Alexa: what will you actually do for my business?

Is Voice technology something your business has been absolutely crying out for?

Or is it something you’d just like to be seen to be offering?

As soon as a brand new shiny piece of tech comes along, lots of companies can’t resist the urge to ‘want one of those’. It doesn’t matter if they need it or not – it’s corporate FOMO.

(Another recent example was AI chatbots. We lost count of companies asking for us to develop one for them until we pointed out that actually a well thought-through, well-structured FAQ section would actually be a much more useful – and to be honest, cheaper – answer.)

Now the Voice technology bandwagon is picking up speed. But, as ever, at Code when the phone rings and a company asks us if we can knock out a voice UI, we fire back one simple question:

What is the business problem you are hoping to solve with Voice technology?

We’re not being awkward. Or behind the curve on the technology itself. It’s simply about offering the right solution for the right reason.

Because, for a start, it’s worth being honest and acknowledging that – at the moment, and whatever the future potential – Voice technology is not a true conversation.

So, if our would-be client has watched some ‘smoke and mirrors’ demo on YouTube, they may be non-plussed with the command-and-response today’s technology can physically deliver.

In this blog, we’ll take a quick tour of our experience working with Voice technology (especially Alexa). Where it’s worked. Where we’ve found some glitches. And the sense-check we’d recommend you take before deciding to devote cold, hard cash to a budget.

Room for improvement?

We were working on a hotel-booking experience for Alexa which had started seamlessly.

The initial conversational flow had been designed and moved smoothly from the opening scene-setters like desired location and number in party.

What we found more challenging was sealing the deal – with current technology unable to actually physically book the room as part of the Voice experience. The traveller would have to jump across to an email booking service, putting a stuttering ‘needle-across-the-record’ disconnect in the customer journey and experience.

So, we asked our $64,000 question: ‘is this the best way to solve the business problem as it stands?’

And, as a sense-check, would travellers actually have the necessary tech to hand as they, for example, drove round a foreign city in a cab? In fact, wouldn’t this potentially all work perfectly adequately on screen?

(The good news was we had the client on-board with our relatively lo-fi MVP approach and had avoided any large-scale investment.)

Don’t run before you can talk

We went through another useful learning experience working with a major broadcaster who wanted Alexa to help young people with under-developed communication skills overcome interview nerves and hone their exam techniques.

The whole UX was role-played and mapped out using the tried and tested Post-Its on the wall technique. But we quickly realised the end-product we wanted to deliver for the client simply wasn’t do-able with existing technology.

The project was certainly still valuable though:

  • The client could see exactly was, and wasn’t currently possible – which should focus everyone’s mind when future briefs appear
  • They also were happy to treat this as a discovery project, so they didn’t lose any of their annual budget by commissioning a full build
  • And, of course, by doing this work we’ll be ready to hit the ground running when the Voice technology does evolve.

Let’s finish on a high

Code’s first public experiment with Voice UIs was an Alexa Skill for The Higher Lower Game—the App Store-topping game we developed based on Google search data.

Using The Higher Lower Game as a guinea pig worked because:

  • The game was already successfully up-and-running, so we had a well-established audience to tap into
  • A voice-based experience was perfect for bringing the game to life
  • We could tinker the game because we own it. There were no nervous clients to please.

Here’s a quick video of the Alexa Skill in action:

OK. A sweary Alexa may not be an obvious commercial winner.

But, if you were looking for a serious point, it could certainly be argued that this has changed a solitary, screen-based experience into a social, group activity. And there are definite commercial opportunities for other brands and services there.

Wrapping up

If we were looking for one last analogy, we’d say Voice technology is in the same sort of space as the App store was ten years ago.

It’s all a bit Wild West. There’s lots of gaming going on. Like out Higher/ Lower example. There’s a lot of experimentation and fun.

But…

And it’s a big ‘but’, remember to honestly ask yourself ‘is this what my organisation needs right now?’ ‘What business problem am I expecting this Voice experience to answer?’

If you are interested in talking about what business problems you can solve, get in contact hello@codecomputerlove.com


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