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A Formula For Designing A Chatbot You Want To Hug


-Part 1

Dear Chatbot, Can you convert a handshake to a hug by designing for TTD (Trust, Desire, and Delight) and the Oxytocin metric.

*this is my recent letter to a chatbot I know well

Dear Chatbot

I just left Cogx 2019 in London and it was awesome. There was plenty of discussions on your future with your human counterparts. While most of the presentations were by humans this year, they showcased how your learning curve is increasing exponentially. However, not many talked about the emotional relationship between you and me, and where there is a conversation between two entities, there is a relationship.

I’m interested in your growth as a virtual assistant, advisor and quite possibly as my future mentor. More specifically, I am curious about the quality of the relationship you will develop with me. So I’d like to suggest to you how you can convert your conversations from an initial handshake greeting to the ultimate gestures of human affectionate — a hug! I will also explore how you might measure such a conversion to ‘Hug Status’ using a sort of digital ‘Oxytocin Metric’. (Oxytocin is the hormone also known as the ‘Cuddle Hormone’ because it is released in social bonding like hugging)

Why is this important? I believe that if you achieve ‘Hug status’ it will help me warm to you as a friend, or mentor, and keep me coming back and telling all my friends about you! I’m going to throw in a fellow human’s quote for you before I explain.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou

I’ve been thinking about the emotions of Trust, Desire and Delight (let’s call them TDD for short) in the future of intelligent tech like you and what role they have in how you design conversations with me. I’ve explored these emotions as part of as a conceptual formula to create, and possibly measure, the binary ‘Oxytocin’ level between us. I’ll explain what I mean in more detail, and describe what I call an ‘Oxytocin Metric’.

To shift from chatbot to ‘smart-bot,’ to ‘mentor-bot?’ maybe even to ‘friend’ is not only about your increasing intelligence offering and added value, but you’ll also need to improve on your ability to relate to people and build real relationships. This will require you to delight more, surprise more, relate more, and even have opinions of your own!

If you are thinking why does this matter, you should really ask yourself:

I know you have a unique and novel proposition to offer the world! You are solving a big customer headache with guru-like precision. You are making your industry’s service far more efficient; saving people time and money and helping your employer service 1000x customers at once. You’ll even do it with an occasional smile emoji, celebrity gif, and great AI, ML and compound learning to back you up. You are gonna be a star! It is exciting and I’m rooting for you! But… you need to become ‘’gold, ponyboy’’.

While your novel offering will increasingly become more valuable and attractive to customers, in itself it may not be enough.

You will begin to meet others trying to be just like you; scrappy startups or even large incumbents that have seen what you are doing and will all be keen to replicate what you offer. These opponents may be better funded or better equipped to win the market race. Even if you were first out of pole position we know this is not enough to win. Sure, there will be agile ways for you to manoeuvre and outsmart them with your nimble startup, pirate-like strategies, your innovation, your proprietary data, and even your trendy UI design. However, you might consider that the most important advantage you can possess will be the quality of your customer’s relationship with you. Let me expand here.

The relationships you have with your human customers will be what differentiates you and can be your advantage or disadvantage. The quality of these relationships can be and should be by design. You can design and build to optimise for a few human psychological bents, needs, and wants, that might relate to your service offering but are more importantly about being more human. This is more than just UI&X, as they say on Tinder, this is about all ‘your chat’ and your ability to connect with someone like me emotionally, such that I just want to hug you.

As a human, when you close a good deal you might shake that person’s hand. When you say hello or goodbye you also might shake that person’s hand, but when you close a great deal, or you see a great friend or even get invaluable advice from a stranger, you just might hug them instead! I want you to be someone I could hug.

Successful relationships are the result of specific experiences, exchanges, and the environment you create around your offering. These designed experiences are as much about your compounding intelligence (your novel proposition) as it is about human feelings (customer feelings). I think three major feelings that any new tech offering should focus on is that of trust and desire and delight (TDD).

Why is designing for TDD important for you as a chatbot, and why should you care? I’ll try to explain how the feelings of trust, desire and delight not only attracts us as clients but gets us to love you and stick by you. Of course, it goes without saying, if we attract clients and they stick around, we grow. So designing for TTD is designing for growth today. I know the behavioural economist would suggest formulas don’t balance in reality, so let’s not call this a formula but an observation of behaviour.

What we want, to is often a combination of things we desire and things we trust. Let’s break that down.

As customers and consumers, any products or services that are both (A) aesthetically beautiful and/or (B) provide added value, an advantage or a novel proposition, are desirable to us. Desire is a strong human emotion, where we have a strong yearning or craving to have or achieve something. This is a powerful emotion to understand. Us humans spend money on the things we desire and/or we spend our time on them. And of course time is attention, and attention is the currency of our time.


Desirable things =Aesthetic beauty + Added Value, an advantage or a novel proposition

Or by substitution,
A+B = Desirable things

Who we follow online (excluding vanity led personalities and brands) and who we trust is often because we recognise their superior knowledge or expertise they can offer. It is also a measure of how honest we think they are being. Honesty is an important factor here because when you think a person is dishonest, you don’t trust them and therefore their knowledge is meaningless to you. We follow the advice of our smartest friends and trustworthy family members. We buy books, buy products, or subscribe to the advice of intelligent individual, influencers and knowledgeable companies we trust. We depart of our time and cash for other’s knowledge because we trust their knowledge is honest.

So if we trust and gravitate to people who are C) more knowledgeable than us and D) we think are honest,


Trustworthy things = Knowledge + Honesty

Or by substitution,

C+D = Trustworthy things

So in conclusion,

If, what we want and what attracts us is a combination of Desire and Trustworthiness,

Then for great products and services to be just what we want and what we are attracted to, they must be, A) beautiful + B) adding value + C) knowledgeable + D) honest.


A thing we want and are attracted to = A) beautiful + B) adding value + C) knowledgeable + D) honest.

It is our desires that drive our decision making; where we go, where to live, what to buy. But here is the kicker. Desire doesn’t just add value, because when we have felt desire and we have also made a personal decision, we feel empowered, in control, and satisfied all in one shiny wrapper of dopamine. When you combine desire and decisive action, you create meaning for us.

Feelings associated with a good experience stay with us long after we leave a place, or walked away from meeting someone, these feelings determine our desire to return.

Still to come…

Now that we have a conceptual formula for being desirable and trusted, how do we take our relationship from handshake to hug?

Maybe we could call it the Tony Robbins effect? or the Robbie Williams effect? But what it certainly is not, is charisma! That is far too shallow and salesy of a quality to be designed for today. I think if you just try and be charismatic as a smart-bot, you will fail.

In part two of this blog, I’d like to brainstorm about my ‘Oxytocin Metric’, an approach to designing for delight, and getting to that crucial ‘Hug State’. Let me know if you are interested, and would love to hear any feedback on these ideas.

(Part 2, to come…)

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