Alexa, what is a skill?

  • 6
  • March 28, 2017
Steven Shaw

Steven Shaw

Digital Director

Alexa is Amazon’s voice controlled personal assistant which launched in the UK late 2016. Since its launch, the two main products that come powered by Alexa, the Echo and Echo Dot, have had positive uptake in terms of sales and in February it was reported that developers had successfully created and published over 10,000 skills for Alexa.

With this huge number of skills being created and published, we wanted to understand exactly what these skills are, and more importantly how they can be used to support our clients in engagement, sales or anything else that might be relevant.

My simplest interpretation is that an Alexa Skill is a pre-determined, or at least, a pre-empted conversation, and much like in real life, a conversation can lead to some form of action.

Amazon have provided what is known as the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), to allow developers (and in turn brands) to develop new skills that can be added to the portfolio of skills that Alexa already understands. You can use the Amazon cloud services to host your skill and integrate with plenty of pieces of sample code, or alternatively you can develop your own custom API end point for Alexa to call if you want to use a different coding language.

Brands such as Uber have already developed a skill where you can say “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride”, which then uses the postcode and location of the device you are talking to, and sends for taxi to come to that location – pretty cool huh?

As the uptake of voice assistants rises and more households have the devices, there opens a lot of possibilities for the use of them. A few that we have been toying with that would be suitable for some of our clients would be:

  • Using it as the call to action from above the line marketing. We’ve all seen adverts where there is a note at the bottom giving either a website address or asking people to “Search online for x”, well we could take that a step further with “Alexa, launch brand x” or “Alexa, tell me more about brand x”.
  • As a content provider, there are already some major content brands using Alexa including the BBC, CNN and even Liverpool Football Club where you can ask for the latest flash briefing.
  • It could be your first line call centre; this is the future where the machines are taking over, and having Alexa as your call centre is the first step. You could program a skill that answers all the common questions your call centre usually deals with, making it easier for your customers to get support without having to pick up the phone.
  • Product information and specs; you could detail all your latest product information and offers in response to queries such as “Alexa give me the latest offers from x.”
  • Sales. The obvious (but more complex) option is to monetise your skill. Think how great it would be like Uber, where with a few sentences your customers could order your product or re-order something they get frequently.

At the moment, we are prototyping a Branded3 skill that will allow users to request information about us such as our phone number, directions, our latest blog post titles or request a call back from one of the team. It’s pretty simple, but it will be a great proof of concept as to what we can achieve. I’ll cover that in a separate post soon.