It’s “Turn off the music” for me: the phrase Alexa always misunderstands. A phone call comes in, I tell her to turn off the music, and suddenly the volume goes up just as I’m swiping to answer the phone. A moment of chaos ensues as I scramble to turn down the volume manually while apologizing to my colleague on the other end of the line. During the snafu is a brief but embarrassingly visceral feeling of rage at this inanimate Amazon Echo ($34 at Amazon) speaker.
OK, it’s usually not that bad, but miscommunications with voice assistants can be an added pain during already stressful times. Luckily, I’ve picked up a few handy tricks over the years. Whether you’re new to using Alexa or a seasoned early adopter, making these changes will definitely smooth your interactions with your voice assistant.
The simplest, but possibly most useful advice I can give is to lean hard into “stop.” We naturally want to speak more casually with Alexa, asking her to turn off the music or the alarm, but often — especially when we’re a room away or we’re shouting over sounds from the Echo itself — just saying “Alexa, stop” is the most effective way of getting her to stop whatever she’s doing.
Edit your routines
This trick came from my colleague Ry Crist, who uses his Amazon Echo for more smart home control than I do: If you catch Alexa misunderstanding your commands, there’s a simple fix. Suppose you have smart lightbulbs in the hallway, but when you ask Alexa to turn them on, she says she doesn’t see any “holiday lights.” Instead of aggressively annunciating at her until she gets it right, go into the Alexa app, tap “More,” then “Routines.” From here, you can add a new routine that makes “Turn on the holiday lights” turn on your hallway lights. Problem solved.
Update your voice profile
Alexa might have asked you to create a voice profile when you set up your Amazon Echo for the first time, and if you’re anything like me, you might’ve skipped past it grumbling about extra steps. Well, it turns out going back to set up that voice profile — or adding one for yourself if you’re not the primary user on your Amazon Echo — can improve your communications with Alexa.
Not only do you get more personalized daily briefings (Alexa will skip stories you’ve already heard, for instance), but you also get more personalized third-party skill experiences. My wife and I use the 7-minute workout skill fairly regularly, for instance, but we’re at different fitness levels. So when we use the app, she wants a much more rigorous workout than I do. The easy solution? You guessed it: voice profiles.
Try out Alexa Blueprints
Alexa Blueprints are a little more involved to use than some of the other tricks above, but they also offer the most personalized experience with Alexa. Essentially, Blueprints let you program your own questions and answers into your smart assistant. That means babysitters can ask Alexa when bedtime is, rather than texting you in the middle of your date. Or if you’re an Airbnb host, your visitors can ask Alexa for recommended restaurants in the area or checkout times.
More complex Blueprints are available, too, if you want to make your own choose-your-own-adventure game or create a series of flashcards for studying. All you do is log into your Amazon account on the Blueprints webpage, build your programs, then try them out using Echo devices on your account.
Have you found your own tricks to make Alexa respond more effectively? Let me know in the comments.