What I learnt from skill development

How to avoid the most common mistakes in skill development

Being one of the First Voice Agencies in Australia, we are tasked with taking brands on a journey that they’ve never experienced before, and it’s important that we have experience building great skills for our clients.

We caught up with one of our conversational strategists, Tyler, to get an understanding of the skill development process and discover some of his key learnings both from a design and development angle.

At VERSA, we’ve built a lot of voice experiences and have found that there are unique challenges and problems that always appear, and aren’t found in web and app projects. Here are the top 6 things that I’ve learnt as a voice experience designer, as well as tips on how to avoid the most common mistakes.

Tips & Tricks

plan and test your vui

It’s impossible to create a voice experience without doing a proper plan of your voice user interface. Identify what you want the user to do, write scripts, simplify those scripts, then map out the conversation and accommodate for every path. Planning a VUI will allow you to find all of the gaps in your conversation and allow you to understand all of the different paths a user may potentially want to take.

fail gracefully

There are a lot of paths for things to go wrong in voice experience. An API might be down, the user might give an unexpected response, or the virtual assistant might not hear the conversation correctly. It’s almost impossible to cater for every path, but it is possible to create helpful error messages. Your error messages should repeat back what the user has said, and let them know what they need to say. This clears any problems with the device mishearing the user, and also lets the user know what they should be saying.

Identify all variations of questions and commands

A lack of utterances is one of the first reasons a skill fails. You can have over 20,000 ways to ask for something, but there will always be one user that asks for something slightly different. Do plenty of user testing, and always keep expanding your utterances. Most new users have a relatively small tolerance for voice experience failing, so each unmatched utterance is a potential lost user.

For example, if you are offering users a list of movie times, they may want to answer with “The first one”, “The latest one”, “The 2:45 one”, “The premium one”. You will need to identify and accommodate all of these variations.

Make your conversations short and snappy

One of the key benefits of voice is being able to do things a lot quicker than on a traditional interface. If a conversation becomes too long, it may just be quicker for a user to interact with a screen device. It’s important to always refine your conversation, to make it as quick and efficient as possible. This means keeping Alexa’s responses short and getting rid of redundant follow-up questions.

offer relevant help

A user might accidentally go down a rabbit hole and get confused on how to get back. Always offer a way for a user to ask for help, which should give back a message that is relevant to where they are in the skill. For example, if a user asks for help during an ordering stage of the skill, explain what their order is, how to confirm their order, and offer an option to start over.


design for power users

For users that are more familiar with your voice experience and other voice apps, offer them ways to go through your VX even quicker than a new user. This includes offering shortcut paths, shortening messages and not repeating information a user would already know. It’s also important to offer personal touches for the repeat users, such as remembering information, offering welcome back messages, and asking for reviews from users that have had a lot of success with your skill.

Of course, this is just a skin-deep look at some of the challenges every skill designer will face, but hopefully, we’ve passed on enough knowledge so you can avoid the most common pitfalls, and start designing awesome experiences.

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