Alexa Custom Assistant UX: An interview between Mark Mattione, UX Designer, and Arianne Walker, Chief Evangelist, Alexa Auto

Arianne Walker Jun 24, 2021
Automotive Alexa Built-in


Alexa Custom Assistant is a solution that lets device makers and service providers create intelligent assistants tailored to their brand personality and customer needs. Alexa Custom Assistant is built directly on Alexa technology, providing companies access to world class, always-improving voice AI technology, customized with unique wake word, voice, skills, and capabilities. The brand’s assistant also seamlessly coexists and cooperates with Alexa, providing customers the benefits of an intelligent assistant that is their product and services expert, while Alexa provides the familiar experiences they already know and love.

Alexa Custom Assistant launched in January 2021 with Stellantis as the first automaker to announce plans to integrate the solution into future vehicle models. Since then, industry adoption momentum has continued, most recently with Continental and Elektrobit announcing the first in-vehicle integration of Alexa Custom Assistant. The joint solution will make its public debut on July 21 at Alexa Live, Amazon’s free virtual education event for the Alexa developer community, during the Multi-Agent Demo Session. Register here to attend the demo live at 10:55 am PT. To learn more about why Amazon believes working with device makers like auto is great for customers, check out this story.

Walker: Mark, you have been working on the user experience with the Alexa Custom Assistant specifically for use in vehicles. What were the key areas or factors you were looking at to make this experience great for customers?

Mattione: For our end-customers, the vehicle owners, I think the key is unlocking the benefit of multiple assistants (more features) while minimizing the complexity that it introduces (remembering which one to ask).

The car assistant is going to be my vehicle expert, helping me with climate control, navigation, and any questions about my car. Alexa meanwhile brings all the things we love about Alexa – streaming music, smart home connectivity, my kids’ favorite Pikachu noises, and more.

It’s great that I can have everything available via voice while I’m driving, but I’m probably going to occasionally ask the wrong assistant for things. I get my own kids’ names mixed up, so it’s inevitable that I will sometimes use the wrong wake word. In a traditional multi-assistant situation, I might find myself in a “dead end” for my mistake, where the car assistant tells me it has no idea what I mean by “Pikachu noises” and then I’d get a bit frustrated and have to try again with Alexa.

That’s where the seamless assistant cooperation comes in. With the Alexa Custom Assistant no matter who I ask, the two assistants are able to cooperate and get it handled for me! So if I ask Alexa when I need an oil change, Alexa hands it over to the car assistant who helps me.

Walker: You approached the user experience by doing actual user testing. Can you tell us more about that?

Mattione: Yes - it’s important to get an outside, real-customer perspective to gut-check that we’re building the right thing. With the help of our research team, we collected important feedback early on that showed us where we could improve. We used a mix of remote and in-person testing, with a prototype experience for people to react to.

Walker: What were the key findings from the user testing?

Mattione: In an early prototype, we weren’t doing a great job of explaining things, and folks came away confused – they thought that Amazon had made a second assistant just to make things more complicated. Based on this feedback, we tweaked the prototype to make it clear that each assistant comes from a distinct brand and has a distinct specialty, and that really helped.

We also learned a lot about that moment where one assistant hands off your request to another – early versions weren’t as well-received because users reacted to the specific wording we used when an assistant told the user it was handing off. We tested lots of different versions in order to find the experience that produced delight instead of frustration.

Walker: How did those findings result in what is now the Alexa Custom Assistant?

Mattione: We built all of those learnings into the product, so you get the smooth handoffs between assistants and we’re providing guidelines to automakers on how to educate customers upfront about the roles and capabilities of each assistant.

Walker: What benefits did people report with the experience of the two assistants?

Mattione: We heard appreciation for how they didn’t have to ask twice when they asked the wrong assistant. The one that makes me the happiest is when people say the two assistants are working together as a team for them. That means we’ve done our job. A lot of folks were also excited about the prospect of a built-in car assistant that they can speak to naturally like Alexa, and control things like the A/C, or ask questions about the car itself.

Walker: Can you speak briefly to how automotive suppliers and systems integrators are helping automakers bring this experience to their customers?

Mattione: Leading automotive suppliers and systems integrators such as Qualcomm and Garmin also recently announced the integration of Alexa Custom Assistant in their connected vehicle systems. Together, these companies are scaling OEM access to Alexa Custom Assistant by reducing the burden of long development times – enabling automakers to instead focus their time and resources on creating unique implementations and delightful customer experiences.

Walker: I know your focus has been on vehicles with Custom Assistant, but might we see this kind of thing outside the car as well?

Mattione: Certainly. There’s lots of brands interested in having their own voice assistant, and that extends beyond the car and into the home and anywhere else. In the spirit of the Voice Interoperability Initiative, we want to make sure those assistants can work together to make things easier for the customer. We’re already working with both automotive and non-automotive partners to bring their own custom assistants to life.

If you want to learn more about how to bring this great experience in to your vehicles, contact your Alexa account representative or join the Alexa Custom Assistant Interest List for more information.


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