How to Make Alexa Understand You Better

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Living in the future with an on-call voice assistant is great—except when she doesn’t understands your requests. Here are five simple things you can do to ensure that you spend more time enjoying Alexa and less time yelling at her for misunderstanding you.

When it comes to improving your Alexa experience, you should keep one big thing in mind: artificial intelligence is in its absolute infancy at the moment, and it helps to think of Alexa and similar voice assistants as literal infants. You have to train them, be patient, and even reward them when they get things right.

Train Alexa to Your Voice

Anyone can use Alexa without initial setup or voice training. As a result, you may not realize you can train Alexa to understand your voice better. If you haven’t done the voice training yet, you absolutely should. It’s simple, it only takes a few minutes, and it fine tunes Alexa to understand your specific speaking voice.

We detail the process, including how to conduct the training under optimum conditions, in our guide to voice training with Alexa here. If you live in a house with multiple people, have each of them do the voice training as well.

Tell Alexa Where You Are (and What You Like)

In addition to training Alexa to your voice, it helps to dive into the settings and fine tune things like your location, your preferences for sports teams and weather, your news preferences, and other settings.

By doing so, you help cut down the probability that the response Alexa gives to one of your commands is in error, as you’ve pre-set your preferences. That way, when Alexa is left trying to fill in the blank—be it your sports team of choice or the route you drive to work—is already filled in. You can read more about configuring these settings here.

Give Your Smart Home Devices More Distinct Names

If you use Alexa to control smart devices in your home—like Philips Hue lights or Belkin WeMo outlets—then have we got a frustration-busting tip for you. When naming your smart home devices, you probably named them with a naming convention that makes the most sense to the human brain—like “Bedroom Ceiling Light 1” and “Bedroom Nightstand Light 2”, all under a group “Bedroom Lights”. To a human, those names are perfectly sensible, but Alexa may have trouble distinguishing between them.

This is usually because the objects are too similarly-named—in this case, they all have the word “bedroom” and “light” in them. Instead of a smooth user experience when you say something like “Turn on the bedroom lights”, you may end up with the wrong “bedroom” labeled lights turning on, the entire bedroom turning on, or Alexa simply asking which lights you mean.

To avoid that problem, you simply need to give your individual rooms and zones clear names like “Bedroom”, “Living Room”, and “Upstairs”, and then give the devices themselves clear names that don’t overlap with any of the rooms or zones. So, instead of “Bedroom Ceiling Light 1”, you might name it “Bed Ceiling 1”. Instead of “Bedroom Nightstand Light 1”, you might use “Mary’s Lamp” or “John’s Lamp”—really, anything that doesn’t include the word “Bedroom”.

The end result is a much smoother experience that doesn’t leave Alexa scrambling to figure out which “Bedroom” device you’re talking about.

Be Clear and Specific

We’ll be the first to admit that we like using the shortest possible commands when talking to Alexa both because it’s low-effort and because it’s fun to see Alexa grow in her ability to parse out commands. But practically speaking, the more terse you are with Alexa, the greater the chance that whatever command you’re slinging at her will come back with an unsatisfactory result.

The more you say, the more Alexa has to work with. Whether you’re requesting news, a particular song (by a particular group), or you’re interacting with your smarthome devices, err on the side of being wordier—and thus more specific—for the best possible results.

Confirm When Alexa Gets It Right

Of all the things you can do to improve the Alexa experience, here’s the thing people probably do the least: tell Alexa when she’s right. This doesn’t just help you, either—it helps Echo users everywhere.

Every time you interact with Alexa, a companion “card” appears in the Alexa app on your mobile device, as well as on the web interface of your Alexa (located at http://alexa.amazon.com/ when you’re logged into your Amazon account).

On the card, you’ll find the response Alexa gave you (be it a direct answer or a service she activated for you), followed by a “Voice feedback” section that details exactly what Alexa heard you say. It’ll also include a Yes/No prompt, so you can confirm that Alexa did or did not do what you wanted. Whether you click Yes or No you’ll be thanked for your feedback and be given the opportunity to fill out a more detailed feedback response.

While you don’t need to fill out the detailed response (unless you feel the particular situation merits it) just popping into the control panel every once in awhile and confirming that Alexa is understanding (or not understanding) you helps improve the entire system.

A few of us have had problems with Alexa misunderstanding us in the past, and these five tips have made Alexa a much more accurate and helpful personal assistant.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.