Alexa: Answer Our Members’ and Attendees’ Questions.

Author: David McMillin

More users are using smart speakers at home. Get ready for those conversations to transform associations and conferences, too.

Walk into a home in America today, and there is a 20-percent chance that you’ll be able to talk to a smart speaker. In just two years, smart speaker market penetration has reached the 50-million mark. At digitalNow in Austin, Texas, Dan Scheeler, CAE, executive vice president of web and mobile solutions company Results Direct, put that adoption rate in perspective: It took Facebook three and a half years to amass the same number of users. Scheeler told a crowd of association executives that they can all expect to start talking with the voices behind those speakers in the near future. “Even if you’re not using smart speaker technology in your home of office,” he said, “it’s coming soon.”

When those speakers arrive, they’ll do more than help read the weather forecast or turn up the volume on your favorite song. Scheeler focused on Amazon’s Alexa, which currently owns approximately 70 percent of the smart speaker market, but he noted that other speakers such as Google Home or Apple HomePod will also play a role in the voice-activation revolution. “Alexa, how many members renewed last month?” he asked a device in the room. Alexa quickly responded with the knowledge that more than 500 members did, in fact, renew and what that translated to in terms of revenue.

“That’s data that we have in our association management systems, and it means we can ask questions about renewal rates, registration numbers for an annual meeting, and financial forecasts,” Scheeler said. “There’s a lot of potential to make our lives that much simpler.”

The Future of Certification Preparation?

In addition to simplifying an association leader’s life, smart speakers may be able to make a member, well, smarter. Consider Scheeler’s example of studying to earn the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential.

Alexa: “Okay, let’s study for the CAE exam. What does SWOT stand for?”

Association participant: “Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.”

Alexa: “You’re quite the brain.”

The test continued. Participants could ask for hints to questions. It all felt fairly natural, but Alexa did display some of the obvious flaws of voice recognition. For example, she failed to recognize some correct answers, potentially due to a human substituting “oh” for zero in 501(c)(6). Still, Scheeler’s test connected the dots between Alexa and an association’s biggest benefit: professional credentials.

“Maybe in the future, you can make Alexa’s skills available at a cost,” Scheeler said. “For members, it would be free. For non-members, they might pay a fee. It could be a monetization opportunity.”

A Voice-First Approach to Content Creation

Some associations are still grappling with a mobile-first mentality, but Scheeler said that it’s time to prioritize voice-focused content. “We might want to look at creating some new content,” he said. “That means we’ll need to write scripts in the way that people talk, not the way that people read or write. Voice is suited for shorter interactions. For example, if a member needs to find a fact or if you need to find registration data, voice can often do it much faster than typing or reading.”

Some associations are already experimenting with Alexa Skills. For example, the American Heart Association uses the technology to offer CPR assistance and warning signs of a stroke. Association Chat offers flash news briefings via Alexa. As Alexa gets smarter, it’s easy to see every organization in the association world building skills, too.

While the association industry is only beginning to tap the potential of smart speakers for their members, Scheeler pointed out that Alexa can play a role on a personal level, too. “Alexa, how much leave do I have available?” he asked.

“You have 192 hours available,” she responded. “You should really take a vacation.”

Wise advice. I think I’ll listen to Alexa, too.

Interested in exploring how to build skills for Alexa? Start with Alexa Blueprints. It’s as simple as creating a Mad Lib. If you want to build skills for public use, you’ll need to consult your IT team or connect with a developer to move on to the Alexa Skills Kit.

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