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Best practices for creating Alexa Skills

Kaya Ismail

IoT-powered virtual assistants are an increasingly commonplace feature of many consumer electronics devices. Virtual assistants can respond to commands, provide users with information, and assist in the control of other connected devices. In fact, according to Statista, in 2024, there will be 8.4 billion digital voice assistance devices in the world.

Alexa Skills are essentially voice-driven apps that allow you to interact with Alexa. If your company is looking for a way to create an interactive experience, then Alexa Skills might be the perfect solution, but what does it take to make a custom skill that can be used on these platforms? In this blog post, we will explore how you can create these skills for your company and what benefits they have to offer.

An image showing an Amazon Echo in use.

Section titled What is an Alexa skill?

By now, you probably know that Alexa is Amazon's voice assistant. Alexa recognizes human speech, which enables her to carry out commands. One of the great things about Amazon's voice recognition system is that it allows you to build apps or 'Skills' that Alexa can recognize and use to perform certain tasks. For example, functions like playing specific music, activating a Roomba vacuum cleaner, or finding out about offers or services in a particular store.

IoT-based voice assistants like Alexa are becoming ubiquitous in our everyday lives, and as Amazon continues to grow as a global brand, Alexa users will also grow. According to data from Statista, forecasts suggest that the global market for IoT solutions like the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo will grow to around 1.6 trillion by 2025. For companies, this presents a potential opportunity to leverage voice marketing to deliver services, offers, and information directly to their customers' ears while at home in a non-intrusive way.

One of the advantages of Alexa Skills for companies is that they are simple to create and that business users of all kinds can build their own Skills without knowing how to code using Alexa Blueprints. Now that we've explored what Alexa Skills is, let's talk about why and what companies stand to gain from it.

Section titled Why use Alexa skills?

Voice search is growing in popularity. As voice-enabled devices become more refined, one of the best ways for businesses to connect with their customers is by starting an Alexa marketing strategy. According to data from the GWI, 27% of consumers already use voice search on their mobile devices, and 34% confirmed that they are interested in having voice-based smart assistants in their homes. However, while many companies and brands are offering Alexa Skills, Skills development is still in its infancy. This means that now is a great time to become or bring in a Skills developer to help you reap the benefits of IoT marketing and voice search.

However, like most things in business, the reasons behind creating a Skill vary depending on your vertical. We’ve summarized three of the main reasons why you should create Alexa Skills in your company:

  • Simplify business processes: One of the great things about Amazon's Alexa is that it doesn't only augment people's houses. Alexa can also be turned into a smart office assistant that can help you with basic office tasks with only a few voice commands. For instance, Alexa can streamline your meeting processes by enabling you to voice-activate conference calls or start meetings.
  • Increase efficiency of internal teams: With Alexa Skills, companies can improve many different aspects of how internal teams work, from email marketing and management to website monitoring and task management.
  • Create marketable services or offers to augment existing products: Besides the potential benefits of Alexa Skills for employees, there are also plenty of potential benefits for customers and visitors. For instance, you could develop an Alexa Skill to notify users or consumers about offers, new products, or services to aid your omnichannel marketing efforts.

Section titled Alexa skill building best practices

While creating an Alexa Skill might seem daunting, it's not as hard as it sounds, and it's not as complicated as building an app or even a website. Before you build a Skill, visit Amazon Alexa's Skills Kit for a closer look at everything you need and all the different Skills you can create. Once you've done that, let's explore the steps to build a successful Alexa Skill.

Section titled Understand your audience

Before you even set off to build your Skill, you need to have an end-user in mind. Having a specific end-user will help you create a valuable Skill that serves a particular audience. The success of your Skills also depends on your target audience. According to Forbes, 51% of users keep their Alexa device in the kitchen because they need support or entertainment while their hands are full, for example. There are also third-party IoT analytics tools like Botanalytics that can give you deeper insights into your potential audience.

Section titled Focus on user experience

User experience for voice-activated devices is eminently different from text-based UX. Testing your Skill's user experience will ensure that the Skill is aligned with every key feature of Alexa and that said Skill will deliver a solid user experience. For example, make sure that the user understands how to respond to Alexa. When building a Skill, presenting the options alone is not enough to inform the user, so many interactions ask the user a question that they need to answer to continue interacting with the device.

Section titled Build a solid interaction model

This is the part where many Skills fail. The interaction model needs to include sample sentences, dialogue models, and a collection of every possible search intent or the requests your Skill can resolve. The sample sentences you add will help Alexa map the intent behind the customer's phrases to interact with your Skill. Your dialogue model will identify the information your Skill needs and how it communicates with the user.

Section titled Keep testing and updating your Skills

Testing is part of software development, and testing your Skill is necessary to keep it in top shape. You can test your using the Alexa Skills Kit, which includes tools to help you test and debug your skills. There are also third-party testing tools that help you crowd-test your Skill. If you want to find a testing service provider or a testing tool, you can find them here, or you can also beta test it in-house with a small group of users.

Section titled How Storyblok helps manage Alexa skill content (and all other content)

Storyblok gives Alexa Skills developers and marketers more control over their content and defines better content models that align with their voice intent. In addition, companies can leverage Storyblok's headless architecture to support voice-activated product content retrieval.

Plus, a headless CMS adds to the user's shopping convenience and serves as a base for integrations with other IoT devices giving you the tools to build a headless tech stack that supports headless commerce operations.

A headless CMS like Storyblok is ready out-of-the-box to power voice assistants and help Alexa deliver content to users via REST, or GraphQL APIs. This empowers marketers and business users to create the Skills they need and deliver a compelling voice marketing experience that can become an omnichannel experience.

One of our amazing developers prepared a quick tutorial that shows you how easy it is to create Skills using Storyblok as your CMS. Watch it if you want to learn more about how Storyblok and Amazon Alexa work together: