Voice Is Here – Do You Have An Alexa Skill For Your Business?
Alexa is a voice-driven personal assistant which was developed by Amazon in 2014. It was initially used with Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers, although an Amazon mobile app now allows Alexa to function on mobile devices with the Android or iOS operating systems.
Alexa primarily provides audio services such as music playback, audiobooks, podcasts, and alarms, and it can also obtain real-time information from the internet such as weather and traffic reports.
Users can configure Alexa to control other smart devices, allowing it to be used as a home automation system. Businesses are also starting to use Alexa to provide various services to their customers.
What Skills Does Alexa Have?
The Alexa Skills Kit allows developers to develop and publish their own built-in capabilities, known as Skills, for Alexa. Many tutorials are also available for teaching developers to add voice capability to their Alexa applications.
Users can download these Alexa Skills at no charge with the Alexa app, and they can also use Amazon’s Smart Home Skill API to control other smart devices by voice. Device manufacturers can build voice capability into their products with Alexa Voice Service (AVS), which provides users with Alexa APIs through a cloud-based service.
Amazon doesn’t currently charge a usage fee for using AVS, but that could change once the practice becomes popular enough. AVS also offers capabilities such as automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU).
General Alexa Skills Applications
Alexa’s companion app is available from the major app stores, including the Amazon Appstore, Apple App Store, and Google Play. This app allows users to install Skills on Alexa that perform functions such as controlling music, managing alarms and viewing information from the internet.
Users can configure Alexis-compatible devices such as Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo, and Amazon Echo Show via a web interface. The companion app also lets users view the text recognized by Alexa and provide Amazon with feedback on the Alexa’s recognition capability.
The Alexa Appstore had 1,000 Skills available for download by June 2016, and that figure increased to over 5,000 by November of that year.
General applications for Alexa include weather reports from AccuWeather and news from TuneIn, which obtains news from legitimate sources such as ESPN, NPR, and local radio stations.
Alexa allows mobile devices such as a phone or tablet to stream music from Apple Music and Google Play Music. Supported devices can stream music from the user’s Amazon Music account, and they also have built-in support for Pandora and Spotify music accounts.
Other popular voice-controlled applications include answering questions about the user’s Google Calendar, creating to-do lists and accessing websites.
Business Applications For Alexa Skills
Amazon partnered with Microsoft in 2017 to make Alexa available from Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant. This partnership was possible because Amazon has primarily aimed Alexa towards home users with Amazon Echo and third-party devices.
However, moving Alexa into the workplace will place these two virtual assistants in direct competition with each other.
One of the first signs that Amazon plans to target business users is the release of Alexa for Business in late 2017. This subscription service for businesses allows Alexa users to perform business functions such as scheduling virtual meeting rooms and conducting conference calls.
Users can already take advantage of custom Alexa Skills developed by third-party vendors. Major vendors such as Microsoft, Salesforce, and SAP have developed Alexa Skills for business users.
Businesses are also experimenting with using Alexa in an enterprise setting. Acumatica, a provider of cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, demonstrated a warehouse implementation of Alexis to Amazon in 2017.
The primary challenges of this implementation included a lack of authentication to determine the speaker’s identity, which is needed to grant access based on the speaker’s permissions.
An Amazon spokesperson noted that Alexa isn’t ready for enterprises yet, but it’s always thrilled to see developers pushing the boundaries of Alexis’ capabilities.
Future Use Of Alexa For Business
Implementing any mobile app requires a business to carefully consider the digital experience it wants to provide to their customers, especially if it’s a voice app. It takes a strategic approach to implement an app that will add business value instead of alienating customers with a different experience.
The investment needed to invest in voice technology is safe since Amazon currently controls the great majority of this market. Furthermore, it’s likely to retain this lead for the foreseeable future, so Alexa won’t become obsolete any time soon.
Furthermore, using Alexa Skills exclusively will also simplify the development of voice apps from both the technological and marketing standpoints, since you won’t need to initially support multiple platforms at the same time. Once voice apps have fully matured on Alexa, they can be ported over to competing products such as Cortana, Google Assistant, and Siri as required by market demands.
Amazon currently has a strong incentive to promote the development of Alexa Skills by third parties. It should continue to provide strong customer support for Skills developers, at least until the market matures.
At this time, users generally won’t expect businesses to have fully mature Skills, although their expectations for Alexa’s features and functionality will increase as voice technology continues to develop.
Getting Started With Alexa Skills
Businesses should begin using Alexa now, regardless of their industry or customer base. People will begin expecting this technology from businesses in the near future, and those that make this paradigm first will become its innovators.
They will be able to seize market share from businesses that are slower to adopt voice capabilities and define the course of this technology.
The newness of Alexa Skills provides businesses with many opportunities to use voice applications, especially for the purpose of providing customers with an interactive experience unique to each business.
These Skills allow customers to obtain information about the company or its products by directly asking Alexa questions. They can also use voice-enabled services to update their mobile apps and place orders.
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