Expand the reach of your Sitecore powered brand with digital voice assistants

  • Posted on October 5, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 6 minutes

This article was originally written by Avanade alum Jeroen De Groot.

Digital voice assistants are quickly growing in popularity. Forrester predicts that 50% of US households will own one by 2020, accounting for 68% of all smart home devices. While 10 percent of consumers currently use digital voice assistants to make a purchase, many more (60%) are interested in doing so. The steep adoption rate combined with the increased use for purchasing will make digital voice assistants a large commerce channel in the next few years.

Amazon’s Echo is an Alexa-enabled assistant and has the largest market share in this area. Amazon’s devices have evolved with TV integration and consumers will continue to purchase additional devices to cover multiple rooms and other living spaces.

Since many brands use Sitecore to manage customer journeys across channels like web, mobile and email, it is imperative for them to consider adding voice in their omnichannel strategy. Potential customer touchpoints are endless: phones, to cars, to watches (wearables), the living room and even the kitchen.

The impact of poor voice design

Designing for voice is significantly different than designing for other channels like web, email or print. Screens are a great fit for showing customers’ suggestions based on their interest and thereby optimizing conversion rates. Voice only allows for responding to the customer questions, so there is much less room to cross-sell or up-sell. There is also a significant risk of losing customers if the voice experience is not designed well. Accenture research shows voice assistants cause frustration more often than other intelligent devices.

Some preventable issues with voice experiences are:

  • Too complicated to use, including navigation
  • Lacking necessary features
  • Concerns for privacy

So what’s the best way to get started?

Alexa skill design best processes

To get a jump-start with voice, companies can develop and publish an Alexa skill so customers can interact with it on their Echo device. It is important to understand best practices of the Alexa skill design process to deliver an engaging voice experience. When adding voice as a channel to an existing Sitecore site, it is tempting to start with the information architecture or sitemap and add voice commands accordingly. But doing so is often overly procedural and not context aware. This can cause issues because your users will not know the intended journey. It is recommended to keep the content strategy in mind and follow the three design steps below to deliver the best voice experience.

Step 1. Dialogue sketch: this contains the major scenarios of the user’s interaction with the Alexa skill. The focus of this initial step should be designing the “happy path”, which is the default scenario without any unexpected input from the user.

Step 2. User flow: use output from the first step to build a user flow chart with branching logic. This describes the user’s interaction with the skill. It is important to keep the user flow simple and flexible as users can start an interaction in multiple ways. It is important to develop practical, multi-use content to extend the shelf-life of the skill.

Step 3. Interaction model: this will turn the user flow into a design that can be implemented. Knowledge of the voice platform is required during this step to ensure the interaction model can be implemented.

Sitecore integration with Alexa

Sitecore can be used as a headless content management system. Out of the box it provides the option to expose APIs that can be consumed by Alexa. The SXA Layout Service or native OData ItemService can be configured to handle and respond to requests made by Alexa. A custom endpoint can also be developed in Sitecore to have full control over the entire process.

There are several levels of integration between an Alexa skill and Sitecore’s experience platform. As the experience matures from static to omnichannel it increasingly evolves by weaving in more channels, locations, and brand interaction opportunities.

Static skill

In this scenario, Sitecore is used as a headless static CMS. The Alexa skill will respond the same to every question regardless of who the user is, or any other known information. This is a good first step for a brand to get started with voice and allows tuning of the skill to better align with customer usage. This will also open a previously unused channel for the brand and could drive the user to interact with the brand over other channels.

Implicit personalization

A skill using implicit personalization will use insights it gathered to determine how to respond to a user. For example, based on the user’s location, current date and time or previous questions. This can add a lot of value to a skill. Imagine a user who asks, “what store is closest to me?” If a skill is completely static the assistant may not answer this question appropriately, likely resulting in a poor experience and/or lost revenue. A good skill would take the user’s location into account and respond differently depending on whether the store is currently open or closed. Most skills will need to incorporate some personalization to be useful. For some skills, IoT devices could provide meaningful input - for example, a connected refrigerator or thermostat tuned to the user’s preferences and habits can help inform the assistant’s response.

Omnichannel marketing

Sitecore adds value by tracking the customer journey across each of the brand’s channels to provide a 360 degree view of the customer. Much value can be gained by integrating Alexa into a brand’s omnichannel strategy. A good example of this is when a product is shown on the brand’s homepage if a user asked about this product in the Alexa skill. Adding voice as a full-fledged channel in the brand’s omnichannel strategy may require more effort than the other approaches, but it provides many benefits as well.

xConnect Omnichannel Analytics

Sitecore 9 decoupled xDB, the engine which holds all customer interactions and analytics, from the web experience platform. xConnect was introduced as a service layer that sits between the xDB and any client. This approach has following two benefits:

  1. Voice assistants can leverage the same services used by Sitecore site and other clients
  2. Voice assistants fully integrated in Omnichannel Analytics. Any interaction with a voice assistant is recorded in xDB, and all other channels are able to access any interaction the customer had with the voice assistant

Increased importance of search

Many sites have a menu structure to guide the user through the site, with search coming in as an afterthought just in case users cannot find the content they are looking for. This is different with voice, where search is the only mechanism for users to get the content they are looking for. Having a rich search experience that will provide relevant content will increase conversions and avoid frustration. Investing in search enhancement can also benefit channels beyond voice.

Next steps

Do you want to know more about expanding the reach of your Sitecore powered brand with digital voice assistants like Alexa? Please visit our session “Expand the reach of your Sitecore content with voice-activated assistants” during Sitecore Symposium (Tuesday, October 9 from 4:15-5pm in Dolphin, Southern Hemisphere Room 1), or schedule a meeting with us.

To learn more about what we’re planning in Orlando, check out Avanade’s Symposium program

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