Requesting confirmation

Confirmation is the act of requesting that the user accept or reject the application’s understanding of one or more utterances. Confirmation is useful and necessary when:

  • Confidence scores indicate that the system probably, but not definitely, returned the correct meaning
  • The user has indicated an irreversible operation (for example, “cancel” or “buy now”)
  • The application wants to assure the user that it has understood (or the user hasn’t changed his or her mind); for example, “I think you want to reload your debit card with $25. Is that correct?”

Role of confirmation in the dialog

In general, confirmation plays three key roles in dialog design. Confirmation ensures that:

  • The application has an opportunity to validate recognition/interpretation hypotheses.
  • Actions that have a high cost or may greatly impede performance are not inadvertently carried out, such as submitting payment or exiting the application.
  • The user has confidence in the application’s ability to satisfy the task at hand, and knowledge of where the conversation is moving (a mental model of what comes next).

All of these factors influence the user’s confidence in the application and the business.

Confirmation strategies

In general, it is not efficient to confirm each item at a time. Unnecessary confirmation can double the length of the interaction and frustrate users. Instead, consider confirming when a block of information—ideally, a group of related items—has been collected rather than after each individual piece of information.

You will notice in the second, more natural-sounding example that the application uses both implicit and explicit confirmation:

  • Implicit confirmation: Demonstrated in the prompt “Next, I need the size of your peppermint latte… " The choice the user has made (to order a peppermint latte) is presented in the prompt as information, yet does not require the user to take any action to move the dialog forward.
  • Explicit confirmation: As in “OK, confirming your order for a large peppermint latte with extra whipped cream. Have I got that right? Please say ‘yes’ or ’no’.” The user must respond, negatively or positively, to the prompt to move the dialog forward.

Implicit confirmation acknowledges the user’s choice and moves the conversation along faster. Although the user has an opportunity at any time to correct the application, the user may not notice the error or feel unsure how (or reluctant) to correct it. For this reason, use implicit confirmation when the confidence level is high and when the potential consequence of an error in understanding is low.

Conversely, use explicit confirmation when:

  • Confidence level is low
  • The application is about to perform an action it cannot undo
  • Business rules dictate use (for example, before submitting a payment)

Explicit confirmation instills confidence: gives users the chance to say “Yes” or “No” (or to make a forced choice decision) and helps prevent serious problems from occurring (such as an unintended purchase) due to false accepts.