Skilled Creative is an innovative technology agency that builds best-in-class voice experiences for their partners. Skilled Creative has developed innovative voice-first applications for industry partners including top rated Alexa Skills: PepsiCo’s Pure Leaf Tea Tea House Meditations, FanDuel’s Fanduel: Pick 6, Meredith Corporation’s Entertainment Weekly, and Simon & Schuster’s award-winning Stephen King Library.
Stephen King Library was developed by Skilled Creative as a joint production of Stephen King’s longtime publisher Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Inc., and Simon & Schuster Audio. The Stephen King Library was released in June 2018, and is the first book recommendation skill from a major publisher dedicated to a single author’s body of work. It’s a “choose your own adventure” experience that guides users through a series of questions taking them down three genre paths—horror, science fiction, or fantasy. The immersive experience, set up by narrator Jeremy Bobb’s questions, is enhanced through eerie music and sound effects. At the end, the skill recommends a reading list of five titles selected from a curated list of fifty-six Stephen King books. The skill also offers the option of hearing an audio preview of the top-recommended book, as well as the opportunity to save the recommended reading list.
Skilled Creative was tasked with creating an entertaining, interactive, and informative experience that would entice fans and introduce Stephen King’s oeuvre to new readers, while engaging and delighting them in the discovery process.
ABOUT THE SKILL
Stephen King is a master storyteller who has written more than 50 books. Which book should you read first? Which book should you read next? By answering a series of questions, you will receive a reading list of Stephen King books best suited to you.
If you are ready for your next great read, just say, “Alexa, open Stephen King Library.”
DESIGNING A SKILL THAT DELIGHTS BOTH FANS AND NEW READERS
All skills face the challenge of engaging users. In order to successfully accomplish this, the target audience must be clearly understood. In this case, users are comprised of Stephen King fans as well as people new to his work. Keeping the skill user—whether it be a new reader or a fan—engaged with the skill can prove to be a challenge. So how can a skill like this engage and delight users? The Stephen King Library skill assists users with discovery by asking a series of randomized questions. The skill’s conversational design is managed in a sophisticated dialogue flow. The narrator asks a multiple-choice question, describing three options to the user, who has to choose one. After explaining the options, the skill briefly reminds the reader what those are:
Narrator: Your friend invites you over for his annual campfire. Every year he starts the night with a story. You know that he has 3 terrific tales in his arsenal. One is a chilling ghost story, the second is about an alien invasion, and the third is the story of a small-town serial killer. Do you hope he tells the one about the ghost, aliens, or the serial killer?
User: Serial killer.
Narrator: Good to know. Let’s keep going.
A well designed skill must be clear in its prompts, acknowledge the user’s input, and have a smooth transition. Despite being a series of multiple-choice questions, the flow is structured in the form of a conversation. The narrator’s response “Good to know.” affirms the user’s answer, as one would acknowledge a response in a casual conversation.While “Let’s keep going.” notifies the user that another question is coming without disrupting the conversational flow.
HOW PULSE LABS HELPED OPTIMIZE THE EXPERIENCE
The insights from Pulse Labs helped us think through the deeper nuances of [the user experience] moving someone through a longer, multiple-choice style experience. -Michael Hoesten, Director of Client Engagement, Skilled Creative
Pulse Labs worked closely with Skilled Creative, conducting usability testing on Stephen King Library before it launched. We focused on three major areas: utterance and dialogue verification, functional testing, and exploratory engagement feedback.
Build a personal voice-first interaction by being personable
The first time a user launches your skill, you’ll want to help them understand the scope of the experience, in other words, what they can do and what to expect. The initial greeting also sets the tone and user expectations for the entire interaction. For example:
Narrator: Welcome to the Stephen King Library. We will guide you through a series of questions. Follow your imagination and curiosity. Your answers will allow us to recommend a personalized reading list of Stephen King books best suited to you. If you’re ready to start, just say begin.
If the user returns to the skill, the return greeting they receive should be shorter than the introduction, acknowledging the user’s previous interactions while allowing them to get started much faster.
Narrator: Welcome back to the Stephen King Library. If you’re ready to start, just say begin.
“Welcome back” acknowledges that the user has previously interacted with the skill, in this sense personalizing their experience.
An even more personable experience would remember where the user left off on their previous session, and provide the option to pick up from that point if the session wasn’t complete. Another way to personalize the experience would be to briefly remind the user of what to expect if the skill hasn’t been used recently. For instance, something like:
Narrator: Welcome back to the Stephen King Library. Haven’t seen you in a while. I’m going to ask you seven questions. Your answers will allow us to recommend a personalized reading list of Stephen King books best suited to you. If you’re ready to start, just say begin.
Pulse Labs testing and expert analysis surfaced all these suggestions.
Handling the unexpected gracefully
Skill design should be able to handle fallbacks, errors, and misinterpretations as gracefully as possible. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, the fallback text “Sorry, didn’t catch that. Please repeat.” acknowledges that it heard the user and gives them the opportunity to respond again. However, what happens when the issue is harder to resolve than a misunderstood utterance?
One thing that should be avoided in skill design is the inability to continue moving. Specifically, Pulse Labs testing revealed looping issues triggered by unsupported utterances. For example:
Narrator: You open your medicine cabinet and notice two blue bottles. One is labeled ‘full immunity’, and the other is ‘remembering everything’. You have no idea where these came from, but super health and remembering everything sound good to you. Which do you take: immunity or memory?
User: next question
Narrator: Sorry, didn’t catch that. Please repeat.
User: next question
Narrator: Sorry, didn’t catch that. Please repeat.
In this instance, the user didn't respond to the original prompt and instead used an unsupported utterance. If the user repeats this unsupported utterance, as they’re prompted to do, no progress is made.
This could be modified to present the user with acceptable alternatives, particularly after more than one failed attempt. Instead of looping the user continuously, the skill should gracefully handle the utterance by taking the blame for the misunderstanding, saying something like, “Sorry, didn’t catch that. Which do you take: immunity or memory?” The user would thus be reminded of the options previously presented, helping them move forward through the skill.
The Stephen King Library skill delighted users and industry experts alike, earning it the 2019 Digital Book World Alexa Skill of the Year Award for Storytelling.
Pulse Labs testers found the skill particularly innovative and enjoyable, with reviews such as:
“I like the idea of asking me intriguing questions, getting to know a few of my preferences, then recommending a book to read.” - tester D.R.
“I loved the music. The questions and scenarios were very interesting. Made me feel like I was in one of those reader choice stories.” - tester E.M.
Reviews on the Alexa Skills webpage describe the skill as “entertaining,” “great quiz, fantastic mood,” and “great list!
To get the same level and quality of real user feedback that helped the Stephen King Library win the 2019 Digital Book World Alexa Skill of the Year Award for Storytelling for your own voice application, you should create a Pulse Labs account today!
Learn more at: www.pulselabs.ai or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org