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Menus vs Natural Language

I was reminded this week of the value of natural language understanding. NLU helps bypass the need for menus and tedious multiple choice questions. Just say what you want.

As a first step for moving older technologies to voice, some might be tempted to just layer on top speech to text input. That doesn’t necessarily make for a pleasant experience. Menus are great for quick visual selection, but are awful when spoken at 150 WPM. Multiple turns also open up the opportunity for the user to abandon the interaction with each prompt.

It’s worth the effort to just skip to NLU and look for intents and entities. For most multiple choice, the intent is known — select the best match for a query. What’s the real issue is to populate the entities with enough confidence. Instead of making the user choose between A, B, C, we can just present what we think is the highest confidence match and then ask for verification.

To make this work, it’s often good to start with an example for the user. “For example, you can say ‘I want B’.” Throw out the menu and dare to let the user decide.

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