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January 21, 2019Jennifer King
Editor’s Note: We always like to share new tips and perspectives on what you can do to take your skill to the next level, deepen customer engagement, and deliver valuable experiences to customers. Today we welcome a community expert—Gal Shenar, founder of Stoked Skills and creator of popular skills like Escape the Room and Wordplay—to share his own best practices for building premium content with in-skill purchasing.
Since I started building Alexa skills three years ago, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to create skill content that keeps customer coming back. I’ve also used in-skill purchasing (ISP) to build premium content, which has helped me grow my voice business. Over the past six months, I’ve made many updates and optimizations to the ISP experience in my skills, and I’ve been excited to see conversion rates and revenue increase steadily each month as a result.
I recently shared some of the things I’ve learned about building skills with ISP during a breakout session at AWS re:Invent. Here are some of the top tips I shared to help you design and improve your skills with in-skill purchasing.
Before you add premium content to your skill, you first need to come up with engaging content that resonates with customers and keeps them coming back. In a voice-first experience, it's imperative that customers can first experience the quality and value of your skill before being asked to purchase something from you. A skill delivers value by creating an experience that customers enjoy and want to spend time with. This free experience needs to feel worthwhile without the need to pay for content. To deliver something worth paying for, your skill should draw them in and engage them in an experience that offers meaningful utility, time savings, convenience, or entertainment.
Because Stoked Skills focuses on voice games primarily, we strive to build immersive experiences that will keep the customer coming back. To ensure both our free and premium experiences provide value, we track two main metrics: session length and retention. After using our skills again and again, we’re confident they’d be willing to spend a few extra dollars to enhance their experience.
A good rule of thumb I like to use is that a customer should be able to pick up your skill and feel engaged for at least 15 to 30 solid minutes before needing to purchase anything. We build skills with many hours of gameplay. Once users spend the time to become fully immersed, it becomes worth it for them enhance that experience for a small additional purchase. If you build more of a utility skill (like weather reports or restaurant reservations) versus an interactive experience, then it’s not as important how long the customer engages. In that case, what matters is that you make a strong impression so your customers remember to come back next time. Ensure your skill has a strong foundation with enough engaging free content for customers to enjoy before you offer the premium experience. This will keep customers coming back for free content and make your premium content more appealing when offered.
With ISP, you can offer three types of in-skill products: one-time purchases for permanent access to premium content, subscriptions that offer access to premium content for a period of time, and consumables that can be purchased and depleted.
When designing a skill with ISP, think carefully about which in-skill product you choose. It’s not always entirely obvious which type of in-skill product you should implement. For example, in Escape the Room, we let the customer purchase hints to help them out when they are stuck. At first glance, it might seem obvious to implement hints as a consumable: buy a pack of hints every time you need more. Instead, we opted to offer our ISP as an entitlement where you can purchase unlimited hints that you can use throughout the game, modeling this as more of a “premium” experience.
One of the reasons that we chose to use one-time purchases is because we wanted to avoid some of the complexities of customer input and interaction, which is something that wouldn’t have been necessary on a more traditional mobile or web-based interface. A customer needs to keep track of how many hints they have so they can be thoughtful about when they use them. For example, a customer may get frustrated if they misunderstand something in the skill and use a hint they paid for by accident. Because you don’t have the same visual cues with voice as you do with a mobile or web-based experience, we didn’t want customers to pay for something that will add more friction to their experience. Instead, we allow customers to pay upfront, and then they can simply ask for hints whenever they like and focus all their interactions and effort on playing the game itself. I’ve found this model to be quite successful, and the idea of designing for a simpler experience in terms of customer input has really been a focus across all of my skill development, not only in terms of ISP.
With that said, there are many times when consumables are the right choice for your in-skill product. One of my games, Wordplay, a word guessing game, allows the customer to use power-ups to give themselves an advantage in guessing their given word. For example the “Vowel Volcano” power-up will give you all the vowels in your word, and the “Word Wipe” power-up will let you swap your current word for a new one.
When we originally implemented this, consumables were not available yet, so we used entitlements instead. We allowed the customer to purchase an entitlement that would let them start each game with extra power-ups. The downside of this model is that it limits your potential revenue and offers the customer less flexibility to get more power-ups if they want them. Because of this, we stopped offering that one-time purchase entitlement in exchange for consumables, which made much more sense for our skill. However, to mitigate the risk of a poor customer experience for those who had already purchased the one-time purchase entitlement, we made sure to continue supporting it. We stopped offering the one-time purchase to new customers, but customers who previously purchased the entitlement continued to have access to it. Now, customers can purchase packs of three power-ups whenever they want them in a game, and we can offer the power-ups during strategic upsell moments when they might be useful to the customer. This allows us to lower the cost of power-ups, and encourages repeat spend.
When building a voice experience, it’s different from web and mobile apps—customers don’t have visual cues that dominate a screen. To discover new features and content, customers have to rely on your skill to tell them via voice, versus a “buy now” or “shop” button on a screen.
Each time your skill tells a customer about content available to purchase or offers a specific in-skill product during an upsell, you are taking up their time and attention with that upsell directive. If they aren’t ready to make a purchase and you haven’t created that value for them yet, they may be put off and end the experience, especially if you ask them more than once. Because of this, you need to be very conscious of when you make your upsell offers.
To increase your success and upsell conversion rates, be sure to offer your purchase at the exact moment your customer will want it. If they are struggling and stuck for a few minutes, that might be a good time to sell them a hint. If they are about to lose their last life in a game, offer some power-ups or extra lives right at that moment. If they choose not to make a purchase, let them know how they can access premium content later if they want, and then quickly put them right back into the free experience.
In addition to timing your offers at strategic moments, it’s important to let customers have fun first with the free experience and get thoroughly engaged before trying to offer anything for purchase. If your game is fun to play, people will come and spend their money. It’s simply a matter of timing your upsell in the right way for your skill. You can track how much time customers spend in the experience, number of utterances made, days played, or other more customized metrics for your skill to judge customer engagement and satisfaction. As I mentioned before, I like to let customers use my games for at least 15 minutes at a minimum before considering offering an upsell, while still only offering in-skill products at times when they would be directly useful to the experience.
I hope you can find these tips useful as you build in-skill products for your voice experience. If you have any questions or just want to chat, reach out to me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear more about what you are building!