Who would have thought a visually impaired customer would use an electronic assistant to describe what flowers look like?

Or that people would welcome that "tech wasn't designed for us" as if they were somehow different?

Yesterday I spent the day with our customers out on patch to see how they're getting on with Alexa.

It's an open test to see whether residents see a benefit in virtual assistants - or not. 

We're testing it in a shared space in a community for visually impaired customers. 

A customer meeting was held in the morning , so it was a fantastic opportunity to gain feedback from about the device and share thoughts.

Positioned pride of place in the centre of the communal area

Positioned pride of place in the centre of the communal area

I had lots of conversations throughout the day so just to pull out a few interesting findings;

  • Every customer said they like Alexa and were amazed about how receptive it was to their accents as well as the quality of sound.
  • When I asked what have they used Alexa for, customers frequently mentioned music but not to just listen to but so they can do a sing along as a group and ask for some classic songs to get older customers involved.
  • One customer who likes to create paper craft asks Alexa to describe what different flowers look like so that she can recreate them. 
  • Another customer loved the news headlines because she is never able to catch the time to make sure she has the TV on so really loved getting access to news whenever she wanted.
  • One of the younger customers at the scheme told me how he liked that Alexa wasn't designed 'for people like us' - he liked that he wasn't having to have something different to everyone else and that its a sign of good design that it works for him the same way.
  • All customers repeatedly asked me if they can keep it.

There were of course a few niggles;

  • Customers spoke of a problem with Wi-Fi which our colleague added was an issue for the entire scheme on one particular day so was rectified relatively quickly.
  • They noted that some songs they wanted didn't exist on Amazon music.
  • Unlike Amazon Music, Audible (audio books) didn't set up remotely and I had multiple issues with enabling it to play through Alexa. Resolution involved extensive use of the app and contacting Audible through their live chat function on the website - something which our customers may struggle with.
  • Although I have set that Alexa makes a sound when it recognises the 'wake word', customers asked for it to be louder or a more obvious sound. After exploring this, I was unable to find a solution.
  • One customer wanted Alexa to send messages - something which she uses Siri to do.
  • Other customers stated that away from the obvious functions like playing music they weren't sure what it can do. We went through a few different examples of skills based around customers interests. For example customers like to cook so we asked for different recipes to be played out so that they can further explore its functions.
  • Natural curiosity got the better of some who asked Alexa something inappropriate. This is a common reason tech is not supported by organisations who fear that people will search for porn etc. We've adopted a mature approach - these are adults and we need to accept that people will be curious about all aspects of technology. Admittedly when I first played with Alexa I wanted to see if I could make it swear.

So far the customers haven't gotten frustrated or bored with Alexa. They in fact want to embrace it more so we are very happy with how its going and look forward to what we find in the weeks to come.