A few things we learnt from Amazon’s first Alexa Agencies Day

A couple of weeks ago we were invited down to Amazon’s HQ in London to attend their first Alexa Agencies Day.

Here are a few highlights and key takeaways to give you a taste of what to expect from voice this year.

What’s new with Alexa?

According to recent Amazon research:

  • 33% of US consumers are using digital assistants weekly
  • There are now 50 billion voice searches per month, a figure predicted to rise to 200 billion by 2020
  • Retail spending on AI is predicted to reach $7.3billion by 2022
  • 70 million US households are predicted to have smart speakers by 2022

Voice is here, it’s growing, and it’s up to developers and designers to make it less scary.

Matthew Cadman, Amazon’s Global Agencies Lead, argued that the way to do it is to focus on the customer journey – think about the easiest interaction for voice. The most natural use case is always the best one, giving you the basis for creating a truly exciting experience for people.

Over the next few months, there will also be an expansion of the Alexa model family to include more screen-based products, so users can perform the most intuitive actions at every stage of performing a task.

For example – when adding something to an Ocado trolley by voice, the user would have the option to review everything and tap “Buy” on a screen instead. One of the fastest growing activities for Alexa is ecommerce, which is why Amazon are adding layers like personal voice codes to the shopping experience to enhance the security of purchases.

Brand integration on Alexa

“Listening to music, getting news headlines, helping with your kid’s homework – all the basic use cases for voice have been discovered. We want to get to the point where voice is integrated with brands, helping you to manage clients while using it at work. We want you to be able to order a rental car using voice as an intuitive interface.”

One of the areas Matthew claimed had a huge amount of potential for growth was brand integration with voice. The Alexa Voice Service allows brands from every industry to integrate themselves with this new technology, and align their values and objectives with it too.

The voice app of Johnnie Walker Whiskey is a great example. The app allows people to purchase whiskey, to have personal tasting sessions and learn more about the different whiskey varieties.

Interestingly, the developers added a touch of the JW personality to the voice too; instead of asking “what is your budget?”, Alexa asked “seen as I don’t want to bust your budget, should we cap this at $80?”.

These little additions meant that the JW voice app, and Alexa herself, could put across the correct tone of voice associated with the brand. This is a tool within Alexa that we’re starting to see more companies experiment, so we can expect a far more seamless brand experience on this platform in the months to come.

A few circumstances where brands might look to use voice skills are:

  • A new ecommerce channel
  • An enhanced customer journey and increased engagement
  • A customer service tool for answering queries and dealing with simple problems
  • A promotional tool
  • Being first to market within your industry
  • A way of bringing your content to new users via a new platform

Panel Q&A discussion

Here are some of our favourite topics covered in the Alexa expert panel discussion…

What’s the best way to phrase a skill and invocation?

“This is really about figuring out how to take an action people already do and make it easier for them – a repeated behaviour that we can improve. As long as it’s replacing a behaviour they did anyway, you’ve cracked it.” – David Low, Head of Solution Architects for the EU

What makes a great skill?

“I’ll answer that by starting with a favourite skill of mine and definitely the favourite skill of my three-year-old son: Thunderstorm Sounds. The promise of a skill is to immerse the user within it completely, and this skill never fails to deliver that kind of environment every time we use it. The problem you have is, once you’ve grasped what a customer wants and developed a skill to match, then you need to figure out how to make it fresh and bring people back again and again. It’s no different to any other content business.” – Meryem Tom, Alexa Skill UK Country Manager

What’s the best way to define a use case?

“It’s important to think about the suite of models we have and the technology available – look at all the plans for the automotive industry we released at CES. Don’t just think about someone cooking in the kitchen, think about someone driving. What are those every day activities that apply to most people? Thinking in this way is what will help you to discover the right use case.” – Albert Creixell, EU ASK Agencies Lead

Is the uptake of mobile apps reflective of what will happen with voice apps?

“A challenge here has been that people think they can start with an app and then build a skill, which just doesn’t work with voice. The use case for the content might be completely different for voice than what you have in mind. The two aren’t related – you really have to go back to school and just start again.” – David Low, Head of Solution Architects for the EU

What industries would you say should be getting in on voice technology?

“There’s a use case for every single one, and it lends itself well to immersive experiences which most companies want to create for customers. But I think smarthome adoption has grown, and will continue to grow, phenomenally, and it’s those companies coming on-board now that will help to fuel that adoption even more.” – Meryem Tom, Alexa Skill UK Country Manager