Most LME readers surely know by now that I also write Alexa skills. Sometimes we developers miss the mark in our Alexa skills, and take it on the chin in the form of negative, but fair reviews.
But all too often, our skills are unfairly slammed with negative reviews that are based on factors completely outside our control. We are begging you: please, stop and think about that before you post negative Alexa skill reviews.
The Five Most Dreaded Alexa Skill Reviewers: Don’t Be THAT Guy
Again, I want to stress that I understand many negative skill reviews are deserved, and necessary to help other consumers understand problems they may experience with the skill. I am not saying all skills deserve a pass, or that I think it’s wrong to post negative reviews at all. Definitely not.
I am only addressing unfair reviews here, and they generally come from one of five types of reviewers.
1. Got an apple, angry it’s not an orange.
This type of review is illustrated by today’s meme. Developers are required to write accurate descriptions of their skills, and most of us spend a lot of time crafting that text to clearly explain what the skill does and how it works. Unfortunately, it seems many consumers aren’t bothering to read those descriptions and then end up disappointed because the skill doesn’t do what they expected.
For example, there might be a ‘What’s For Dinner’ type of recipe card skill that offers a library of dinner entree recipes, and the skill description explicitly says the skill offers “dinner entree recipes”. Even if the entree recipes are fantastic and the skill does a terrific job of delivering them, the skill can rack up 1-star reviews from users who didn’t read the description and assumed it would also include salad and dessert recipes.
The skill can be doing exactly what it was designed to do, and doing it well, yet still end up with a very low average review rating.
2. Believes there are only two kinds of skills in the world: one-star and five-star.
One of my own skills has a one-star review posted under a headline that says the skill is “enjoyable”. The review itself goes on to reiterate that the skill is enjoyable, but that the reviewer feels “something is missing”. The reviewer doesn’t specify what the “something” might be, or give any other feedback or opinion to explain the one star review.
Granted, it’s fair to think I’m biased because this is my skill we’re talking about. But to my mind, an ‘enjoyable’ skill that the user feels could be even better if something were added gets a three star review at worst: it’s okay, it’s not great, it could be better. Three stars seems fair here. To all the people who won’t actually read the reviews and will only look at the skill’s average review rating, my skill doesn’t look like something users find ‘enjoyable’ at all.
3. Doesn’t understand how the Alexa service works, blames the skill when there’s a problem with the network, WiFi, a connected speaker, or the Alexa device or service.
The most common example of this is when the user has trouble launching or interacting with the skill because Alexa isn’t hearing them clearly enough, or isn’t hearing them at all: the dreaded “couldn’t get it to launch, one star,” review.
This situation is an issue with device placement, user speech, the network, or Alexa service: not the skill. Often the reviewer will even say right in the review that Alexa generally isn’t responsive enough, whether they’re trying to use a skill or not.
Sometimes the reviewer will think the skill is the cause of problems with the Alexa service or their network or WiFi (e.g., “I used this skill and my Echo stopped giving weather reports for the rest of the day”), but that’s just not possible. Skills only interact with the main Alexa service in a limited and highly controlled way. There’s a handful of native Alexa commands developers can use in their skills (like Stop, Play, Continue, etc.), but other than that the Alexa service just acts like a traffic cop for information being sent back and forth from the Alexa service to the skill and vice-versa.
If something changed with Alexa functionality after using a skill, it’s purely coincidental. Alexa can shut down a skill, but no skill can shut down Alexa or any part of Alexa service functionality.
4. Doesn’t understand that requesting skills is like launching apps on a mobile device, complains about having to remember the skill name.
Many consumers use the skill review space to complain about what a hassle it is, having to remember the name of each skill in order to launch them.
The thing is, Alexa cannot read your mind. There are over 20,000 skills currently available in Amazon’s US skill store, and the only way Alexa knows which skill you want is for you to request it by name. This is the voice-only equivalent of tapping an icon on the screen of your phone or tablet. The icon you tap tells the device which app to open. In the Alexa voice interaction world, you have to use spoken words to select the “app” you want Alexa to open.
5. Uses the skill review space to complain about the hardware, Alexa limitations in general, a device shipping issue, or something else having nothing at all to do with the skill itself.
Negative skill reviews are very effective at doing what they are meant to do: convince other consumers not to take a chance on the product or service being reviewed. Many who are browsing the skill store, especially on the smaller screens of mobile devices, will not bother clicking through to read the text of reviews. They’ll base their decisions on average review ratings.
So the skill that does exactly what it’s meant to do and does it very well can still end up with an average one out of five star rating just because one irresponsible reviewer decided to use the review space to complain that it took too long for their Echo Dot to ship, that the Echo Show screen is too reflective, or that the Alexa mobile app needs improvement, and other consumers weren’t willing to try the skill for themselves based on that one star review.
Not only does such a review unfairly hurt the skill developer, it doesn’t alert Amazon to what may be totally legitimate complaints. The place for that kind of feedback is the Help & Feedback form in the Alexa app or via the Help pages on the Amazon site.
Thanks for hearing us developers out. We are trying very hard to bring you enjoyable and helpful skills. Since skills are free we’re not getting paid to write them, so for many of us your reviews are our only reward.