San Francisco, CA –

Earlier this month, WebMD announced that they were working with Amazon to more easily connect their vast library of physician-reviewed information on conditions, drugs, symptoms, and treatments to the growing number of people that are using Amazon’s Alexa service. After enabling their device to use this new “skill,” users can just start telling Alexa to ask WebMD. Some examples from their rest release:

“Alexa, ask WebMD to tell me about type 2 diabetes.”

“Alexa, ask WebMD to tell me about amoxicillin.”

“Alexa, ask WebMD what is an echocardiogram.”

“Alexa, ask WebMD what are the symptoms of a heart attack.”

“Alexa, ask WebMD how to treat a sore throat.”

“Alexa, ask WebMD what I can eat after a workout.”

Sounds great, but the experience is far from perfect. This article from Greg Sterling describes some of the issues that he had while running some personal tests. The biggest—it was unable to recognize prescription and generic drug names, even after repeated, slow attempts. He isn’t alone in his experience. The customer review section of the WebMD Amazon page is starting to fill with reviews that describe the same issue.

Interestingly, Greg performed the same set of drug and side effect questions with Google home, and it went much more smoothly. He speculates that Google’s vast index, speech recognition capabilities, and strong content partnerships with doctors, medical illustrators, and even the Mayo clinic. These results align with some of larger voice search studies that have compared the two services. Time will tell if the WebMD Alexa “skill” works out its initial kinks, or if this launch was a bit too ambitious. Both Amazon and WebMD put their reputation on the line (to some extent) when they set customers expectations and then fail to deliver.

Why this matters:

As described in numerous publications (including our 2017 Digital Trends Report), voice is powering a massive shift in how we engage with content. We are at a critical point where this technology to poised to move past the novelty use cases (think turning on the lights, playing a song, and changing the thermostat) and become more of an integrated part of how we search for content of all types—including health and drug information. In this area, probably more so than in other categories, accuracy and efficiency will be critical. Right now, customer expectations surrounding this exciting new tech is very high. It is important that brands looking to move forward in this space are thinking about tools that align to where the technology realistically stands in terms of utility and usability. The brands that set themselves up for success and plan for solutions that evolve with the tech—and appropriately manage customer expectations—will be the true leaders in this emerging area,

About the Author:

Jeffrey Giermek