How to Design for In-Skill Purchasing

Make an Offer at the Right Time

Don’t rely on screens

Alexa skills are predominately voice first experiences. This means that the primary method of interaction is through conversation. While there are devices that include a screen, it is meant to enhance NOT drive the experience. Skills must be able to stand alone without a screen since there are many Alexa-enabled devices that do not have a screen. Since there is no screen, your skill will have to verbally indicate what’s free and what’s premium.

Without a screen, you can’t rely on:

  • buy buttons
  • modal or pop-up windows

Purchases are handled by the Amazon purchase flow. When your customer says "yes" to your upsell, they are transitioned from your skill to the Amazon purchase flow. Once the purchase has been either completed or aborted, the customer is transitioned back to your skill. As a result there’s no way for you to provide a GUI for the purchase flow.

Design your upsells based upon a familiar foundation

Since we can’t rely upon a screen we need to rethink how we’ll make a sale. It turns out we humans have been verbally communicating to trade, barter, and sell things to one another for quite some time! We can model our interactions based upon a skilled salesperson!

Let’s take a moment to think about what makes a salesperson effective at making a sale. An effective salesperson:

  1. engages their customer
  2. gets to know their customer
  3. builds trust
  4. builds excitement
  5. asks for the sale at the right time
  6. is NEVER overly persistent

We’ll use these six best practices to ensure that we are modeling our skill in a way that:

  1. Engages our customer so they feel compelled to purchase more content.
  2. Gets to know our customer so we know what content they’re most likely to buy.
  3. Builds trust so the customer feels confident that their money is well spent.
  4. Creates excitement so the customer looks forward to engaging with the content.
  5. Asks for the sale at the right time so the customer isn’t annoyed when attempting to perform a task, which may make them go away and never come back.
  6. NOT being overly persistent with the sales pitch so the customer isn’t annoyed.
  7. No one likes to be sold something that they neither need nor want over and over again. Here’s what it looks like when you don’t base your design on a skilled salesperson. See if you can count how many upsells were attempted.

This is how NOT to make an effective upsell.

Phew that was terrible. We have a lot of problems here. Justin playing the part of the skill tried to upsell Alison the customer at six very inopportune times. Let’s go over the problems with his approach:

  1. He didn’t engage and get to know her; he immediately started with an upsell.
  2. He interrupted the start of the game upselling the rejected subscription again!
  3. He upsold hints immediately after she answered the question - feels like pay to win
  4. Yet again he offered her hints when he revealed the answer was wrong.
  5. He offered the "Themed Mega Trivia Packs" during the Free Five immediately after she declined to purchase the hints a second time.
  6. He offered the entire content catalog when she closed the skill.

The final upsell happened as the skill was closing. Here the customer is left in limbo. If they wanted to make a purchase they must reopen the skill and explicitly ask for the content. It’s also annoying to have to sit through a sales pitch after asking the skill to stop, therefore, this is not a best practice.

When designing your skill be sure to gather a group of at least two people and act out the interaction, so you can avoid replicating the catastrophe that took place above.

Let’s recall the skilled salesperson. Our skill should engage and get to know our customer, build trust and excitement, ask for the sale at the right time and not be overly persistent. Let’s consider some techniques that we can use to ensure our skill is able to masterfully pattern its behavior based upon our model salesperson.

Engage the customer first

A great salesperson doesn’t jump immediately into a sales pitch neither should your skill. Have you ever been to a used car lot and been approached by someone who launches immediately into trying to sell you a car that you don’t want because you just happened to glance at for a moment? It’s annoying isn’t it? A great salesperson will take a little time to get to know their customer to figure out what they are looking for and what will suit their needs. Only when they’ve gathered enough information will they make a recommendation. A good salesperson never pushes a sale, they let the customer decide for themselves.

Further complicating matters is the fact that your skill isn’t human and it can’t pick up on the verbal, visual, and physical cues that we use to communicate while thinking and conversing. Your skill will not be able to request more time to allow your customer to decide to buy the product. Decisions involving money can take a while. Your customers only have the length of the upsell message and an open mic of eight seconds to understand what you’re offering, how it benefits their experience, then make a "yes" or "no" decision. That’s a lot to ponder without much context and especially if the customer has no prior experience with your skill. Instead, you should let your customer experience the skill and learn how to interact with it before your sell a premium experience to them.

Our design for Seattle Super Trivia offers the Free Five trivia questions daily and an additional five with the High Five subscription. Like a skilled salesperson, we’ll engage our customer first with our free content by starting the free experience with no mention of premium content. Once they’ve completed the game we’ll make our upsell for five additional daily questions and special quizzes on the weekend.

With a better understanding of how to engage our customers before making an upsell, let’s see it in action. We’ve skipped the part where Alison opens the skill and pick up just after she finished playing the Free Five for the first time. While watching the video ask yourself:

  1. How is this more engaging?
  2. Why is the decision easier to make after playing through the game once rather than being asked right from the beginning?

Making an upsell at the right time

Much better! Justin let Alison experience the game first before making any upsells. This allowed her to get to know how the game works. She also scored rather well. Justin congratulated her and then transitioned smoothly into the upsell. At this point it feels more like a reward than a chore.

Make Offers Simple

Have you ever been on the phone with someone talking away and suddenly realize that they’re not paying attention and they are robotically repeating, 'uh huh' (complements of Andrea Muttonia) over and over again? Have you ever tested them by saying, "So you’re going to give me 1 million dollars right?" and then laugh when they say, "uh huh". There are many reasons why they may have tuned you out aside from being a bad friend. They could be playing a game, driving, reading a book, painting their nails, building Legos, etc. Talking requires both parties to form a mental image in their brain. The amount of information one can hold is referred to as cognitive load. Cognitive load differs per person. If your upsell is too long and confusing it’s easier for your customer, just like your bad friend, to tune out and just say no to your content.

Take a moment to watch the sample interaction below where we don’t make our offer simple. While watching the video, ask yourself:

  1. What is being sold?
  2. How many products are on sale?
  3. What value do these add-ons provide?

Cognitive load failure: Sell all the things at once

Phew! That was a mouthful. Were you able to catch that the skill offers:

  • 50 Mega Trivia Packs
  • A subscription
  • A hint pack

That’s a total of three different In-Skill Purchases types and 52 different product types! Were you able to tell that a subscription is for 5 additional daily questions and not a subscription to all the question packs? How do hints work? In this case, not only did Justin fail to engage the customer first, he tried to sell Alison everything including the kitchen sink! Houston we have a problem! Do not pass go! Do not collect $200 dollars! This is too much for our customer to handle all at once. We’ve surely overwhelmed our customer’s cognitive load. In this case, instead of making a purchase they’re more likely to respond with a question to understand the product offerings better, which just complicates the interaction.

How do we make it simple? Only offer one product at a time.

For Seattle Super Trivia, we will not sell our customer all of the things in one shot. We will engage our customer with the Free Five. Then once, we’ve determined it’s OK to surface an upsell, we’ll only offer one at a time.

Be relevant to be trusted

If you ask a salesperson, "When is the right moment to ask your customer if they want to buy something?" They’ll tell you that the best time is when your customer is most inclined to say "yes".

Let’s take a look at how we surface a relevant upsell at an opportune moment. While watching ask yourself:

  1. When we are making the upsell?
  2. What we are upselling?
  3. How many products are we upselling?
  4. Does the product we’re offering directly relate to the customer’s immediate context or interests?

Making an upsell at the right moment

She said yes to our upsell! Way to go! We were successful here because we make sure that our customer was interested in our content before we made the upsell. She’s now played the game 5 days in a row. We’ve earned her trust she knows what to expect from our game and enjoys playing it! There’s a high chance she may want more so we offered her a subscription to the High Five. We wouldn’t want to offer a hint in his case because she’s just completed the game and doesn’t need any so she’d be more inclined to turn it down and potential lose trust with the skill.

We also need to make sure that our upsells aren’t misleading, confusing, or disrupting.

Don’t Mislead, Confuse, or Disrupt Your Customer with an Upsell

As we discussed earlier in this course, our skill MUST include free content otherwise it won’t pass certification. This means we’ll have free and premium content mixed into the experience. You’ll need to make sure that your customers clearly understand which content is free and which is premium.

Let’s take a look at what happens when we pull a bait and switch. Ask yourself:

  1. Why did Alison get so upset?

Don’t bait and switch. Your customer won’t appreciate it

Ouch! We just surfaced an upsell as if it were content that she has access to. We’ve committed the worst violation of trust ever - a bait and switch! Remember that trust takes a long time to build, but can be shattered in an instant. We’ve also violated Judo! Alison had just completed the Free Five and wanted more! But we violated her trust and killed the energy by surfacing an upsell instead. Now we are at minimum efficiency and maximum effort.

When trust has been violated it’s often impossible to completely gain that trust back. Even if we make up for it, our customer will probably always fear that when they agree to an option, that we’ll try to upsell them again.

This is why we designed Seattle Super Trivia to not ask if they want to play another round after the Free Five unless they are a subscriber.

Don’t upsell too often… or too little

There’s a balance between making upsells too often or too little. We need to establish a balance so we don’t break trust.

We’ve listed our strategy for Seattle Super Trivia below:

  • Nothing is offered the first time.
  • We will offer up one of our add-on mega trivia packs once they’ve completed the Free Five.
  • We will offer a subscription to the High Five if they buy a pack or the player has played the game 5 times.
  • We will offer our hints if the customer has asked for a hint after using their free daily hint or says, "I don’t know" after using their daily free hint.

We still only offer one upsell at a time. If they’ve played the game 5 times we won’t offer the mega trivia pack in addition to a subscription. We will offer the subscription pack instead.

Now that we know where to surface our upsells, we need to take a step back and think about how we craft those upsell messages so we’re most likely to make a sale.