Back to Zopa Blog

Hackathon: designing the future of comms

Portrait photo of Karyn Reidy author of hackathon blog

Weeks before the event, I signed up for the MUXL’s UX hackathon. The hackathon was going to focus on designing a chatbot experience. It seemed like a great idea at the time! A chance to put the skills I’d learnt as a chatbot copywriter at Zopa to the test. As the only chatbot copywriter at Zopa, I felt like I needed to go and test my knowledge. I was excited to connect with other chatbot enthusiasts.

Goodbye weekend!

But as the weekend approached at the end of a long week, the prospect of working on a weekend wasn’t so attractive. I’m glad I  had signed up for it weeks ago in a motivated moment. Otherwise, it would’ve been way too easy to bail.

After I’d told myself (and my husband, who had to singlehandedly defend himself against our mini humans while I was away) this was an anomaly rather than my new weekend ritual, I took off after our weekly Zopa company meeting to Oracle’s very flash offices in Moorgate.

The hackathon started with an introduction into new RCS (Rich Communication Service) technology. It’s embedded into the phone handset itself and offers similar features to WhatsApp or Messenger without needing an app. We were asked to come prepared with our best ideas. But when the pitch moment came, only three of us stood up.

In true Dragon’s Den style, our pitches followed. I took a breath and launched into my idea:

My hackathon pitch

Often, when people experience financial trouble they’ll do anything they can to avoid the companies they owe money to. Head-in-sand mentality. This costs businesses time and money in trying to find out what’s going on. For consumers, ignoring the problem can mean things spiral out of control. Their credit history is damaged and the problem can become unmanageable.

The challenge

How can we stop people falling into collections needlessly and keep communication open with customers in financial difficulty, getting them help when they need it?

Hackathon: let’s do this.

After my pitch, more people found the confidence to put their ideas out there and we ended up with around 10 pitches in total. The concepts ranging from a bot that helped you pick the best wine pairing with your dinner to mindfulness. All seemed way more exciting than my collections bot.

In a move that brought back those painful playground memories, the rest of the participants had to pick a pitch team to join. My group ended up being oversubscribed, which was incredibly reassuring. It reminded me that people really want to work on something that is useful. Something that will ultimately help people in a meaningful way.

Friday night ended with teams of 5 people being formed and a quick discussion around the idea. Followed by a sleepless night as my brain went into overdrive thinking through ideas for the next day.

We met again on Saturday at 10am. In the space of 6 hours, our team had developed personas, a prototype and a presentation. Most participants were UX bods, but there were mentors with impressive chatbot experience going around and consulting with all the different groups. The presentations were judged and, as a nice little confidence boost, our idea won!

I came back to work on Monday tired, but reenergised and more confident.

Not only did I gain some real practical takeaways, but I also gained a new perspective on my work. Working in a group on these types of projects is so important, if only to make sure that you don’t build in bias.

Top 3 chatbot design takeaways from the hackathon

  1. Use emojis consistently for visual association – e.g. a red flag emoji when alerting a user to a payment that looks like it’ll be missed.
  2. Try to keep to 2 sentences per message and no more 2 messages without an interaction from the customer.
  3. Before developing an idea put real thought into how the bot will be discovered – a great experience means nothing if nobody can find it.

Should you hack?

If you’re debating on whether or not you spend your precious weekend hours doing what seems like more work, I’m here to tell you that it’s worth the extra effort. What you gain in the end will not only make your work better, but it’ll make you enjoy it more and remind you why you love what you do. Whether it’s with your colleagues (like at our Zopathons) or with an external group where you can meet new people, it’s worth it.

Top 3 reasons to do a hackathon

  1. Working with people outside your organisation and learning from their different points of view and ways of working
  2. Reinforcing that what you think is best practice, truly is best practice.
  3. Exposure to different software that you don’t always have time to learn
Karyn is Zopa’s Chatbot Copywriter and spends most of her spare time running after – and sometimes from – her two children, Jessica and Eloise.