Industry analysts predict that chatbots and intelligent personal assistants will overtake traditional web interfaces as the primary consumer touchpoint, that they will replace or augment mobile apps, and they will completely transform customer service.

If those predictions don’t boggle your mind, read them again.

Is your content team ready for that future? Most aren’t.

The good news is that with some engineering, chatbots can employ and extend an existing content repository. Intelligent content allows us to use single-source publishing to push content out to interactive channels, including those that involve chatbots and intelligent assistants.

Possible benefits:

  • Boost the ROI of existing content
  • Increase sales cycles
  • Improve conversions
  • Reduce customer-service costs
  • Improving satisfaction

In his August 9, 2017, webinar in The Content Wrangler series, Building Chatbots with Intelligent Content, Cruce Saunders—founder and principal at [A] and author of Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World—discussed chatbots as a new content-distribution channel that businesses can’t afford to ignore. Cruce covered basic chatbot content requirements, components and construction, and a future-proofing model that can make your content chatbot-ready.

Why is Cruce so passionate about this topic? “I’ve been in the content structure business for twenty-plus years working across lots of media,” he says. “I’m passionate because I believe that structured content is the path to a more intelligent world.”

Read on for some highlights from Cruce’s talk. For the details, go to his webinar and listen to the whole hour’s worth for free.

Here come the new technologies

Question-and-answer (Q&A) content is everywhere in our organizations. It’s in customer documentation, in frequently asked questions (FAQs), in knowledge bases, in online help—and now, increasingly, in chatbot interfaces.

We’re all in the habit of asking robots questions already. We search every day in text and, more and more, we’re using our voices. Some 60.5 million Americans now use a virtual assistant of some kind at least once a month. According to Gartner, chatbots will power 85% of all customer-service interactions by the year 2020.

Q&A content has been around for a long time in various forms. The new forms fall into three main types:

These are simply new forms of delivering answers to questions. You might say, “The FAQ is back!”

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Although today’s chat-related technologies are often implemented in simplistic and limited ways, they have the potential of making humans capable of doing smarter, better things, Cruce says. “Customers want an immediate way to interact with our content in a conversational way. Chatbots are answering.”

What organizations need to be doing today (and most are not)

We’re moving toward the conversational commerce of the next generation. And we’ll get there only if we can reuse the content we already have, says Cruce. Ideally, companies would publish their Q&A content out in multiple forms, including bots, from a single source. It only makes sense to set up a single repository for all Q&A content, following the principles of the unified content strategy: write it once, use it where needed.

It’s counterproductive—and quickly becomes expensive and messy—when companies create a whole new repository of Q&A content for bots.

Yet, all too often, that’s exactly what happens. Companies take an expedient approach rather than an intelligent approach. As a result, Cruce says, “duplication between content repositories is becoming a bigger and bigger problem for organizations that are answering lots of questions in lots of ways.”

We’re asked to copy and paste existing content into new repositories or platforms all the time, Cruce says.

“Stop! If we don’t start centralizing Q&A content, we will hit the Q&A apocalypse where everything is going to be out of date in various channels, and we’ll have a mischmasch of customer experiences. We’ve got to say ‘no more’ to new content silos. We can’t allow our organizations to continue hiring people to move content from one repository to the next. It’s time to put our foot down.”

The goal—which will require the help of content strategists and content engineers to achieve—is to unify your Q&A content across all delivery channels and platforms. Yes, this is a challenging goal. But shying away from this effort has big consequences for the bottom line. “If we can’t keep our content lifecycle and our publishing infrastructure up to date, “ Cruce says, “we’re going to accrue technical debt in the millions of dollars.”

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We need to keep evolving our Q&A content to include voice. As recently reported in Forbes, by 2020 half of all searches will be voice searches. The voice-powered bot market is expected to grow from $1.6 billion in 2015 to $15.8 billion in 2010.

If you’re going to invest in a chatbot, you’re not buying a thing. You’re investing in a process that needs to evolve our way of working. The technology is secondary or even tertiary. “It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. It takes work. Anybody who tells you it’s easy is selling a widget, a thing. Making the widgets sing with our content requires training, innovation, and change of the culture that supports those customer interactions.”

To make the new technologies and processes work, we must move toward intelligent content, including such elements as structure, schema, metadata, microdata, taxonomy, and content modeling. “Knowledge lives in containers and can make an impact only when those containers are connected with an audience.”

All this talk of chatbots may sound daunting, but there’s no avoiding the importance of these new options and the processes they’ll require us to develop. “Organizations should not play chicken with the future,” Cruce says. “Invest in engineering content now before competitors’ robots steal customer mindshare. This is clear to executives and C suites everywhere.”

Related resources

Watch the full webinar

For the rest of what Cruce has to say on this topic, including lots more detail on content engineering and designing chatbot conversations, watch the full webinar: