How an Alexa Skills Developer delved into the psychology of cats and dogs to increase customer engagement and revenue

Staff Writer Apr 07, 2023
Alexa Skills

No one likes to leave their pet home alone, and pets don’t like it either.

Dogs and cats experience separation anxiety when their owners are away. Pet anxiety has become a widespread phenomenon following the increase in adoption of pets during the COVID-19 pandemic—1 in 5 U.S. households adopted a cat or dog. These pets who became accustomed to company all day, were suddenly left alone when people returned to the office.

Nidhi Agarwal, owner of Voice Games witnessed how this separation stressed both pets and their owners. After talking to a friend who would stream music for her dog for the 6–8 hours that she was at work each day, Nidhi built two Alexa skills: first, Comfort My Dog and, months later, Calm My Cat. These Alexa skills play music that helps furry friends feel more relaxed, calm, less anxious, and generally happier, and helps them to sleep more.

“I knew that if we made a skill for pets, it would be useful for pets and their owners,” said Nidhi. “Developers have to start with a clear idea of the problem that they are trying to solve or the value that they want to offer. Alexa skills should be designed to provide a useful, engaging experience, so it’s important to have a clear understanding of what the skill will do and how it will benefit users.”

Nidhi has recognized the importance of understanding customer needs since the founding of Voice Games in 2017. The first Alexa skill that Nidhi developed—with the help of friends, because she didn’t have a technology background—came from a desire to play family games without screens. 

“My 9-year-old and I played Would You Rather on his tablet, and I thought, What if we put this game on Alexa?” she said. “Moms always want less screen time.”

Today that first Alexa skill, Either Or, has over 6,000 four- and five-star reviews, and Voice Games has created many other family-friendly Alexa skills, including My Horoscope and Trivia Battle, enjoyed by millions of people.

To build Comfort My Dog followed by Calm My Cat, Nidhi first performed research to better understand her target audience.

Understanding Customer Needs to Build Successful Alexa Skills

Nidhi read research articles and veterinarian recommendations that said pets, especially dogs and cats, react positively to calming music, just like humans do. However, studies differed on which types of music were most soothing for pets. Nidhi found that dogs prefer 50–100 beats per minute, and cats respond well to a tempo of 120–160 beats per minute. These insights helped Nidhi realize that she had to create two separate Alexa skills for cats and dogs.

“Slower tempo and a simple arrangement of sound is more effective in reducing anxiety than any specific type of music,” said Nidhi. “We looked for or made sounds that are slow and not distracting, and decided to stay away from lyrics, and focus just on the music.”

After the Alexa skills were built, Nidhi asked her friends, family, and neighbors with dogs or cats to volunteer to test the sound for a few weeks and note their pets’ responses. “We always experiment with a small set of people and make some improvements based on what they say,” said Nidhi. “As you develop your skill, make sure to test it early and often to ensure that it is functioning as intended.”

The positive feedback that Nidhi received during the testing period is reflected in the positive reviews for her Alexa skills. The Alexa skills are recommended by veterinarians and used in shelters to calm anxious pets.

One review of Calm My Cat says, “I was amazed to see 2 minutes of this took my 5-month-old rescue kitten out of her hyper-zoomies, down to a nap on the side with purrs. I now use it for any potential separation anxiety with her, and I seriously can’t recommend it enough. I send a huge thank you to the development team!”

review of Comfort My Dog says, “I have a 10-year-old chihuahua named Milo. I just adopted him. He’s very nervous and afraid of almost everything and everyone. I play this at night to help him fall asleep and when there’s a thunderstorm. It works like a charm. He’s usually asleep pretty quick. We both give it five stars!”

To improve the customer experience, Nidhi recommends developers make voice interactions clear and concise and take advantage of Alexa’s screen capabilities—using Alexa Presentation Language, a programming language—to build a strong visual experience.

Growing revenue with Alexa

For Nidhi, using Alexa skills was key to monetizing and building a sustainable business. Comfort My Dog and Calm My Cat are simple to monetize as Alexa skills because they are user-friendly options that customers can’t find elsewhere.

“Alexa was an optimal fit to play music for pets because there are no ads, unlike on YouTube,” said Nidhi. “The pet owners can turn music on and off, even when they are not home, using the Alexa app. Pets get undisturbed music all day.”

Nidhi turned to In-skill purchasing (ISP) to monetize her skills. ISP enables developers to sell premium content. Buying these products in a skill is seamless to a user. They might ask to shop products, buy products by name, or agree to purchase suggestions that you make during their skill session. Customers pay for products by using the secure payment options associated with their Amazon account.

Voice Games uses a subscription model for in-skill purchases. For example, for the Comfort My Dog, the Premium version allows customers to treat their dogs to an enhanced calming experience with features like premium sound quality, enhanced looping and unlimited hours of music.

“We weren’t sure how people would react to paying for something they’ve had for free, but the feedback was positive,” said Nidhi. “Pet owners use the Alexa skills for at least eight hours a day when they’re not home or at night when their pets should sleep.”

Pet owners find so much value in the Alexa skills that they’re willing to pay for a subscription to play high-quality sound and unlimited hours of music without any disruption.”

ISPs have proven to be lucrative for Voice Games. Today, the team has grown from a sole proprietor to an organization with a group of employees.

“Streaming high-quality music for pets is expensive,” said Nidhi. “I’m thankful that Amazon has in-skill purchases because they allow developers to charge money for providing a good experience. It’s a win-win for us and for pet owners.”

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