Steven Arkonovich Adds In-Skill Purchasing to Personalize Alexa Skills and Boost His Voice Business
Jennifer King Nov 13, 2018
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When philosophy and ethics professor Steven Arkonovich first experienced voice technology, he never imagined he’d create one of CNET's seven “must-have” Alexa skills. With over 60,000 active monthly users, that skill—Big Sky—has earned the Alexa Champion both income and publicity. But when in-skill purchasing became available, he saw the opportunity to build a sustainable revenue stream by selling  premium, personalized content to customers.

“Allowing users to customize their experience fits so naturally with what people expect from voice technology,” says Arkonovich. “Being able to monetize such features gives developers even more incentive to take their skills and their business to the next level.”

His Big Sky skill provides “better weather for Alexa,” according to Arkonovich, delivering personalized weather information with just the amount of detail the customer asks for. With in-skill purchasing, Arkonovich saw an opportunity to offer a monthly subscription that unlocks premium features to let customers personalize their experience even further. And the customer response to the subscription has been positive—50% of Big Sky customers opt to purchase the premium experience when offered. In the week after the CNET article recommended Big Sky, Arkonovich’s week-over-week subscriptions jumped by 486%.

“The success I’ve had so far in offering my customers premium features and content via in-skill purchasing has renewed my motivation to make the very best product I can,” says Arkonovich. “I can now see myself turning my passion for building Alexa skills into a real business.”

Premium Content Makes a Popular Skill Even Better Through Personalization

Arkonovich first created Big Sky because he didn’t want to listen to an entire weather report just to hear a specific bit of information. His idea was to let each customer decide whether they want to hear a detailed report or just the current temperature, humidity, chance of precipitation, and so on. He also allows the customer to personalize their default location, report type (detailed or basic), units of measure, and more, which further customizes their weather experience to their own taste.

“What makes the skill so engaging is that the customer doesn’t get a one-size-fits-all canned response every time they use it,” says Arkonovich. “They’re in the driver’s seat and can choose exactly which information they hear, making the experience very personal.”

This high level of personalization led to Big Sky becoming one of the most popular weather skills in the Alexa Skills Store—and significant payouts from the Alexa Developer Rewards program, which rewards developers based on their skill engagement.

“When Big Sky started bringing in developer rewards, I began thinking of starting a voice business of my own,” says Arkonovich. “But in-skill purchasing puts more control in my own hands to create a very predictable, sustainable income.”

Big Sky’s popular features inspired Arkonovich to offer additional personalization as a premium experience via an in-skill purchase. With the basic experience, the user can get a weather report for their default location. Customers opting to purchase the monthly subscription can set up additional addresses, each with its own nickname, such as “Mom’s House” or “The Beach.” That way, customers can ask Alexa for weather information at their favorite locations, without having to spell out the whole address.

The subscription also unlocks a number of other premium features, including customized weather alerts. Severe weather alerts are available in the basic experience, but subscribers can enable five different kinds of weather alerts and set the time of day they want to hear each one. And Arkonovich is planning to add new features, like radar imagery, to the subscription regularly.

Arkonovich reports that customer feedback on the new premium features has been positive, pointing out that 70% of Big Sky reviewers in the Alexa Skills Store awarded the skill five stars.

“Personalizing the experience was always key to Big Sky’s success,” says Arkonovich. “Unlocking even more personalized content via the premium purchase adds substantial value to the skill, and customers are more than happy to buy it.”

Making the Right Offer to the Right Customer at the Right Time

Arkonovich says that getting customers to purchase your in-skill product requires delivering the right upsell message at the right time.

“The strength of voice is that it is a very personal experience,” says Arkonovich. “Just as personalizing the experience to each user sets your skill apart from the rest, tailoring your upsell message and its timing to what your customer is looking for at that very moment is key to higher conversion rates.”

For example, Arkonovich makes customers aware of his premium features right from the beginning. To enable Big Sky, customers complete account linking in the Alexa app, which is where they also set up their personal preferences. Alongside the standard user preferences, Arkonovich describes the benefits of the premium features and invites customers to enjoy a free seven-day trial. In preparation for the trial, customers are encouraged to enter the nicknames and addresses of one or more “favorite places” to be used in the premium experience.

Customers receive different upsell messages at different times, based on their engagement with the skill. For example, entering “favorite places” during setup indicates an interest in the premium features from the beginning. When the customer next invokes the skill, Alexa immediately describes the free trial, subscription period, cost, and cancellation terms, and then asks customers if they want to sign up. For customers who haven’t entered their “favorite places,” Alexa waits until after they’ve used Big Sky a while before offering the premium version. By presenting the right offer message at just the right time, Arkonovich reports that 50% of people who are offered convert to premium subscribers.

In-Skill Purchasing Expands the Possibilities for Developers

For now, Arkonovich is focused on making Big Sky the best weather skill he can and continuing to innovate his premium content and offers, knowing that he is now building a sustainable voice business.

“The Alexa team is always innovating to help developers build great experiences and their voice business,” says Arkonovich. “Building Alexa skills may take up a lot of my free time, but it’s something that I really enjoy doing. With capabilities like in-skill purchasing, I’m excited to see just how far I can take my voice business.”

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