Does your business offer an Alexa skill?
If not, does your business need to offer an Alexa skill?
These are questions that you may not have thought about. But they are becoming increasingly more vital as voice assistants become more popular.
When it comes to voice assistants, Amazon’s Alexa—often served through an Echo or Echo Dot device—is by far the leader. It has more than 60% of the market, well above Google Home’s 26% and Apple HomePod’s debut at 4%.
So if you’re thinking about launching a voice assistant app (or skill, to use Amazon’s terms for Alexa), then Alexa is the place to start.
But should your business start developing a voice assistant skill? Is it going to provide value to your business?
Maybe, but maybe not.
One reason we say this is the rush we saw toward mobile apps not long after the first smartphones were introduced 10 years ago. Companies wanted an app because they saw their customers using smartphones. But they didn’t actually think through what the customers might want to do on their mobile app, and why they needed to do that thing (or those things) on an app instead of a website or a phone call.
Fast forward to today, and very few branded apps are among the most used. Unless an app provides a specific unique function—playing your music, helping you binge watch, or providing a location-based real-time traffic report—it’s not a leading strategy for gaining and keeping customers. Customers have decided to default to amalgamation services instead of brands—so they want to make a dinner reservation on OpenTable, not on a specific restaurant’s app.
Another reason to think twice before launching an Alexa skill is how they actually work. A user must enable a skill to access it on Alexa—and that happens through the Alexa mobile app, not by voice. This means you’re probably not going to gain any new customers from developing an Alexa skill, and you will probably need to spend quite a bit of marketing effort to get existing customers to use it. These factors will make the ROI calculation trickier to justify.
That’s something to consider before you embark on the skill development process. But if you’ve found an ROI formula that works for your business, then you should get started sooner rather than later.
Why? My belief is that embracing these kinds of services is critical, because we may see customers move away from screens and toward voice assistants increasingly in the future. While voice will never completely replace a touchscreen, for instance, it’s entirely feasible to imagine people doing an increasingly majority of their work from an Echo or from a smartwatch using their voices. Just as websites changed how customers connected with companies on the phone, and mobile devices changed how customers connected with customers on the web, voice assistants will dramatically influence the way customers connect with your business.
You need to be thinking about this, even if you don’t have a ROI-backed case for a voice assistant at the current time. So whether you’re ready or not, you need to know these four steps toward developing an Alexa skill.
Step One: Focus on Customers
Unless you have a strategic way to connect with customers using voice only, developing an Alexa skill may be an exercise in fruitless innovation. You need to have an unmistakably clear view of how customers will want to interact with your business via voice.
Some brands have cracked the code and figured how serving customers who use only their voices can actually create a lot of interactions and loyalty—making their Alexa skills valuable to customers and to the company. Some examples of these kinds of customer-focused skills already in the Alexa Skills Store are the ways that Uber, Lyft, Fandango, and StubHub make their services accessible via Alexa.
Remember that how customers like to interact with your business and how customers like to interact with your business via voice may be different. Do the work—research, interviews, prototypes, etc.—to figure out this difference for your customers and your business.
Step Two: Pick Only One Thing
Voice assistants don’t allow for menus or scrolling banners or multiple buttons. You can pick one thing and one thing only if you want to effectively communicate with customers.
No longer can each department of your organization have its own section of a website or app. No longer can you try to get customers to sign up for a list and purchase a trial and more. You need a laser focus.
This will be hard in many corporate cultures, because some leaders are used to having the authority to insist that something be put on the front page of the website. That won’t work with an Alexa Skill. The strategy requires a single goal, like “order an Uber” or “tell me where a certain movie is playing.”
Now, once you get customers to enable your skill and actually use it, you may be able to add a second or third thing. But you should start with one thing that provides a clear and compelling value to your customers.
Step Three: Say It Clearly
It’s not enough to pick one thing. You need to develop the skill using a phrase that users can remember even when they’re not trying to do so. Voice recognition technology is still growing via machine learning, and so if your customers alter your planned phrase, it may not work—at least not at first.
So you need to specifically choose a phrase that is unforgettable. Don’t try to be cute or work in a tagline or branded keyword. Use plain language and as few words as possible.
Step Four: Test Now, Grow Later
Once you pick what you want to do and how you want to say it, get into the Alexa developer console and start developing your skill. Because you already have a customer-centered mindset and laser focus, you can launch a skill and see how customers respond. Based on their interactions and their feedback, you can expand or grow your skill. Do you want to authorize a second command? Link to an existing online account? You can. But it will be far better to wait to do this until you know how customers want to use your skill.
Because voice assistants are still relatively new technology to the market, there aren’t really established best practices or deep research on how customers will use them. You need to expect to learn from both success and failure, and to iterate as you get data on how customers choose to interact with your business via Alexa. You might hit it exactly right with your first try, but it’s more likely that your second and third versions are more successful at engaging and converting customers. So embrace a mindset that expects change—it will give you the best chance of success in the end.
All of us will know a lot more about engaging with customers via Alexa and other voice assistants a few months or years down the road. At that point, it will be much clearer about how to engage customers. But at that point, you could also be well behind a competitor in your market segment.
So start thinking about how an Alexa skill fits into your customer retention and conversion strategy now—and start testing skills so you can get data and stay ahead of the adoption curve.