Dinosaurs, vacuum cleaners and clients. And the one thing that links them all…

When did you last interact with one of those online support chats? I did it the other day, when I was having problems with a tech gizmo I’d just acquired.

And as I exchanged messages with the support person, I was reminded of a discussion I had a couple of years ago with a client that was getting increasingly involved in the area of artificial intelligence.

They told me that technology was on the horizon that would allow bots to interact with end-users, modifying their tone, language and approach depending on the person they were speaking with. The technology was already in place, the client told me, to answer routine support questions based on keywords. But this added a whole new layer, transforming artificial intelligence into something else entirely. 

So was I chatting with a real person, or was it simply a friendly bot, programmed to interact with me? I couldn’t really say, and in the end, it didn’t matter. I got the answer I needed quickly and easily, and resolved my problem. 

But that set me thinking about what it is that makes an interaction work. And it boils down to one thing: emotion. If the person on the other end of an exchange shows empathy and understanding, you’re much more likely to respond in kind.

A little emotion goes a long way

Even if they can’t fix your problem, the fact that they connect on a personal level means that you cut them some slack. After all, it’s harder to throw a tantrum if the other person is being friendly and reasonable.

It’s that display of emotion that tips the balance, and makes one interaction work, while another doesn’t.

And to make that emotional connection in your marketing and communication, it means you need to make the first move, but setting the tone and making yourself (or your corporate persona) friendly, approachable and welcoming.

So if you’re a solo flyer like me, that means you don’t use the third person when you’re writing your bio (Kevin gained invaluable international marketing experience in the software industry. In his spare time, Kevin likes kitesurfing and drag-racing.)

And even if you’re writing on behalf of the company, you can still make that one-to-one connection. So it’s not an organisation talking to a client or prospect. It’s a writer talking to a reader, one person interacting with another. 

All of which leads me to Why we have an emotional connection with robots, a recent TED talk by Kate Darling, who’s a researcher in robotics at MIT. She talks about crying dinosaurs and automatic vacuum cleaners, and why even battle-hardened generals can’t escape the emotional connection with bomb-disposal robots.

Throw in a few hammers and a hatchet, and a lot of distressed participants in an MIT experiment, and you have a recipe for a successful and thought-provoking presentation. 

Enjoy it. But don’t get too emotional. They’re just robots.

[If you’re reading this in an email, click here to see the talk on TED.com]