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Amazon recently announced that developers can now take advantage of two new emotions in Alexa’s voice and two new speaking styles. We asked Jonathan Patrizio, Principal Solutions Architect at Mobiquity, to weigh in with more details about the new capabilities and how they could impact conversational AI use cases for organizations with existing or newly implemented voice skills.
Jackie: First, can you briefly explain what has changed?
Jonathan: Developers can now incorporate a broader range of emotional expression – including “Excited” or “Disappointed” – at high, medium, or low intensity. These emotions give Alexa’s voice a more natural human quality than her neutral, more “robotic” sound. The second big change is the addition of two new speaking styles for news- and music-related content. There’s a news style available for the US and Australia, while the music style is currently US only.
These changes aren’t just good news for voice developers – there’s also great news for Alexa users. In the announcement, Amazon shares that in customer research, overall satisfaction with the voice experience went up 30% with the new emotions. What’s more, Amazon reported that in “blind listening” tests, users perceived the news style to be 31% more natural and the music style to be 84% more natural than Alexa’s standard voice.
Jackie: Where do you see the greatest potential value for these enhancements?
Jonathan: Amazon has noted that the new emotional range would be most relevant for sporting and gaming categories, and as the names imply, the speaking styles have been crafted for content related to news or music. That said, we see other opportunities beyond sports, gaming, news, and music. For example, we also see value in using these tonal changes where we want to report good results, or encourage the user to come back and drive retention and re-engagement with the skill. These slight changes can mean a lot to listeners, and break the standard tone of Alexa’s voice with careful placement, so long as they are not overused.
Jackie: How could these new capabilities help enhance conversational AI experiences in, say, financial services, healthcare, or consumer products?
Jonathan: An important area for Alexa Skills is delivering contextual information that is relevant to the user. In financial services, recurring and important tasks, such as bill payment reminders, savings prompts, and general financial wellness messages are delivered to the user at medium intensity, which helps the dialog stand out, above general information delivery.
In healthcare, imagine what elevated encouragement could do for patients who accomplish a goal, such as medication adherence or exceeding a wellness objective. Making Alexa more human in these types of personal situations might go a long way toward helping patients achieve great results.
Lastly, we’ve seen big corporations like Butterball make waves with Alexa, helping home chefs all around the world more easily cook their turkeys. With the addition of Alexa’s emotional abilities, chefs can more accurately and quickly realize when they have experienced success or when they have run into challenges during meal prep - and this is something that could be utilized in restaurant kitchens, as well. Overall, I think that with some experimentation, if a user gave feedback to Alexa that she deemed to be low on a satisfaction scale, it might make sense for Alexa to evoke empathy and understanding in her tone and follow-up response.
Jackie: What should we NOT expect these new emotions and speaking styles to do?
Jonathan: Just like Alexa Speechcons and injection of sounds like those made available in the Alexa Skills Kit Sound Library, these new features won’t generate an increase in engagement or retention on their own, and should be used sparingly when they feel appropriate. These are also no substitute for a tailored voice that is unique for the brand. You’ll want to experiment with these emotions and tones to get them just right, after the bulk of the flow and content has been authored.
Jackie: What additional enhancements do you see on the horizon? In particular, do you think Amazon will ever offer a male voice as an alternative to Alexa?
Jonathan: Amazon Alexa is strongly branded, and users have come to recognize and expect Alexa’s voice, especially to deliver responses on the Alexa platform. Within custom skills like the ones that Mobiquity builds, there are several ways today that you can inject alternatives to Alexa’s voice, if you so desire. For example, including male voices, using short-form audio, or Amazon Polly, which lets you programatically create speech responses in alternative voices, are all options that brands have when implementing a skill. Amazon provides a report on the capabilities here, and using these different features in conjunction with Alexa is part of the art and fun in building skills on Alexa Skills Kit.
In the future, Alexa could be enhanced to recognize the sound of your spoken responses, to empathize if the user sounds happy, sad, tired, or energized, thus allowing the responses to be handled more appropriately. And we already heard that Samuel Jackson will be the first alternative voice that will be available amongst ‘celebrity voices’ delivered to the Alexa platform. Just imagine a time when you can crank out an Alexa Blueprint skill to announce daily chores to the family all delivered in Mom or Dad’s most formidable voice!
Jonathan’s points showcase the evolution of Alexa and how her enhancements will bring new opportunities for organizations looking to expand their customer experience. If you’d like to discuss how you can enhance or implement an Alexa voice skill, let’s talk.
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