According to Amazon, more than 8 million homes now have their very own Echo. The products have been growing in popularity in the past months, and during Amazon’s recent ‘Prime Day’ promotion, they were the best-selling item overall.
This growing user base has attracted the attention of many companies, keen to cash in on the marketing potential of voice-operated software which the Echo supports. In the past, marketers have taken advantage of smartphone and tablet apps to glean customers, and the Amazon Echo supports roughly equivalent useful programmes known as ‘Alexa Skills’ – referencing the name Amazon chose for the system’s virtual assistant. 7,000 Skills for the Echo currently exist, but it’s worth noting that very few of these are widely used, so the technology is still in its early stages.
Nonetheless, plenty of well-known brands are exploring the possibilities presented by the Echo’s mounting popularity, and using the platform to reach customers in a more intuitive and interactive way than has ever been possible before.
Companies Using Alexa Skills
One big name to have developed an Alexa Skill is the insurance company, Aviva. The business has created an interactive ‘jargon buster’ style programme, which users can ask questions such as “Alexa, ask Aviva what is a no claims discount?” before the software provides them with a verbal answer. Aviva have prepared responses for over 300 insurance-related terms, and is imagined to be useful to customers browsing policies online.
The investing company, AJ Bell, have also developed a Skill which it hopes will allow customers who use its YouInvest software to receive quick, spoken summaries of how their investment portfolios are doing. As well as keeping track of current investments, the Skill can give ‘Flash Briefings’, advising the user as to which companies to keep an eye on, and which might make good future investments.
Other companies are using the technology to pursue ends which are somewhat more frivolous. The pizza giant, Domino’s, for one, have rolled out a Skill in the US which makes ordering a pizza even easier. Users can request either pre-saved or recent orders, with a simple “Alexa, order a pizza“. The Skill is also equipped with a version of the tracking feature which is available when customers order food online – with a simple voice command, Alexa can tell hungry users how soon they can expect their takeaway to arrive.
Streaming service Netflix has also been experimenting with the potential Alexa Skills have for encouraging continuous customer engagement. The Netflix Skill is built around a simple premise: users can ask Alexa what has been recently added to Netflix, and they are regaled with a quick briefing of new additions they might enjoy.
More to Come?
Amazon itself seems keen to encourage more companies to make their presence felt in the growing library of Skills offered for Echo. The company has established an online hub, where marketers looking to make their own Alexa Skills can go to find companies who will help them design and develop them. The site also provides a number of tutorials on how to design skills without outsourcing help – from fostering suitable ideas to actually developing software.
More companies making use of Echo as a platform could be of huge benefit to Amazon themselves, as the limits and uses of the system get pushed and tested by more and more developers. A belief is also spreading, in the tech industry, that voice driven interfaces, such as that used by Echo, are the future of human-device interaction.
Matthew Thomson, the Chief Product Officer at the link management platform, Bitly, certainly seems to agree. In a recent talk, he suggested that “Voice is the next OS”. If these predictions are true, Amazon are certainly in prime position to make the most of the change, since the company looks set to control 70 percent of the voice-controlled speaker market this year.
The extensive use of voice controlled software could allow more people than ever before to access technology. The less tech-savvy could benefit from such intuitive controls, whilst better voice recognition has a huge potential for allowing people with sight disabilities to better access information. Alexa Skills could be the future of tech.