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I'm currently working for a client on a site which offers search services. The users can rent modules that perform an action 24/7, namely searching an internal index for specific items. Each module can perform exactly one action. For example, if you want to do 4 searches simultaneously you would have to rent 4 modules. That's pretty much everything the site has to offer.

The modules come at very low prices; the first three are free and the user should be driven to rent more of them. Now, I had the idea to transform this abstract concept of modules into something more physical: cute animated robots.

The three robots would sit around doing their searching and eventually jump up and wave happily if they find something. I want to give them basic facial expressions so they feel real and the user can emotionally connect to them.

They should be so likable that the user wants to rent more of them and keep them.

Do you think this is a good idea for a business website? Taking away the abstract management of modules and making it more playful by interacting with "real intelligent robots". Can an emotional bond be established?

What are your experiences in keeping customers loyal by creating emotional bonds between them and the service?

Edit: The site is searching for car sales and is aimed at car dealers, that look for pre-owned cars online. The car dealers tell the bot what it should look for. As soon as someone wants to sale a car which matches the criteria, the bot will tell the car dealer.

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This is possibly related to this question, concerning emotional bonds to a UI. –  silvinci May 22 '13 at 15:48
    
Playfullness is always a good thing to explore, but it's really hard to give an answer without a lot more context. For instance, cute robots might make a lot of sense for people searching for collectibles for their hobby. It may make absolutely no sense if these are stockbrokers searching for financial information for their job. –  DA01 May 22 '13 at 17:54
    
Added further information. –  silvinci May 22 '13 at 18:01
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Given the additional detail, playfulness may still be effective, but it really sounds like a cut-and-dried business need. In other words, if the 3 free bots work, that is really the key. In other words, I think the quality of the search tool is what will drive that type of user to want to spend money on more. –  DA01 May 22 '13 at 18:08
    
I'd rather use not robots but cars (in the similar way as in the Cars movie), you need something in the main subject. –  Voitcus May 22 '13 at 18:35
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There have been studies and situations where having the option to create a playful connection or allowing the user to have fun have actually increased conversion. A good example of this can be taken from the Strikingly.com referral page where putting a cat on the referral site and requiring users to refer someone to see the cat dance doubled the conversions. To quote the article :

It’s just a basic form - enter your name and some email addresses and you can tell your friends about Striking.ly. We drew inspiration from Dropbox’s referral system. But the page itself looked empty, and there was an awful lot of extra space on the sides. We wondered how we can use that space to make the invitation system more… inviting.

At first we experimented with clip art in the background - faded illustrations of gifts and happy faces and such. It looked OK, but it was still kind of boring. And I’m not much of an illustrator so it was a little awkward to have random graphics popping up.

Dafeng, our backend developer and a perennial 9GAG fan, jokingly suggested that we put a dancing cat on this page. I took him seriously. And we came up with this:

enter image description here

Once you submit the form, the cat will dance for you. To get the full effect, see it for yourself. (Snatch a Strikingly account if you don’t have one yet!) This little kitty actually doubled our conversion rate for this page (# of people who send invitations / # of people who land on the page). A few people sent invites to themselves just to see the cat, but they’re in the minority.

I also recommend reading this article which talks about how playful widgets keeps your users interested and also can help conversion as they might spend more time on the site.

That said, there are a couple of key things you need to note

  • Ensure your robots can return relevant content since the playful part will help users remain engaged but you still need relevant content which is useful
  • While having the robots as part of your site might help in establishing an emotional bond, also ensure you provide details which would highlight your credibility such as details like contact information,security certificates, social integration. Check out this article for additional inputs on what might make your site more credible
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Very good answer! Thank you. I'll just leave this open a little bit, to see, if someone has different opinions. –  silvinci May 22 '13 at 21:42
    
If I knew it was a dancing cat to make my friend invite me, I would treat this website as a spam site. I receive every day e-mails warning me about viruses that "can burn my hard drive" and that "top Microsoft engineers are working hard night and day to solve the problem, but here is what to do before they finish", or lots of "look, that's funny". I can't block my friends, I know they're doing this in good faith, so if a website makes them send me anything like this, that's no good emotion for me. –  Voitcus May 23 '13 at 8:55
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I like how MailChimp does it. When you log in to your dashboard, you see the MailChimp monkey in the top-left corner of the nav. Every time you refresh the page or go to a different page, the monkey says something different in a speech bubble. Most of the time it's funny with a link to a YouTube video, etc., and sometimes it's just something inspirational.

I like this because it personifies MailChimp's mascot and just gives an overall "playfullness" to the brand and the app. To me, it doesn't add any usefullness to the app, but it does tell me that MailChimp is fun and cares about it's customers. It helps me to emotionally connect with the app on a deeper level. Here's a sample screen of what I'm talking about: enter image description here

If you work for a big corporate bank, for example, this probably won't go over well :)

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Ah yes, I see your point. It seems like one has to distinguish between business and serious serious business. –  silvinci May 22 '13 at 21:51
    
@silvinci: Sure, but it also depends on who your customers are. This ISV viva64.com/en uses a vomiting unicorn on its logo and gets away with this because its customers are hardcore software developers. Not really sure this would work for an investment bank. Meanwhile both are real and quite serious businesses. –  sharptooth May 23 '13 at 9:06
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I think that the robots can definitely make for a more visual and intuitive management of these modules for customers as well as being an emotional attractor. So yes, you can have an emotional connection, however, I would say that regardless of that, it would be a good idea simply to make the management of these more approachable.

It could also fit quite nicely if you were to have a robot that used speech bubbles to explain things around the site - to walk the user through the actions that they are performing.

The idea of having something going off and working for you 24/7 until it finds something is definitely very, very good. The idea of simply setting up a filter on a search that will alert you is much less appealing. The idea of purchasing another robot is more appealing than purchasing another filter for a search.

Partly that's because you are also putting something tangible in people's minds when they purchase another module/robot. For example, consider purchasing more storage space at a site like dropbox. It's not fun, you're paying them money for something you already have, just more of it. Note that this is technically the same as saying that you're purchasing another one of what you already have (so you can use it to hold more of your stuff). The difference is in the feeling generated in the user. I will happily go to a store and buy another milk crate to hold more stuff in my house - I have too much stuff for just the one milk crate. I'm buying another one not just more of what I already have. It's distinct and tangible.

For your purposes, a robot that has a bit of a personality (as well as walking you through with helpful explanations) is definitely a good idea. I don't think that it makes it any less professional or business-like - you're trying to market this to people, who hopefully are computer savvy, but may not be. The goal is to make using these modules fun and simple, as well as effective. You want them to be approachable - the consideration of spending money on another module/robot is going to come at the same time as the prospect of setting that new one up - you want both actions to be seamless and easy.

So, in summary, robots are a good idea because they are emotionally appealing, tangible, helpful, and approachable.

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