling to the motel by car or truck, but by bus, taxi, or maybe even on foot. The question "What's the make and model of your vehicle?" does not apply to them—and they wouldn't know how to skip the question. A retry or timeout prompt could circumvent this by saying "If you aren't bringing a vehicle, just say 'Let's go on.' Otherwise, what's the make and model of your vehicle?"

A similar situation arises when a caller embarks down a path they either didn't mean to take, or no longer wishes to take. A retry prompt can get the caller unstuck by including the phrase "…or if you don't want to be here say 'Main menu.'"

To be more foolproof, retry and timeout prompts should include further information about how to answer the question, but not so much information that it overwhelms the caller. Often the easiest way to do this is by providing a quick example. Instead of "Say the model year and make of your vehicle," the retry prompt could be "Say the model year and make of your car; for example, '1969 Mercedes-Benz.'" This tells the caller what format to use in answering the question.

An alternative is to suggest the touchtone equivalents to spoken answers, as in this example: "You can say 'Get the reports' or press 1, 'Make an exchange' or press 2, or say 'Change my PIN' or press 3." This approach is obviously better suited to questions with a limited number of possible responses—not hundreds, as in the vehicle example above.

Finally, all retry and timeout prompts should offer to direct callers to either the help prompt or a "live" representative, as in this example: "You can also say 'Help' or press the star key, or press zero for an operator."

Designing Effective Help Prompts

The help prompt is often the hardest to write, because the sequence of events leading up to the situation isn't tracked. Did the caller say "Help" immediately after hearing the initial question—or after two timeout and two retry prompts? We could be dealing with callers in greatly varying states of mind—from mildly confused to frustrated and irate.

When writing help prompts we again ask ourselves, "Why would anyone not know how to answer this prompt?" We need to ensure that the caller knows

  • Why we're asking the question

  • Where they are in the dialogue

  • How (e.g., the format) to answer the question correctly

  • How to get more help (e.g., talking to a "live" representative)

  • How to escape this state to a "safety" zone (e.g., a main menu)

Here's a typical initial prompt and the help prompt that went with it.

Initial Prompt: At what airport, or city, are you picking up the car?

Help Prompt: Sometimes, rates and availability can depend on the location where you're picking up the car. Thrifty Car Rental has locations at airports throughout the U.S., Canada, and also in the rest of the world. <pause> To specify an airport, just say the name of the city and state you're interested in.

Note the use of the pause in that prompt. In this context that pause serves as a way to separate the background explanation from the command that the caller should react to—the pause gives a rhythmic break to regain the caller's attention.

Designing Effective Confirmation Prompts

Confirmations are an essential part of any design—even if they seem casual and unobtrusive—and they come in two varieties: explicit and implicit.

An explicit confirmation is when the system prompts the caller to answer a direct question before proceeding. For example: "OK, I think you'd like to buy 100 shares of Apple Computer, symbol AAPL, at the market price. Is that correct?"

This type of confirmation is best used when the risk of an unrecoverable error is present. To further prevent mistakes caused by misinterpretation of a caller's response, you can employ one of the following methods.

  • The system can ask a "yes/no" question; for example, "Is that correct? Yes or no?"

  • The system can ask the caller to say a PIN or a special password to confirm the transaction—or say "Cancel it" to cancel the transaction. This method assumes that the recognizer will not confuse the words "Cancel it" and the caller's password.

  • The system can supplement the password confirmation by asking the caller to enter a number using the touchtone keypad to confirm or cancel. For example: "You have requested to purchase 100 shares of Apple Computer, symbol AAPL, at the market price. To confirm this transaction, press 1. To cancel, press 9." (If you use this method, attempt to avoid numbers that are close to each other on the keypad.)

  • The system can disable the caller's ability to truncate the playing of a prompt by saying something or entering a touchtone number. If the system is programmed to disable this feature only during confirmations, it will prevent callers from accidentally assuming that the transaction is correct before hearing the entire confirmation statement. This method also reduces the liability of the company in the event of an error because it proves that the company did its best to ensure that the caller heard the entire statement before confirming it. It's worth noting that many companies save recordings of caller transactions to defend themselves in the event of any legal action—usually to defend themselves from callers who claim that the machine made a mistake when, in fact, the system actually did exactly what the caller requested.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020