Five User Research Questions to Ask Before You Start Building Your Alexa Skill

Jesús Martín Dec 05, 2019
Tips & Tools Design Beginner

Editor’s Note: We have changed the name of the Alexa skill in our beginner tutorial from Cake Walk to Cake Time given the term’s racially insensitive history.


We all love to dream up new ideas for Alexa skills and start creating exciting new experiences for customers. Sadly, sometimes we end up spending time on features and interactions that don’t meet customer needs. 

In order to help create a skill that customers will love, I encourage developers to start each new development project with user research. This approach will help you understand your customers and their needs, and help you focus on the things that really matter to them. That way you’ll be designing solutions and interactions that really make a difference for your customers.

Don’t worry if you aren’t an expert on user research. In this post, I’ll walk you through the five questions I ask whenever I start a new development project. Together, they will help you better understand your customer and use case. Let’s dive in!

Question 1: What Is the Use Case That You Want to Solve?

Alexa skills have a wide variety of use cases, from life hacks to games to smart home. But no matter the use case, customers are coming to Alexa because they want to solve a problem. Whether it’s to remember to buy something in the store, to check if your team scored a goal, or to turn on the living room lights, everything starts with the customer´s need. 

The more you understand the problem, the better you’ll be able to create experiences and features to help customers achieve a goal. For instance, if you’re working on a yoga skill, try to understand why people do yoga in the first place, what their objectives are, and what their main goal is.

Once you’ve clearly outlined the problem your skill will solve, it'll be much easier to construct conversations around actions or features that support this goal.

Question 2: Who Is Your Main Customer?

Skills are open for everyone but each skill will have a target user that will get the most value from it. Understanding their unique needs is key to creating a conversation that addresses their needs.

For example, the following customers might benefit most from a yoga skill:

  • Yogi: An expert customer who’s well practiced or teaching yoga. Their main objective is to find new exercise routines from top experts.
  • Fitness enthusiast: A customer who regularly attends yoga classes and is capable of doing most poses. They need routines they can follow on a weekly basis and guidance on specific poses.
  • Beginner: A customer who’s interested in yoga but doesn’t regularly practice it. In addition to routines, they need strong motivators to keep a consistent practice. They’re also looking for something that can be easily adapted to their life.

Once you understand who your users are and their unique needs, you'll be able to craft better experiences for them.

Question 3: When and Where Will Customers Use Your Skill?

Every use case happens somewhere and at a specific time. Think about yoga classes. Are yoga practitioners willing to do the same exercises when they wake up in the morning as they are when they get home from work? Do they have the same goals in winter as in summer? Are there any yoga exercises they can be thinking about doing while they are driving or even on the bus?

You can’t plan for every possible scenario, but you must understand all the situations that really matter to your customers. Work on those different moments and create experiences that can be adapted to your customer’s needs. 

Question 4: How Do Your Users Normally Accomplish This Task?

Understanding how users accomplish their intended task without using Alexa will give you a better understanding of their expectations for the experience. We need to create interactions that are better than the current experience. 

For a yoga practitioner, classes normally last no less than half an hour, divided into warm-up, peak, and cool-down sections. The different poses must be specific and adapted to the practitioner’s expertise. Clear guidance on each pose is key to a successful training session. If your solution doesn’t take all that into account, it probably won’t meet your customer’s expectations.

Finding the answer to this question will help you focus on features that really matter for your customers, and stop spending time building features that won’t help them.

Question 5: Can You Meet the Customer’s Needs in a Conversational Way?

This is the final and definitive question, and takes into account all the previous ones. We need to make sure that everything that is expected from the customer can be done with a voice interface only. We also need to understand if a voice interaction is better than any existing solution in any context.

Imagine that you want to offer your customers the ability to personalize their yoga experience based on information such as age, height, and weight. Every time new customers want to use your skill, they will have to provide that information. Besides, that information could vary over time, and customers will need a way to modify it. Under those circumstances, is a voice interaction the best way to handle it? Because that experience can get a bit complex via voice, you might want to consider offering two different experiences: one that is short and sweet for customers that want to quickly get to their exercises, and another one for customers that want to provide feedback using a screen to personalize the training.


Doing research, answering these questions and finding the way to solve things in a conversational way will help you focus on what really matters and could save you days of work. 

Now that you’ve learned these basics on research we hope you’ll use this technique for the next skill you build. These questions will help you understand the use case you are working on, your users, their unique situation and their expectations with your interaction.

If you want to know more about starting a new project don’t forget to visit our Cake Time Training Course.