Amazon seeks out brands like Zomato and ixigo to build Alexa skills

Amazon seeks out brands like Zomato and ixigo to build Alexa skills
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Reuters
17 Jan, 2019

Jeff Bezos-led e-commerce portal Amazon, which also develops and markets products around its digital assistant Alexa, is looking for Indian brands to develop skills for its customers using the smart speaker.

“We are looking for brands to create those special moments of delight so that they can deliver a new, enhanced experience based on voice, or Alexa, to be precise,” Dilip RS, country manager for Alexa Skills, India, said at a voice technology session at the 13th edition of the IAMAI Digital Summit. 

Dilip added that voice computing technology brings about many possibilities across sectors such as news, food and sports among other things.

“Voice makes it possible to have real-time conversations with your customer in contrast to having to wait for feedback when you have other traditional digital channels. That’s why voice adds that delight,” Dilip explained.

Sreeraman Thiagarajan, co-founder of Agrahyah Technologies, a startup that deals in voice technologies in Indic languages, said that brands should look at adding celebrity voices to their Alexa skills.

“Nearly all brands and companies have celebrity endorsers. They should try and create voice experiences with it,” he explained.

On the other hand, companies such as Zomato and ixigo, which had participated in the summit, said that they were slowly integrating voice computing skills or functions into their products.

While Zomato has started work to add an Alexa skill, ixigo is building basic voice bot functionalities to its app and website.

“We are trying to build in basic capabilities for our voice bots such as searching for information related to travel via trains. We are handling a bigger volume of queries, besides IRCTC, in terms of train travel,” Himanshu Periwal, vice president of growth at ixigo, said, adding that its bot was handling 80-85% of all such queries.

However, he was also optimistic about creating new voice-based experiences, which can be done using voice nudges especially for consumers not conversant in the English language.

Zomato’s vice president of partnerships and payments Pradyot Ghate said that his company was working on building an Alexa skill for customers to order food. But Ghate said that there are many challenges to enable a voice command via Alexa when it comes to ordering food.

“Imagine the customisation that a customer may want if it is food like pizza which makes the conversation complex,” Ghate explained, adding that it was the same reason Zomato was taking a different route to building voice functions.

In other words, when a customer wants to place an order, can Zomato via Alexa make suggestions based on his or her food ordering behaviour on certain days?

“What if I could ask a customer to order a bowl of noodles?” Ghate said. He added that the same skill can be combined with other skills if it can create better experiences. For example, a customer can ask Alexa to lower the AC settings during lunch, Ghate explained. 

However, he said that the company was far from integrating end-to-end payments within Alexa.

When asked about whether Zomato’s Alexa skill could be trusted with credit or debit card information, Ghate said that while bots misbehave a lot less than human beings, the company was looking for a way to integrate payments.

Amazon’s Dilip also seconded Ghate, stating that Amazon itself has a rigorous process of checks when brands or companies building skills seek customer data.

“The company has to have a legitimate reason behind asking about certain consumer data,” Dilip said, adding that asking for extra data could create friction or mistrust with users. ixigo’s Periwal also said that all kinds of data collection must have users’s consent.

Alexa has over 20,000 skills in India since it was launched last February.