I’m continuing my series on designing Alexa skills right now. I’m experimenting with building different types of Alexa skills by using my creative writing skills and stretching my technical skills.
When I got started with Alexa skills, there wasn’t a ton of documentation on Alexa skills for conversation designers. So I’m documenting (read: dumping thoughts!) on my conversation design process for Alexa conversation designers. I’m using Voiceflow as my no code conversation design platform.
This is the second of five Alexa skills in development. (see the first here)
I’m was laid off in March from a UX researcher and conversation designer job. I was previously working on a chatbot. Now, I’m interested in working on non-linear conversations for voice applications.
The birth of a second Alexa skill
This idea for an Alexa skill started as a book marketing challenge. I was looking for ways to promote my new career book, Punch Doubt in the Face: How to Upskill, Change Careers, and Beat the Robots. Cutting through the noise to get your book in front of the right audience is always a challenge. I was brainstorming non-traditional marketing ideas. That’s where the idea of Alexa as career coach came in.
I’m a former career coach, so I’m used to listening to people talk about their work. And I absolutely love hearing strangers complain about their jobs. But I noticed people were reluctant to complain too much about their jobs because of a fear of judgement. While I get it, a career coach is exactly who you should complain too (especially one like me who has complained plenty after over having over 25 different jobs.)
I wondered if I could create a virtual space where people could complain about their jobs and then reflect on what they actually wanted in a job.
The skill could work like this: Alexa would listen to people complain, provide empathetic responses and then help them reflect on their job situation. Reflection questions are incredibly powerful and people don’t often make the time to reflect on their situation.
After taking the user through a set of self reflection questions, Alexa would suggest my book and podcast as resources to make help a user make a career change or conduct a job search.
For the user, the skill’s main purpose is to give them space to complain and reflect on their career. But my main purpose is to create a skill that will promote my book, like an Alexa skill for content marketing
An Alexa skill with big goals
So the goals of this Alexa skill are to:
- Promote my new career book to a wider audience through a career-related Alexa skill
- Build a skill that gives people a judgement free space to complain about their jobs and help them reflect on their career goals to move forward.
Creating a user persona for conversation design
I’m a user researcher at heart so I built goal-directed user personas before I started scripting the conversation. I stared with reflection questions from the course, Designing for Conversation for Alexa.
Next I built a few quick user personas based on people who might use my skill (and on my experience coaching hundreds of people)
Scripting an Alexa conversation
For the conversation design part of this skill, writing the happy path was easy. Below is the structure (not the script) of the conversation:
The challenging part was anticipating and capturing all different complaints people might have about a job. I wanted Alexa to provide a empathetic and custom response based on the complaint the user shared so it felt personalized to their situation.
For example, if a user shares that they hate their boss, Alexa would reply:
“That’s understandable. Research shows 79 percent of people leave their job because of lack of appreciation from their boss. There’s the saying, people do not leave companies, they leave bosses.
That response would be different from someone who says they’re being harassed at work (sadly, that’s still a reality in jobs, and a legit complaint)
While I know a lot of the common complaints about jobs, I wanted to see what others thought.
So I crowd sourced people’s biggest complaints about their job. I’m in a lot of Facebook groups, so I just asked: What’s the biggest complaint about your job?
And I got over a 100 responses on one thread (because people love to complain about their jobs!). I complied over 100 responses into a spreadsheet, then categorized them based on the type of complaint (I love qualitative analysis).
Those categories became my intents. Some of the responses became utterances.
This was a useful tactic for building user responses. I built over 20 intents based on common workplace complaints.
If a user said something that wasn’t in my intent list, I built empathetic fallback responses that still provide a sympathetic answer to any complaint that is shared.
Setting up user testing
I’m a big fan of testing and feedback. I asked some Alexa fans to give feedback on the skill using the following questions as a guide:
- What did you expect from the skill?
- What surprised you about this skill?
- What could make this better?
- Anything else you’d like to add
User feedback: Good but boring
The feedback I got was that it the skill worked functionally. They could complain multiple times. They got the book and podcast recommendation. So that succeeded.
But one piece of feedback was that the responses were a bit repetitive, despite the fact I’d tried to make custom responses. I think I’d relied too heavily in generic empathy statements (“I see what you mean.” “That sounds hard.” “Wow, that’s rough.” ) over cheeky responses.
One tester asked if I plan on keeping the responses serious or making it more playful. That was a clue that my writing wasn’t up to par. I don’t want my Alexa skill to be boring (not like my first one!).
So I upgraded the copy to make it more playful and a bit more like how I’d actually respond if you met me in a bar and complained to me (during pre-covid times!). For example, users who told Alexa they hate their boss, now get a less boring response:
Oh they’re the worst! Bad bosses can wreck your work life. It’s actually the most common complaint I hear. I wish we could start a petition to fire all of the incompetent bosses.
Plus there’s an easter egg in there if you ask Alexa what their biggest complaint is about their job. That was fun to do.
After getting this feedback, I remembered: designing and developing Alexa skills (or any intelligent assistant) are two different sets of skills.
Conversation design is more than making an Alexa skill functional
In my last role as a conversation designer for a chatbot company I learned early on that it takes both writers AND engineers to make an engaging intelligent assistant. Most engineers aren’t great at writing creative content. And that’s to be expected. They are different skills.
After getting the feedback for this skill, I learned that my writing suffered as I focused on ensuring the functionality and structure of the conversation.
I’m not an engineer but I’m using Voiceflow to create an Alexa skill without coding. I still have to think like an engineer to get it to work.
And that’s where the challenge is. Switching between thinking like an engineer – a linear process – and thinking like a designer/writer/creative – a non-linear process – is hard. Something has to give. And in the first round, it was my writing that gave.
What’s in an Alexa skill name?
Naming an Alexa skill is a huge challenge. Originally this skill was called Job Rants, as in, rants about your job. But then I changed it to Job Rant because the plural sounded funny when I said it out loud.
It wasn’t very catchy. In fact, I liked, I Hate My Job, as a skill name. But it’s wordy and rather negative.
Then I watched a conversation design training and the Alexa evangelist talked about how important it is to make your skill name easy to remember.
Job Rant wasn’t easy to remember and it didn’t sound great when spoken out loud. So I changed the skill name at the last minute to My Job Sucks. It was still kind of negative. But so easy to remember.
And then Amazon rejected my skill (again!) this time because of vulgarity in the title.
In the end I changed the skill name to a straight-forward-but-boring name: Job Complaints, just to get on with it.
Conversation Design Learnings
Naming your Alexa skill is hard – I wish I had a creative team to share ideas with. I’m not thrilled about the name but it was time to move on.
User feedback is necessary for conversation design– It’s super useful to have people tell you what they like and don’t like about the skill
Your first draft is still your first draft, even in conversation design – I let every blog post sit before I post it. Then I go over it, edit, and then publish. The same should be true for skills, especially if you’re a solo content producer. My skill’s dialogue needed a rewrite and I’m glad the user feedback made me reconsider the dialogue.
Facebook and Reddit are a gold mine for dialogue research – I used both communities for research on what people don’t like about their jobs.
Conversation design and conversation development are two different but complimentary skills – As I build out my technical skills by designing more complex conversations, I realize I’m going to have to put even more time into ensuring my writing is engaging.
The bigger the skill, the more complicated testing and editing gets – There are likely some hiccups in the published skill. It’s hard as a one-woman team to make sure everything is perfect. At some point, you just have to jump and wait for feedback post-production and improve from there. (also: This makes me wonder if Alexa Skills Editor will be a job in the future?)
Alexa skills for content marketing: goal accomplished
I’ve accomplished my goal of designing a skill for content marketing. This Alexa skill draws people in with content related to career coaching and recommends a product (my product!) to help them.
All in all, I’m pretty stoked about this skill. I’m also ready to move on to new skill ideas like multi-modal design and more complex, creative conversations, so getting my Alexa skill certification email was another achievement in this learning process.
Try the new Alexa skill for careers: Job Complaints
Alexa, open Job Complaints or Alexa, launch Job Complaints