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How to customize Alexa's responses to Routines

Amaze your kids! Make your friends laugh! Help out an older relative! In this quick tutorial, we'll show you how fun and helpful Alexa can be.
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Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer on

If you're reading this article, chances are you're going to have at least one conversation with a digital assistant today. Whether it's Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa, many of us have come to rely on these voice-activated AIs so much they almost feel like a part of the family. In the case of Alexa, that kinship is helped along by how conversational and customizable Amazon has made the voice behind its Echo smart speakers and displays. 

Not only can you use your Echo to answer questions, control your smart home devices, and master your media playback, but you can combine all of these tasks and more into Routines. These multi-step, programmable actions can be created using a massive number of variable in Amazon's Alexa app. Today, we'll be focusing on the final step of running a routine: how Alexa responds to you. 

More: How to change Alexa's voice

Sure, you can just let her give her standard "Ok" response, but that's boring. Instead, why not create a response like the one I use for my Solar Flare Routine? This hyperbolic-sounding command turns up all of the lights around my desk to max brightness for when I need to do detailed work. But the best part is when Alexa says "Shade thine eyes!" every time I run it. Want to know how to pull off some equally nerdy tricks? Read on.

How to change Alexa's response to routines

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ZDNet
  • Materials needed: A smartphone with the Alexa app installed, any Echo smart speaker or smart display
  • Estimated time: 1-2 minutes

Step 1: Open the Alexa app and create a new routine, or edit an existing one

Either create a new routine (by tapping the + at the top right of the Routines page) or open one of your existing routines. In both cases, you'll need to tap on the last of the three primary options: Add Action. This section allows you to add smart home functions, briefings, communications actions, media controls, and much more. Most important, it's also the section where you can control how Alexa responds when you run the Routine you're editing. 

Two examples of the "Add Action" button in the Alexa app's Routines interface

Whether you're creating a new routine from scratch (above - left) or you're editing an existing one (above - right), you'll need to tap the "Add Action" button to get started

Michael Garirffo

Step 2: Open the Alexa Says menu

Within this section, you'll need to find the option named Alexa Says. This controls what Amazon's digital assistant will say each and every time you run this routine, usually from whatever smart speaker or smart display you're speaking to. 

The "Add New" menu in the Alexa app with "Alexa Says" highlighted

"Alexa Says" is where the digital assistant's responses live

Michael Gariffo

Step 3: Choose your response phrase

Within this menu, you'll be able to choose from a wide selection of premade responses Alexa can give anytime you activate a Routine. These range from simple options like "Good morning" or "Good night" to having Alexa tell you a joke or a fun fact to welcoming you home at the end of a long day. There's also a section called "Phrases" (seen above), where you can find more event-specific options for each of the aforementioned scenarios as well as for occasions like birthdays. Any of these are available for any Routine you'd like to create or edit.

The Alexa Says menu in the Alexa app with response options

The menu includes a slew of pre-programmed options and phrases

Michael Gariffo

Step 3a (optional): Create your own response

If none of the pre-made responses suit your needs or if you just want to get creative or prank your family and friends, you may want to customize your own response. To do this, simply tap the Customized option on the Alexa Says screen and type in what you'd like Alexa to say in response. Your response can be any phrase up to 250 characters. If you're wondering (let's be real, you are wondering), you can't make Alexa curse. Any profanities you use will be bleeped out. Aside from the character cap and self-censorship, the only limit is your creativity. 

The Alexa Says menu's "Customized" interface

This is where you can get really creative

Michael Gariffo

Step 4: Confirm your chosen response and save your Routine

Once you've entered your chosen response and hit the Next button, you'll see the Confirm screen shown above. This will give you one last look at exactly what Alexa will say before adding the response to your Routine. If you'd like to change something about it, you can go back using the < in the top left of the display. If you're happy with it, tap Next (circled in red) to return to the main page of the Routine you're editing. Once you're there, just remember to hit Save (on the top-right of the display) if you were creating a new routine, or hit the < (if you were editing an existing routine) before exiting the app. Doing this saves your new response to the Routine.
Note: it sometimes takes up to a minute before any new Routines or edited Routines will play correctly from your Echo smart speakers and displays.

Confirm screen for Alexa's response change process

At the end of the process, you'll see this "Confirm" screen telling you exactly what Alexa will say

Michael Gariffo

FAQs

Can I create a Routine with no other actions and still get a response?

Yes. All you need to create a Routine is a name, a trigger event (time of day, you asking a specific question, etc.), and at least one action, even if that action is just a verbal response from Alexa. This is particularly handy when you're mainly interested in having Alexa say something important, like in the scenarios mentioned in our next FAQ entry.

What are some good ways to use customized responses?

Many customized responses to Routines are just something to make Alexa feel a little bit more human. But there are plenty of more practical applications where a customized response can actually be downright useful, or at least entertaining. Here are just a few: 

Have Alexa recite your Wi-Fi password - This one can be handy if you frequently have guests over for a few days and they keep hounding you to remind them of the password. Just set up a routine with your password as a customized response. Alexa can easily recite individual letters and numbers, but you'll have to type out the names of special characters (exclamation points and ampersands, for instance). Of course, be careful with this one. Don't use it outside your home, or when someone you wouldn't trust with access to your network is present.

Amaze your kids, or anyone else, with a personalized response - Kids usually love chatting with Alexa. We've all seen viral videos of youngsters being amazed when the little cylinder lights up and talks back. Imagine how shocked they'll be if Alexa gives them a truly personalized response. Just tell them to ask your Echo device whatever question you've set up to trigger the routine and have Alexa reply with a customized response that's tailored specifically for them. You can even include their name. This works equally well if you'd like to prank your friends or relatives by setting it up for one of their existing, commonly used request.

Provide a bit of basic tech support to an elderly relative - Many of you reading this are likely the first call your parents or grandparents make when that dang TV is just showing static or their smartphone suddenly stopped ringing when a call comes in. If there's a particular question you keep getting asked over and over again, turn it into a routine. Just let them know they can ask Alexa next time and set up her reply with something like, "Press the Input button on the remote and choose HDMI 1" or "Check to see if the little switch on the top left of your phone is showing an orange dot. If so, flip it the other way" Alexa won't complain, no matter how many times they ask.

Can I have Alexa reply from a different device?

Generally, no. Whichever Alexa-enabled device you issue the trigger query to will be the one she responds from. However, this is one way to have her play her responses via another device: use the Alexa app and manually activate the routine. 

If you open the Your Routines section of the Alexa app, you'll notice each routine has a circular, blue play icon to the right of it. Tapping that on any Routine with a response included in it will pop up a window asking which device you'd like the response to play from. You can tap any available device and Alexa's pre-programmed response will play through it.

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