Three Keys to Building Trust in Alexa Skills & Smart Speakers

Pinpointing the source of trust was a lot easier back when a handshake and a face was the foundation of every consumer transaction. There was a person you could read and a place to bring your complaints. Now, when digital companies facilitate millions of faceless, handshake-less transactions a day the source of trust is more elusive. Sometimes it’s based on a hunch. Other times it’s a recommendation or review. Or maybe the actual experience was pleasant.

Although I can’t say for sure whether it’s easier or harder to build trust as a digital company. I am confident in saying that it’s much harder to lose consumer trust today.

What?! Common sense would say the opposite.

But for a select few companies – Uber, Facebook, Google, Amazon, among a few others – their consumer trust seems to be untouchable. From breaches in privacy to creating military weapons to turning a blind eye on office sexism, each has had major run-ins with trust issues and somehow been long-term unaffected.

Either we have incredibly short memories, the PR teams are getting incredibly good, or their products are so sticky and so important to our quality of life, that they seem to have superseded the need for trust. I think it’s all three.

They’ve reached the best-friend status – where they can repeatedly break our trust but find a way to make up for it.

Look at the smart speaker craze which is stronger than ever. Globally, smart speakers sales are up 35% from last year, despite the most popular narrative about them being that they’re basically corporate listening devices.

Wavering Trust in Smart Speakers

It’s incredible that smart speakers have made it this far with such a one-sided, negative narrative. And by that, I mean when’s the last time you heard a story of how Alexa helped police officers rescue a missing kid or done something positive in someone’s life? Rarely, if ever at all.

Even though Amazon has unveiled new privacy mode features for the Alexa ecosystem, the narrative is still this:

  • Alexa should be banned from the bedroom, privacy experts say (link)
  • ‘Mind your own business, Alexa!’ How to keep secrets from your voice assistant (link)
  • The dark side of Alexa, Siri and other personal digital assistants (link)

And that’s just stories from the last four days.

Clearly, Amazon’s sales of smart speakers seem to be exempt from the perils of user distrust. But just because Amazon is exempt doesn’t mean that your app is exempt too.

If you’re making a news briefing app for your industry, perhaps the design industry, then you probably don’t have to worry about people being apprehensive or untrustworthy of your service.

However, if you’re building an Alexa app that has to do with people’s finances, insurance records, health records, or other sensitive information, then yes, trust is something you’re going to need to focus on building.

So how can companies ensure they are creating Alexa and Google Assistant apps that are trustworthy and desirable to their users?

1. Appeal to the Human Experience

Spend any considerable amount of time around a toddler or little kid and you’ll quickly grow tired of their questions. It’s something that little kids just do. They ask questions. And that’s why Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant exist, right? To answer questions.

Well, one problem that researchers are foreseeing is that kids who grow up with voice assistants will grow to be skeptical of them. Studies show that kids will trust their teacher or their peer’s answer to question (even if it is clearly wrong) over a smart speaker’s answer because they cannot wrap their mind around this amorphous thing living in their kitchen. They don’t know who it is or why it knows things.

How can developers bypass kids’ skepticism of smart speakers?

By appealing to the human experience. The My Storytime app on Google Assistant allows parents to read bedtime stories to their kids even when they’re not at home. They record themselves reading chapters which the kid can then ask to play when they’re “hitting the hay”.

It’s well known that reading to your kids is necessary for their development. And by bringing a familiar voice into the smart speaker ecosystem, theoretically, this story time app will be more successful and trustworthy than a stranger reading.

2. Consistency + Time

There are some things that require more trust than others. For instance, it takes a relatively low amount of trust to ask someone if there’s something stuck in your teeth. Especially in comparison to trusting that your child’s fiancé will take good care of your child.

So how can you develop smart speaker apps that require a lot of trust?

Start small. The formula for building trust is Consistency + Time = Trust.

Let’s say that you have two employees at your woodworking shop. One, has been carving perfect chess pieces for your handcrafted chess boards every day for the past seven years. While the other has been carving perfect chess pieces for the past two months. When Prince Harry commissions a chess board from you, who are you going to trust?

Consistency is an element of trust. But not without time.

Apply this to the smart speaker ecosystem and you should focus on being a consistent part of people’s daily routine for some time before you jump into something that requires a large amount of trust.

If you want people to start banking with you on Alexa, then don’t shoot the moon on the first try. Make an app that gives out money saving tips consistently over time. Then, after the consistency + time formula has run its course, unveil the banking features.

In other words, get on the platform. Provide a small, daily value to someone. Build trust with consistency and time. And roll out the features that require more trust later.

3. Purpose-Driven

Are you delivering an experience that cannot be done elsewhere? Is your value to the user and the greater community at large something that is necessary? Or are you building a voice app just to build a voice app?

Nobody wants to miss the train on any new opportunity. That’s just a given. But sometimes the hype clouds our judgement and we jump into creating something that isn’t truly worthwhile.

We’re at a serious attention deficit.

The idea that we can strip mine attention, wasting what we don’t need, is long gone. Like oysters and oil before it, attention is a scarce resource, and we need to use it wisely. Too often, it feels cheaper to simply take what we can get, but when we overreach, the cost in trust is real.

Seth Godin

At times it seems like it’s a mad rush to get on Alexa and grab any real estate we can get. In reality, the true focus should be in creating a voice skill that actually adds value. An experience that is so noteworthy that people are eager to share it with one another. Not just another voice skill that occupies this empty space.