Roger Swannell

Turkey Dash – Innovative digital fundraising

The Turkey Dash, by PayPal, is a digital fundraising initiative in support of eight charities.

Turkey Dash

The campaign encourages members of the public to choose a charity to donate to, with the more donations a charity gets the faster their turkey will run in the race.

It’s a really innovative and interesting way to gamify and make fun donating to charity at Christmas time, especially with traditional campaigns relying on messages of suffering to motivate donors. 

Suddenly I was surrounded 

There I was sitting in my car minding my own business and quietly tapping away on my laptop when I noticed a man in his fifties standing near my car with a mobile phone in his hand.

A couple of seconds later a car pulled up and out got another man with a mobile phone. Then a young couple joined them also holding mobile phones. In less than a minute I was surrounded by about fifteen mobile phone wielding maniacs.

A woman in her fifties drove up and parked her car in front of mine, blocking me in. She leaned out of the window and called to the group, “Is he one of us?”. For a moment I considered leaning out of my window to reply, but as they outnumbered the normal people I thought better of it.

Then she yelled again to the group, “Are we going in?”, like they were about to launch a military strike. “50 seconds!” came the reply from the leader of the group.

Then, in unison they all began taping furiously on their phones. I glanced nervously at the woman-in-the-car’s screen and saw an orange dragon-looking creature getting punished by her finger tip.

Ah, I thought, as it suddenly all made sense. Pokemon Go. A group of grown adults were meeting up on a cold, dark night to collect imaginary creatures on their phones. Then the woman-in-the-car said, “We’re going to the pub.”, and as quickly as they had arrived, they were gone.

Charities need to apply an ecommerce mentality

Ecommerce is the ‘digital and physical exchange of value between an organisation and an individual’. The customer gives the organisation something they value (money) in return for for something the customer values (goods (although it isn’t really the  goods that hold the value it’s the emotional reward that comes with them)).

When a charity asks for a donation without providing any value in return they force the individual to derive their own value. This reliance on the individual to maintain the one-way relationship leads eventually to reduced loyalty as the individual realises that they don’t need a particular charity to get that emotional reward and that any good cause will do.

Traditionally, charities have considered and referred to the individuals they interact with as ‘supporters’, which implies a one-way process of the individual supporting the charity. Increasingly, there is a shift to considering these individuals as ‘customers’, which conveys the idea that there needs to be a value exchange between the organisation and the individual in order to develop the relationship and maintain loyalty. It’s a good shift.

Chatbots & AI with Microsoft, FARM Digital, Age UK and Cancer Research UK


AI came about as big data, powerful algorithms, and cloud hosting reached a level that could support the need for lots of data, processing data quickly, and running on demand.

Microsoft’s AI solution includes image recognition, language and speech, information search, voice recognition that achieves 5.1% accuarcy (the best human is 5.9%), deep learning.
Cortana Intelligence Suite

The MS Bot Framework for enterprises includes payments, integrated API’s Q & A built from website FAQ’s, analytics, and can be surfaced on many channels.

Chatbot in Bing Search Results

Bing can serve chatbots related to search terms to help provide users answers questions on the SERP’s rather than going on to webpages to find information.

Age UK – Contact Support Chatbot

Age UK get 26,500 calls a year to their national advice line, each call lasts an average of 4 minutes, and 30,000 of those go unanswered. They developed their chatbot to try to answer some of the simpler questions and reduce the strain on the call centre with the thinking that chatbots can offer a 24-7 customer experience.

Some of the things they learned included:

  • Most people don’t know what a chatbot is.
  • People expect a chatbot to be able to answer any question, even if it’s not including in the purpose of the bot. The bot needs a means of filtering these out.
  • People talk to chatbots in all kinds of strange (human) ways, often telling their whole story before asking a question, make spelling mistakes, and use metaphors and similes. This makes it difficult for the bot to understand the intent and so answer appropriately.
  • Developing and maintaining bots takes lots of time and resources. They need to be constantly updated as you learn from user interactions.
  • Bots should sound human, but not too human. They should have some personality and use emoji’s and GIF’s, just as people do when chatting.
  • Know what success look like. 18% of conversations ended with the user going to the safety net to speak to a human. The target is 5%.

When surveying users they found that 33% were happy with their interaction, 48% were indifferent, and 19% were unsatisfied.

Cancer Research UK – My Alcohol Tracker Alexa Skill

Cancer Research UK Digital Innovations Team are looking at how they might be able to use AI, and trained an Alexa Skill as an Alcohol Tracker to help build awareness of the effects drinking too much alcohol has on cancer rates as part of Alcohol Awareness Week.

They mapped, sketched, designed, prototyped, and tested in a five day design sprint. This took some shift in thinking for them as they moved from thinking in screens to thinking in user intents. They learned that voice interaction needs to be very concise, and that the technology can struggle with different accents and how people say the same thing in lots of different ways.

This is Alcohol Tracker being tested in CRUK shops:

What I learned

People will expect to be able to ask anything, in any way, and get an answer

No chatbot can answer every question, but people will expect it to. Not everyone understands that a chatbot doesn’t understand messages in the same way as a human. Even if a chatbot is very clear with the user about what it can and can’t do they will still ask all kinds of questions. The only way to handle this is to provide a escape route so that users can be passed to a human if the bot fails to understand a certain number of messages in row.

Natural language processing is hard

Allowing people to type anything to the bot makes handling any message extremely hard. If a message mentions multiple things that the bot regards as intents then how does it judge which intent to answer? Developers can’t possibly predict and programme for every eventuality, but they should prepare responses for users swearing at the bot and telling it that they love it.

Chatbots work best when they are simple up front and complex behind the scenes

Simple bots that use buttons give a clearer indication to the user about what the bot can and can’t do. Asking questions to the user can help to define the context and understand the user’s intent.

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Copyright © 2017 Roger Swannell

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