This is what we learned creating our first Alexa Skill

Tadeo Badr

by
14th March 2019

See how we took on the challenging task of developing an Alexa Skill for one of our clients and what we learned from it.

 


 

It’s undeniable that smart speakers are trending right now. And they have been for a while. For the past couple of months (and many more to come) devices like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home Assistant have burst on the scene and made their way into worldwide homes with incredible velocity and reach. A September 2018 survey by Voicebot.ai found that 57.8 million Americans own at least one smart speaker. That is 23% of U.S. adults and reflects 22% growth since January 2018. Pretty shocking numbers, right?

Amazon Echo, in particular, is seeing tremendous growth with over 6.4 million units shipped in Q3 2018 only. That’s almost 32% of the global speaker market, which places the device in the number one spot for smart voice assistants.

As a development company, we couldn’t stay away from it. Alongside our partner 24 Hour Fitness we developed 24GO Alexa Skill, made for Amazon’s device in which you can check upcoming classes with complete variety -from Zumba to Pilates-, among hundreds of gyms and within many regions.

Looking back, it sure was a challenge. But we had a lot of fun too.

So if you’re thinking about creating a Skill for your business and diving into the fascinating speaker market (or if you are just curious) we’ve got your back. These are 3 things we learned developing our first Alexa Skill:

           

  1.          Do your homework, kid.

 

kid alexa
Actual footage of our Lead Developer getting ready to create the Skill

 

Studying and learning can be boring for some. Others love it. But sometimes it’s just necessary. Developing an Alexa Skill involves technology we’ve never used before, and that is why there was some studying to be done.

The development model for creating Skills is different from the web apps we’re used to working with here at Devsar. There’s too much information out there about this type of products, which can make it a bit confusing. But don’t panic yet, because there are only two websites you’re going to need for learning the how-to of Alexa Skills:

Amazon’s Developer Guides and Youtube.

Amazon Developers is where you can stay up to date with trends and especially where you can learn to develop a Skill. This is the official site for first-hand information, user-guides and Docs on this topic. ‘Developers’ is the perfect way to get the official how-to, but since it’s mostly written guides, it can get a bit boring too.

That’s where Youtube comes in. Coding related channels like FreeCodeCampOrg and Dabble Lab have in-depth guides about developing Alexa Skills, but you can do your own research and find the sources you like the most. Trust us, there are plenty.

 

 

  1.          Knowing people is just as important.    

   

kids and alexa
We ran a thorough pilot study to figure out how people actually search in Amazon Echo. You can see the qualified audience we selected for the test in this picture.


It’s not just about studying and learning and coding and coffee. It’s also about people and how they think. That’s a pretty broad concept, we know, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

When it comes to setting parameters for your Skill, understanding how people actually talk is really important. Just picture a casual conversation with a friend. There’s an introduction to the conversation, there’s a certain flow the dialogue acquires, there are questions and answers, and then more questions. There are follow-ups triggered by certain statements and finally there’s a closing phrase. That’s exactly how Skills works for users. Now apply that to a codified system supported by Alexa’s artificial intelligence and taking voice recognition into account. Really simple right? Ok, it’s not that simple, but maybe an example will help you.

24Go is the Skill we developed for searching upcoming group fitness classes at 24 Hour Fitness clubs near users. This means that we had to brainstorm alongside the more experienced 24 Hour Fitness members to figure out how their users actually phrase their statements. That’s what you should do with your business. Some of the terms we came up with were:

  • What is the class schedule on {date}
  • What is the class schedule on {date} at {time}
  • What is the class schedule {date} in {city}
  • What is the class schedule {date} {time} in {city}
  • What is the class schedule {time} {date} in {city}
  • What is the class schedule at {club}
  • What is the class schedule at the {club}
  • What the class schedule is in {city} on {date} at {time}
  • What the class schedule is in {city} {date}
  • What the class schedule is at the {club}

In this case, {date} can be “Today”, “Tomorrow”, “Next Monday”, among others. {time} is an hourly digit, referring to times when classes are being taught. {city} is the name of the region in which the {club} (fitness club’s name) is situated.

As stated above, you will not only need to think about how users search but also get in touch with the team your trying to build a software for (in case you’re a development company) or your own team (if it’s for your own business). They will know their business and audience just like you (or even better), and can give you a helping hand when it comes to figuring out how to build the Skill infrastructure.

  

 

  1.          It’s not only usability, it’s Marketing too.       

 

painting of people talking
“Have you heard about that Company’s new Skill?”                        Oil on canvas, 1783.


The number of Alexa Skills more than doubled in 2018, which continues to show just how trendy this whole thing is. And developing a Skill for your business is not only important for usability purposes, but it’s also Marketing. Being the first (or one of the few) in your market to develop a Skill can be a huge boost. As said by Jason Fields, Voicify’s Chief Strategy Officer:

 

“2019 is going to be the year voice & IVA’s are integrated into brands overall CX strategy. (…) wide adoption by consumers has a way of forcing the hands of executives, specifically when they can see that support and retention are not only viable metrics for new experience programs, but also give them competitive differentiation.”

 

Having a Skill that suits your consumers needs is certainly going to have an impact on your branding strategy. Skills are not only useful, they also provide a way of differentiating from your competitors just like Fields says.

But is it right for your business? Well let me tell you it probably is. There’s pretty much no instance in which your business can’t benefit from a Skill. Just take a look at this very particular companies as an example:

Tide, the stain remover company, has a good presence on Amazon’s voice assistant.

Zyrtec’s Alexa Skill is an all-in-one resource for allergy information. Yes, allergy information. And it has over 4 out of 5 stars with over 138 reviews.

You may be familiar with Slack, the chat software designed primarily for business communication. You may be less familiar with Slack for Voice, their official Alexa Skill. It works very much like the actual app, only it’s powered entirely by voice.

Not all business will succeed in the Skills market, of course. Those that do will have a clear objective, a clear voice, and a natural conversation flow. They’ll also know what to include in a skill (think engagement – tips, how-to’s, industry updates, etc.) and what should be left to the sales team. Those that do the above will a great chance to succeed in an industry that’s shows no signs of slowing down.

 

 

clutch batch

 

 

We’d love to work with you!

We’re ranked amongst Latin America’s Top-Rated B2B Service Providers by Clutch and would love to hear from you. We’re supporters of the Nearshore model and will gladly have a chat about those projects you have in mind, including developing Alexa Skills. From planning to final deployment, we support organizations on each step of the development process enabling them to improve Time to Market for high-quality software products.

Contact us through our website or send us an email: contact@devsar.com

You can also call us at

📞 US: +1 (646) 470-9956

📞 AR: +54 (11) 526-395-86

 

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March 14th, 2019.