AlexaDev Tuesday: Top Alexa Skill User Complaints

Publication Date: 6/5/17 – Since LME is a consumer-oriented site I’m in touch with a lot of consumers every week, and this gives me some added insight when it comes to skill development. With that in mind, today I’m sharing the top Alexa skill user complaints I hear over and over.


Complaint Department


Certain design features or limitations in Alexa skills are consistently disliked, which leads to skill disengagement and bad reviews. Granted, not all user complaints are reasonable. But if you can anticipate user complaints and address them pre-emptively, you’ll be setting your skill up for success.


1. Don’t make them repeat the intro steps every time.
Users hate it when, after they’ve already begun using a skill and understand exactly how it works, they are still forced to sit through a lengthy, informative Welcome message. Similarly, in a game skill they hate having to start all over from the beginning every time they play the skill. It’s equivalent to playing a videogame that never saves your progress: if you don’t play it all the way through, you’ll have to start over at the beginning next time.

Keep Welcome messages succinct, and save your more detailed Help information for the skill’s Help response. With games, design your code such that it’s possible for the user to access different stages or levels of the game directly. For example, in my Picross: Critters skill there are 10 puzzles available. I wrote each one as a subroutine in the code with separate Utterances for each, so when the user starts the skill they can request the the puzzle they want to play by number—they don’t have to start all over with puzzle number 1 every time they play.

If your skill lends itself to one-shot invocation—where the user can launch the skill and start interacting with it in a single command, without listening to the Welcome response—be sure to include that option among your Utterances.


2. Randomize wherever possible, to keep things interesting.
Users don’t like it when the experience the skill offers becomes less interesting or fun with every use. It’s not always practical or possible to avoid having Alexa give the same response to certain user utterances during your skill’s interaction, but it’s often pretty easy to introduce some unpredictability (and replay value, for game skills) into your skill through randomization.

In a workout skill, write your code such that it selects exercises to be done randomly, and/or lists them in random order. In a trivia skill, randomize the order of questions. In a choose your own adventure skill, have multiple audio sound effects files available to play for each action that fires an associated sound effect, and choose the sound file randomly. You get the idea.


3. Provide a Help file that’s clear, brief and conversational.
Users understand that some skills need to be explained in more detail than a Welcome message can provide, but that doesn’t mean they want to sit through a lengthy, dry, boring Help response.

When writing your Help response, try to think in terms of how you would explain your skill to a friend or family member who asked about it. Be sure to include the most critical information, but don’t get so caught up in being thorough that you wind up including information that’s self-explanatory, or that will become apparent right away during skill use. You must provide the minimum information the user needs to understand how to interact with your skill, but beyond that try to stay aware of how long your Help response is getting.


4. Include custom, friendly, plain English error responses.
Users get very annoyed when something goes wrong in a skill and Alexa spits out the default error message of, “I’m sorry, something went wrong.” You may not be able to tell them in any real detail exactly what went wrong, but users want to believe the developer has thoroughly tested the skill and anticipated all the most likely problem areas. Hearing a default error message makes it appear to the user that the developer phoned it in.

Beyond that, users greatly enjoy the illusion of Alexa as a thinking, genuinely responsive being and hearing a default error message destroys that illusion.


Try to anticipate the pain points in your skill, and address them all to the extent you reasonably can. There will always be cases of user error and misunderstanding, but the more annoyances you can remove before your skill ever gets to the user, the better.