Business  |  December 19, 2017

Advice on Building Voice Experiences from Alexa’s Former Head of Product

Ryan MacInnis

Ryan MacInnis

Director of Marketing

In 2017, voice took center stage. Amazon owns nearly 80% of the voice device market, and roughly 30 million of these speakers (Alexa, Google Home, etc) have been sold to date. As brands are starting to invest in voice, one thing is clear: no one is an expert in designing for, and building voice experiences.

We sat down with Ahmed Bouzid, the CEO of Witlingo and former Head of Product for Alexa to learn what it takes to build exceptional voice experiences. He went through this process first-hand, helping launch Alexa’s Smart Home offering for the Amazon Echo and the Alexa platform. Here are some of the soundbites from our chat.

Designing for voice is a different animal

When evaluating the experience you want to build for a customer, design is a fundamental component to anything that has true utility. The transition from desktop to mobile was a large jump, but designing for voice is an entirely new mode of interaction. Because of this, Bouzid says that one of the biggest things designers need to do is play with devices and voice experiences themselves.

“There are podcasts, articles and Amazon has guidelines and tutorials on how to design for voice, but you can only read so much before you start to experiment. Buy a device and play with it. Enable skills, both good and bad, see how you use it and reflect on what you liked and what you didn’t. Start designing something for yourself, a skill, action, etc. and get it out and get people to use it and see what people think. Only when you test can you see what customers really want, and continuously improve from there.”

There’s a whole learning from multimodal experiences that will explore multiple form factors and interfaces that will help customers find the answers to what they’re looking for. Nobody is an expert designing for voice because voice interfaces are so new, which presents the biggest challenge and opportunity yet — and you need to invest in it like your brands depends on voice.

Treat voice as a new product or feature

Many companies who are experimenting with voice are doing just that — experimenting. The problem with this strategy according to Bouzid, is that the resources required to get voice experiences right are much larger than those of a side project on a one-person team. Launching a voice experience is like launching a mobile app or new product feature. It demands the same attention.

“Retailers and brands need to understand that voice is here to stay and is not a fad, due to its adoption and impact, which I would argue is similar to smartphone adoption 10 years ago. The consequence of not investing is huge, so you need to build a team around that investment. The big roles include a UX researcher who can learn what kinds of things can we do with voice to solve customer problems, paired with a designer who understands voice enough to shape a questionnaire, research, etc. to start to see the possibilities voice can have on that brand’s customers. The last role on the team that’s important is a product manager, to oversee a launch of a skill, action or native voice integration, as someone who can gather information from the UX researcher to understand the possible places they can take this to build an MVP. Then, they should roll out this new feature to a small pool of customers who are beta testers, who can test the voice experience and give feedback on it.”

Voice needs to shift its focus in these companies from an experiment to one that has dedicated resources and company alignment behind. Only then will its true impact be realized.

Getting feedback is more important than measuring ROI

Companies like Walmart or Target, who are starting to experiment with voice assistants for search, discovery and purchase actions, are constantly getting feedback from their customers to make that experience better. Much like the introduction of smart speakers, early models of voice experiences are bare-boned MVPs, simply meant to ask customers if this is an interaction they find value in, and if so, what would make it that much better.

Many brands today are hesitating on investing in voice until there is a proven ROI, but Bouzid would argue that this is the irresponsible position to take.

“What’s the ROI of voice? What’s the ROI of your Facebook page? Facebook came out over 10 years ago, and companies waited until the last few to have a presence. Today, if your favorite brand doesn’t have a social page or presence, that’s a red flag. Like the early days of anything, voice isn’t a piece of tech that’s immediately measurable. It’s a disruption. And in order for you to realize its potential, you need to invest now. Otherwise, it’s going to be too late.”

We recently published a research report that echoed this sentiment exactly. At the beginning of 2017, roughly 1% of retailers were investing in voice, and that number today has climb to nearly 50%. The opportunity is here, the impact has the potential to be gargantuan. The time is now to build your team, allocate resources, and truly give yourself a chance to build a memorable voice experience.


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