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I'm currently designing an online dialog where customers will communicate with an agent, and the agent will gather information to complete an application.

The problem is if the conversation diverges from the data capturing mission, how does the user remain aware of their context within the process and return to it logically?

I have thought perhaps a progress tracker across the top/side might allow the user to see where they are in the process. However, this wouldn't reflect what they were doing if they were asking an off-topic question.

I haven't seen any examples of this before, good or bad.

  • Are we talking about an interface for the agent? Can you probably give an example so that we can think about it better? – Harshal Mar 5 '15 at 6:40
  • I'm currently focusing on the user view, but I imagine the agent view will be similar, but with some added input controls. An example might be if the user is filling out their personal information (name, address, etc...) but then they have a question about why they even need to fill that information out, how might the agent push that content into the conversation, and then return to the original form filling exercise? – Finlay Mar 5 '15 at 18:58
  • In a normal chat session the user can simply look back to see the pending question that they haven't answered. If the agent asks a question and they respond with another question, after the agent has answered that isn't it obvious that they need to either answer the hanging question or ask another? Perhaps you could highlight unanswered questions? – Hightechrider Apr 16 '15 at 21:01
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Here is my proposed solution:

Easy solution: Inform your customer after each step completion by using message after completion of 20% of total steps..Your agent should say "Great, you have completed 20% of your form. It will take only 4 minutes to complete the rest of it"

AGENT INTERFACE: Now your agent will have some kind of control where he will check the step 1 and step 2 completion and it will appear on your customer screen that these steps are complete just like Games have scores...If you don't pick the banana, you won't get score so you will keep on track and pick up your banana power :)

A bit more elegant solution is (but it might be difficult to implement) is below...See my visual solution

enter image description here

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I tried to figure out why you want to rely on an agent to gather information. Do you try to simplify processes by offering a guided tour to enter data? If so, I don’t understand that you want to allow diverging from the data capturing mission because it could be misleading.

You're right that users need to keep track of their progress or they start to skip tasks or worse. That’s why you could stick to annotated and interactive forms (like seen in the following image). This concept allows a better overview of all the information that need to be collected plus context-sensitive help if the user needs additional explanation or wants to ask questions.

Agent Chat

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