An Alexa Skill Will Change Your Flat Tire as Urgently Shows New Path to Voice Commerce and Roadside Assistance

Urgently has released a new Alexa skill the enables stranded motorists to ask Alexa for help with a flat tire. After answering a few questions about their flat tire and where they are stranded, the Alexa skill will dispatch roadside assistance from the Urgently Nationwide Network of 75,000 service providers in the U.S. There is no need for an account, account linking, or entering your credit card for service. Nor is there a mobile app. Users simply enable the Urgent.ly Alexa skill, accept the permissions for the app use, and say “Alexa, open Urgently.” After a service provider is requested to change the tire, the user can also ask Alexa for status on the expected time of arrival.

The service today is limited to flat tire assistance, but Chris Spanos, CEO for Urgently, says that the company intends to add other commonly requested roadside services such as towing, jump start, lockouts, and even drivers that have run out of gas. Spanos said in an interview with Voicebot:

“We are big believers in voice and that in-car is going to be a big contributor in terms of access points. At some point in the future, we are not going to remember a time when we didn’t speak to our vehicles or to apps like Alexa. This is the first of many things to come.”

Spanos said that the company was initially contacted by the Alexa Auto team about creating a skill for motorists. The current skill doesn’t integrate with Alexa Auto in the dashboard and is accessed while on-the-go through the Alexa mobile app. However, he indicated that the company expects to expand Urgently’s availability and capabilities on Alexa and likely other voice assistants over time.

Voice Commerce on the Highway

All payment is executed using Amazon Pay linked to the user’s Amazon.com account so there is no need to enter credit card information or have cash ready when the service provider arrives. Matt Booth, Urgently’s chief strategy officer, emphasized the on-demand design of the new Alexa skill:

“Any consumer that enables the skill can use the service in an on-demand fashion today using Amazon Pay. You don’t have to pull out a credit card. You enable the skill in your Alexa account. When they have a need in the future, the simply say, ‘Alexa open Urgently Roadside Assistant.'”

The future of voice commerce is a hotly debated topic among industry watchers. Optimists emphasize the convenience of voice for executing transactions while the more pessimistic observers suggest that commerce requires a screen and voice will only complement existing visual shopping experiences.

However, Urgently is demonstrating a voice commerce solution that is friction free and well suited to a voice-only interaction. The solution does enable a visual complement for seeing the status of the service provider which is shared via a text message link. That information can also be accessed with voice alone and status is provided after the transaction has already been completed.

A tire change is a service that a user doesn’t need to see to understand what they will receive for their purchase. With that said, a user may want to understand other factors such as cost, time, and quality. The first two elements can be easily communicated through a voice interaction while quality is addressed by the user’s trust in Urgently as the dispatcher of roadside assistance. This may in fact be more information than you would normally have access to when calling for help with a flat tire. Urgently is a national provider of roadside assistance with an incentive for good service because of the desire for repeat customers and positive word-of-mouth referrals. Local service providers often have far less incentive to provide top-level customer service because they are unlikely to encounter the motorists again.

Look, Mom! No Mobile App.

Another interesting aspect of Urgently’s solution is that the company does not have a mobile app. It does have a solution for tracking service provider status using mobile web, but the company has for several years focused on providing services through automotive OEMs. There was no need for a mobile app because the automakers have apps, there are opportunities for dashboard integration, and drivers can always place a phone call. In the move to directly help consumers on-demand, the standard approach would be to launch a mobile app, as Urgently had prior to 2016. However, today companies have a different option. They can launch a voice app and bypass the mobile app requirement.

With that said, there are some mobile app-like qualities of the Urgently solution. When you enable the Alexa skill there are several permissions requested. These include Amazon Pay, Location Services, Device Address, First Name, and Mobile Number. Each of these permissions with the exception of Device Address would seem to be required to execute a roadside assistance service.

You could be proactive and enable the Urgently Alexa skill ahead of a roadside service need, but you also can simply enable the skill at your time of need and then request assistance. After you enable the Urgently Alexa skill if you say, “Alexa, I need roadside assistance,” Alexa will respond that you have Urgently enabled and ask if you would like to open it. That means you don’t even need to remember the company name to quickly find the skill.

However, if you do not have the skill enabled, Alexa will likely respond to the request above by adding roadside assistance to your shopping list as it did for me today. Alexa has an opportunity to become much more helpful by surfacing these solutions based on user intent. The next time you are stranded with a flat tire, Alexa may just be the fastest way to get it fixed, if she knows to route your request to Urgently as opposed to your shopping list.

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