We all have dirty laundry, but few of us enjoy dealing with it. So the founders of Laundrapp set out to take the work out of laundry. In 2014, they gave UK consumers a choice to offload their dirty laundry to Laundrapp.
“The idea behind our business is quite simple,” says Cornelia Musteata, a member of Laundrapp’s marketing team in London. “We wanted to give customers more time and convenience by adding a digital element to the dry-cleaning and laundry industry.”
In 2014, Laundrapp started taking orders for laundry and dry-cleaning pickups in London. Just three years later, Laundrapp now provides on-demand laundry service to customers in over a hundred cities across the UK, seven days a week. Customers specify a collection time and address via the smartphone app or website, and Laundrapp collects, cleans, and delivers their clothes within 48 hours.
Things got even easier when Laundrapp added the Laundrapp custom skill for Alexa, a voice-activated laundry service. Laundrapp customers can now simply ask Alexa to take care of their dirty laundry, hands-free.
Voice: An Obvious Next Step
Romain Lefebvre, product manager and UX designer at Laundrapp, says the idea of voice-activated ordering fit with Laundrapp’s goal of innovating for the future with technology. And since laundry is foremost a home-related task, a skill that lets customers speak their laundry order from their home made perfect sense.
"Laundrapp is all about empowering people by advancing technology and disrupting an age-old industry," Lefebvre says. “So the Alexa skill was an obvious next step for us.”
Delivering a Clean User Experience
Lefebvre focused on defining the voice user interface (VUI) to ensure a clean and natural user experience. This proved challenging as even a simple dry-cleaning order has many parts like pickup and delivery address, collection and delivery times, and so on. Even two people on the telephone (doing business the old-fashioned way) have to take several steps to negotiate and confirm times agreeable to both parties.
The UX designer first created a high-level flow of the primary interactions and steps that would be used throughout the skill:
- Link/validate Laundrapp account
- Verify customer address entered as correct
- Verify valid payment method
- Retrieve collection and delivery times
- Validate collection and delivery times are available
- Place the order
The second part of the design involved defining the utterances and responses as well as all the variations a user might use. Lefebvre wrote scripts for each high-level scenario, then drilled down into the lower-level flows. He then handed off these detailed flows to a developer who implemented the Alexa skill.
Bringing the Voice-Activated Laundry Service to Life
Marcin Warzecha, who built the Laundrapp custom skill for Alexa, says the APIs in the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) simplified integration with Laundrapp’s existing systems.
One of his biggest challenges was preserving the state across multiple steps of the complex conversation logic. This was especially true when negotiating and confirming availability of collection and delivery times. He used state design patterns to simplify dealing with this logic.
In all, Warzecha wrote more than 20 functional tests to cover all the conversation flows Lefebvre had designed. Having well-designed flows broken down into functional blocks ahead of time enabled rapid development. It also allowed him to quickly modify components of the skill as testing progressed.
“If your system is quite complex like ours, the flows can become more challenging and making upfront design even more important,” Warzecha says. “Without that design work, it would have been quite difficult to make this integration work successfully.”
The Future of Voice Is Bright and Clean
As Warzecha developed the component flows, Lefebvre entered the final step in his multi-step design process, usability testing, and refinement. He found that sentences written for the eye don’t always feel natural or helpful in voice experiences. The two worked together to fine-tune phrases and add inputs to accommodate even more ways a user might make a request.
As more Amazon Echo devices ship in the UK, the new Laundrapp skill is receiving positive feedback from customers.
“They appreciate the added convenience of interacting with our service simply by voice, which is why you purchase an Echo in the first place,” says Lefebvre.
“The skill is popular among early adopters, of course, but feedback from users indicates voice control is the future,” says Musteata. “I believe what we at Laundrapp are trying to do—and what Alexa is trying to do with voice solutions in general—is to take a step to the future.”
Build a Skill, Get a Shirt
The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) enables developers to build capabilities, called skills, for Alexa. ASK is a collection of self-service APIs, documentation, templates, and code samples that make it fast and easy for anyone to add skills to Alexa.
Developers have built more than 10,000 skills with ASK. Explore the stories behind some of these innovations, then start building your own skill. Once you publish your skill, mark the occasion with a free, limited-edition Alexa dev shirt. Quantities are limited.