Designing Alexa Skills for Business – Taking Artificial Intelligence into the Voice Era

Introducing Alexa to workplaces and other business areas has become the talk of the town [1] for over two years. The reason is simple: this conversational artificial intelligence (AI)-based smart device can help organize work and provides intelligent assistance, which creates a huge difference in productivity gains especially for large businesses.

Enterprises have thousands of employees, hundreds of customers, and partners, and all of them have millions of interactions in a single day. The only way enterprises can engage with all of them in a personalized way is through chatbots and voice bots. Alexa for Business helps workers to be more productive throughout their day, with personal devices from home or their desks, and with shared devices in meeting rooms, copy rooms, or other shared spaces.

Businesses can integrate their Alexa ecosystem with services like WhatsApp, Messenger, and Twitter, and on voice devices like Alexa’s Echo and Echo Dot. These experiences can help enterprises with customer acquisition, knowledge management, and employee engagement.

Amazon’s Alexa for Business chatbots are capable of managing several business tasks efficiently and converting a normal workplace to a smart office. In addition to its existing capabilities, you can build additional features and functionalities – called Skills – for your Alexa ecosystem.

How to design and develop Alexa Skills for Business

  • Work on your idea: You have an innovative idea and want to build an Alexa Skill asset for it. Establish the objective of your Skill and then start listing out the supporting features and functionalities.
  • Check out your competitors: Go through the Amazon Alexa Skill Store on the web or on mobile and check for Skills related to your idea and figure out how your idea can be better or which add-on feature can be provided to your users.
  • Target audience: Given that voice/verbal is the most natural and common way of communication, consider the fact that your user may fall under a broad age distribution chart. Design your Alexa Skill’s capabilities in such a way that it addresses users of different age demography, observes intonation and nuances in natural language.

Technical Requirements

  • Design voice user interface (UI) for Alexa Skill: The most important step in creating an Alexa Skill is designing an intuitive voice UI. This is how users will activate Alexa. To design a proper interface, you will have to create a flowchart that defines the path of user interaction.
  • Start creating the Skill in the Developer Console: With the help of Amazon’s Developer Console and the Alexa Skills Kit, you can start building your Skill. Define the name of the Skill, languages supported, and its interaction model along with the requests it can handle and sample utterances.
  • Configure voice design to create your interaction model: The interaction model describes how the Skill will respond to a user. It consists of a collection of intents, sample utterances, such as words and phrases, and the dialog mode.
  • Write the code for your Skill: For the coding, you can use Node.js, Java, Python, or C# and run it on AWS Lambda that eliminates the need to manage servers. Alternatively, you can also host your Skill as a web service, by ensuring it is capable of implementing built-in intents, understanding account linking, and accessing external services.
  • Conduct a beta test: Once the development is complete, you can invite beta testers to test your Skill before the actual launch. Amazon Developer Console has a new option that allows you to share your Skill with others before publishing it so that you can keep editing the Skill during its beta test stage. Stay up to date with the latest voice technologies and implement them in your Skill to keep improving it.
  • Submit your Alexa Skill for certification: Before you roll out your Alexa Skill for users, you should submit it for certification. You can submit your Skill even if your beta testing is underway, provided it passes all functional and validation tests. Make sure you comply with the submission checklist to speed up the process of certification.

With Alexa for Business, you can make your custom-built Skills available to your shared devices and enrolled users without having to publish them on the Alexa Skills Store. Alexa for Business also provides Skills developers an API to build context-aware Skills that can be used on shared devices.

Create and Update To-do Lists and Track Tasks

Alexa can be used to update to-do lists with a voice command. You can schedule items on the calendar, set reminders, or create to-do lists that can be accessed easily from their mobile or computer. For example, a small command such as, “Alexa, schedule a meeting with John Doe at 3:00 o’clock,” will prompt the chatbot to add it to the calendar and send reminders before the event.

Create and Track Travel Itineraries

Users can plan a business trip, book tickets, get alerts on flight delays and cancellations. Additionally, 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 Skills can be used to manage inventories intelligently. With the help of a voice-activated inventory management system in your business, you can access inventory data easily anywhere, anytime, without having to navigate through complex software or spreadsheets.

What does the future hold?

With deep machine learning, cognitive analytics, and advanced natural language processing technologies underpinning Generative Conversational AI-based ecosystems like Alexa for Business, gaining mainstream attraction across industries, the opportunities for productivity optimization are boundless. For instance, legal firms can initiate voice-based e-discovery searches which brings down the time taken to process, identify, and locate digital information drastically.

According to Statista, Amazon Alexa’s catalog of Skills has grown from just 130 in 2016 to over 100,000 Skills as of September 2019. Add to that, the fact that Alexa dominates the smart speaker market with over 70% of device owners opting for Amazon’s products. It is no wonder that Alexa’s presence in workplaces will carve a similar hockey stick growth on the charts in the coming years.

Looking to harness conversational AI to automate business processes?