Although the Amazon Echo only reached the UK this September, here at TAB HQ, we have had the Amazon Echo for nearly half a year. This has given us the time and opportunity to put Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant, through her paces - exploring and experimenting with various ways she could be used to make all our lives easier.
We have built a variety of skills in the process: some we made just for ourselves at TAB HQ, like being able to ask Alexa for a coffee or book a meeting room. Other skills were made in order to validate how they might be used for our clients, across various industries.
Our months of experimenting with Alexa have given us a strong technical understanding on what it takes to build a great skill, and the current limitations of the technology. However, perhaps more importantly, it has also provided us with the necessary context to understand when, and when not, to build a skill at all. Distilling our learnings led us to create a toolkit for building skills and a simple framework that helps us identify when a voice interface - whether Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant - adds genuine value for customers.
Delving into the advantages and disadvantages of Alexa, and voice interfaces as a whole, has been pretty thought-provoking for all our engineers, strategists and designers. One thing is for sure - we have become increasingly excited about the different opportunities that an Alexa skill can provide for customers across a wide range of services, and industries.
So, in order to explore and share our learnings, we thought we would unpack how voice can be used to help customers across four different industries; finance, commerce, media, and transport.
Let’s begin with finance.
Introducing Alexa: everybody’s personal banker
When you think about it, the majority of day-to-day banking consists of short interactions. We need to check a balance, pay a bill or make a transfer, for example.
At the moment, though, the reality is that these ‘quick’ checks are anything but - whether you are online, in-branch, on the phone or within an app. Even using the best examples of these channels is still time-consuming, requiring multiple steps or taps. Critically, they also interrupt your routine.
As we have previously written, banking continues to lag behind other industries when it comes to matching and exceeding the digital expectations of customers. Our research on banking apps revealed that the current mobile experiences of the major UK retail banks are slow and fiddly, incomplete and laborious.
So how can Alexa help?
Our prototyping has highlighted that Alexa excels at lightweight banking interactions. As the Amazon Echo is hands-free, it allows us to do these quick checks without a single tap or click, and without interrupting our current task - whether that’s feeding the kids, reading the paper, or doing the washing up. And it’s all from the safety and comfort of our own home.
At present, whilst interactions remain relatively basic, security concerns have been addressed through a custom solution for secure customer authentication. As Alexa evolves and gets smarter, and interactions become more complex and contextually aware, so too will modes of customer authentication.
So what might a banking interaction with Alexa sound like? Take a listen to the snippets below, recorded from our own prototyping sessions:
Stay on top of personal finances
Alexa can give customers a quick summary of their balance across accounts, and move money around if required.
Find out if there are any bills to pay
Alexa can provide a breakdown of a customer’s regular payments, keeping them informed of any upcoming bills or direct debits before payday.
Get help with budgeting
With Alexa, customers can set up savings goals and seek advice on how they can improve their financial situation simply by asking.
Using voice as an interaction model for your customers is not something for the future; it has already arrived. In the US, where the Amazon Echo and Alexa have been available for over two years, institutions like CapitalOne have already built skills to make the banking experience more seamless, and intuitive. In the UK, we believe it has the potential to open up new platforms for banking and payments in similar ways to the internet - think v-commerce, instead of e-commerce.
As with mobile, a voice UI will never be the sole channel that customers choose to interact with. However, having a multi-channel strategy that includes voice is vital for reaching customers - wherever they are.
Over the next decade, voice will become the new normal: steadily seeping into every facet of our lives and helping to define what the customer experience for 21st century banking looks like - or rather, what it sounds like.
If you would like to hear our voice banking demo in action, or learn more about the opportunities that Alexa presents for your business, get in touch today.