Voice-activated virtual assistants and artificial intelligence are transforming the way people interact and use technology in modern homes. As of May 2017, 10+ million Alexa-enabled devices were sold all over the world. Experts already have predicted that Alexa and other voice assistants will become a $10 billion industry by 2020 as more than 30% interactions with smart devices will be voice-based in the future.
What does such a transitional scenario mean for your small business? With Alexa Skill marketplace brimming with apps at present, how can you leverage the technology for your business benefit?
Alexa is not only disrupting how people use technology at home, the business world is also taking cues to simplify common tasks in offices. You need to rapidly invest in building an Alexa Skill for your business looking at the monumental leap in the number of skills in the marketplace.
Empowering your Business through Alexa Skill
Amazon’s Alexa is not just a homely assistant. It can help you manage several tasks at your office or business with absolute efficiency. Businesses all over the globe have been demonstrating how efficient smart assistants such as Alexa can be in converting a conventional office to a smart office. Recently, Financialforce showed how to use Alexa to fetch important business reports through voice using Alexa Skills in their ERP.
Just like Financialforce, entrepreneurs are checking out the applications of Alexa in their regular workplace environment. While some are using Alexa to add meetings to Google Calendar, post messages and add tasks, others are moving to more sophisticated uses of Alexa in a business environment.
- Create/update to-do lists & track tasks
Alexa can be used to update to do lists using a voice command. Entrepreneurs and professionals can use Alexa to schedule an item on the calendar or create a to-do list that can be easily accessed from the Alexa app on mobile or computer. Using a voice-activated command, you can request Alexa to create a reminder. For example, a small command such as Alexa add 3:00 o’clock meeting with Mr. ABC to the calendar will prompt Alexa to add the same to your calendar and notify you just before the right time.
- Create & track travel itineraries
Alexa can streamline business travel for companies with frequent fliers. Using an Alexa skill, employees and business owners can plan for a business trip, book tickets, get alerts for flight delays and cancellations, Skill customization can be done to include more features such as seat maps, weather updates, driving directions, etc. to have complete control over the travel experience.
- Smart inventory management
Alexa skill can be used to manage inventory intelligently. With the help of voice-activated inventory management system in your business, you can access inventory data easily from anywhere, anytime without having to fiddle with complex software or spreadsheets.
With more than 20,000 live Alexa Skills, at present, the possibilities and business applications are endless. But for harnessing the Alexa platform, you need to develop the right Alexa Skill by understanding the platform and following a structured process. Let’s see how you can develop an Alexa skill for your small business.
Alexa Skills Processing Architecture
Developing an Alexa Skill for your Business
If you are keen on utilizing Alexa’s full potential, you will be required to develop a skill according to your customized business needs. You can think of automating a process, simplifying a structure or improving access. The key to a great Alexa skill is simplicity and innovation. Once you have identified the core business area that needs voice-assisted support, you will have to follow the below-mentioned steps for creating an Alexa Skill:
- Design Voice User Interface for Alexa Skill
The most important step of creating an Alexa skill is to design an intuitive voice user interface. This is how common users, employees and others will activate Alexa for using the skill. To design a proper interface you will have to create a flowchart that will define the path of user interaction.
The flowchart will help you in identifying various types of user requests. The identified user requests will become intents. Intents are actions required to be performed by Alexa to fulfill the user request.
- Start creating a skill in the Developer Console
With the help of Amazon’s developer console, you can start building your skill. You will be required to define the name of the skill, languages supported and the interaction model for your Alexa skill.
As you are building a skill from scratch for your unique business idea, select custom interaction model when prompted. In the custom model you can define the requests your skill can handle and sample utterances that will trigger the skill.
- Configure Voice Design to Create Your Interaction Model
Your interaction model will define how the skill will respond to a user. It basically consists of collection of intents, sample utterances and the dialog mode. As stated earlier, intents are the requests that your skill can handle i.e. basic functionality. Sample utterances are the words and phrases that users will use to express intent.
Dialog model will identify the information required to complete a request and the conversation Alexa can use to collect and confirm the same information while interacting with the user.
- Write the Code for your Skill
The basic premise of Alexa skill coding is to complete the task of accepting user requests and send back appropriate responses. To start coding, you can use AWS Lambda to run the code without having to manage servers.
Use Node.js, Java, Python or C# to write down the basic code if you are thinking to use AWS Lambda. If you want to host your skill as a web service, you can even use other programming languages. The code should be capable of handling user requests, implement built-in intents, understand account linking, access Alexa shopping and to-do lists to perform the desired task.
After you are done with coding, test your skill on the Alexa Test page or using an Alexa-enabled device. Don’t forget to update endpoint of your skill in the developer’s console before moving forward with testing.
Once you are done with testing, add metadata about your skill that would show up in Alexa Skills Store.
- Conduct a Beta Test
Once everything is complete, you can invite beta testers to check out and test your skill before the actual launch. You can select beta testers or can invite anyone from the general public. Beta testing is completely optional but will enable you to gather feedback that will help you in improving your Alexa skill.
- Submit your Alexa Skill for certification
After you have completed the process and are ready to roll out your Alexa skill for users, you should submit it for certification. Even if your beta testing is not complete you can submit your skill. Before submitting, you should run all the functional and validation tests listed on the Certification page in the developer console.
Make sure that you comply with the submission checklist to speed up the process of certification. After you are confident enough about your Alexa skill, submit the same to Amazon for certification. After Amazon approves your skill, users can view, enable and use the skill to complete the tasks.
Creating an Alexa Skill for business can streamline common tasks and even improve overall efficiency inside your organization. If you are finding the process of developing a custom Alexa skill confusing, you can always take help of specialist Alexa skill developers. We at Intuz are continuously disrupting the voice-based search ecosystem with reliable Alexa Skill development services. Our experts can create reliable Alexa Skills that you can put to use in your business for better operations and employee engagement.