In September, Safeco, along with Liberty Mutual, announced that it had signed on as the first Amazon Alexa skill for insurance. For those unfamiliar with Alexa, it is the new technology powering Amazon’s Echo service, a hands-free device offering capabilities or “skills” such as playing music, answering questions, or controlling the lights or thermostat by simple voice commands.
In response to this announcement, we queried Sam Affolter, Safeco’s senior director of research and innovation, to find out more about this new insurance skill, how it differs from the Liberty Mutual skill, and how it can help agents. Read on to learn more….
Safeco has signed up with Amazon’s Alexa. What drew the company to this new technology?
We’re always thinking about innovating in ways that help independent agents compete to win and that includes providing them with modern tools and innovative services to adapt to consumer needs in a rapidly changing marketplace.
Gartner, Inc. has predicted that by 2018, a full 30% of our interactions with technology will be through “conversations” with smart machines. There’s so much opportunity within Natural Language Processing, or Virtual Assistants. Google has OK Google, Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana and Amazon has Alexa. Amazon was the first one to open source, which made it the easiest one for us to use.
Amazon Alexa is the voice service that powers Amazon Echo, the company’s line of hands-free speakers. Consumers simply speak and ask Alexa to perform a variety of tasks such as playing music, giving a traffic update or re-ordering paper towels. The range of things Alexa can do is continually expanding through the addition of voice-driven skills, such as ordering a pizza from Domino’s or requesting a ride from Uber.
Just as you can run an operating system on a phone or a tablet or a laptop, you can run Alexa on lots of different hardware. Because of Amazon’s open-source approach, you can run it on an expanding ecosystem of devices. I have a watch that runs it. Some day you might find it in cars.
There is so much potential with this technology and we wanted to start by helping consumers have a better understanding of insurance and making it easy for them to find a local independent agent. Gartner, Inc. has predicted that by 2018, a full 30% of our interactions with technology will be through “conversations” with smart machines” – Sam Affolter
Gartner, Inc. has predicted that by 2018, a full 30% of our interactions with technology will be through “conversations” with smart machines” – Sam Affolter
Can you explain what the “Insurance Advisor” skill is and what it isn’t? Why do think this is going to work?
Safeco’s Insurance Advisor is the first skill from an insurance carrier enabling consumers to navigate the insurance process simply by using their voice. Safeco Insurance Advisor is designed to help general consumers understand insurance better.
We’ve taught Alexa the answers to nearly 100 commonly asked questions and terms about insurance – and she responds to questions in a user-friendly way free of jargon. All you have to do is say “Alexa, ask Insurance Advisor what subrogation is,” and she tells you what subrogation is and provides an example of what it means. As a result, people who have very limited experience and exposure to insurance can start to understand what’s in their declaration pages and grasp what their claim representative is saying.
If the consumer is interested in getting insurance, instead of pulling out their phone or computer and searching for insurance, all they have to do is say: “ Alexa, ask Insurance Advisor to find me an agent”, or “tell Insurance Advisor I want an auto policy.” Alexa says, “Okay, what’s your ZIP code?” and provides the name of a Safeco-appointed agency in their area.
Alexa will then send the agency’s contact information the Alexa app on the consumer’s smartphone. Alexa will also send advice on how the user can review a list of other Safeco-appointed agencies through Find an Agent at Safeco.com.
How do Alexa customers choose between Safeco and Liberty Mutual?
The skills from Safeco and Liberty Mutual are different from one another. The Safeco “Insurance Advisor” skill for Alexa is available today and allows consumers to:
- Access an “insurance glossary” where they can learn about and familiarize themselves with insurance terminology.
- Find a nearby agent so they can get a quote on insurance.
- Contact an independent insurance agent to get answers to more difficult questions they might have about insurance.
The Liberty Mutual skill for Alexa will be available this fall and will allow consumers to obtain an auto insurance estimate by interacting with the Liberty Mutual “Guestimator” tool via voice.
Does Safeco see this as the new search engine of the future? What is the potential for independent agents (“IAs”)? What can or should Mass. agents do on their end to maximize this new skill for their benefit?
I think Alexa, and Natural Language Processing/Understanding (NLP) in general goes far beyond search. I think voice is one of the most intuitive forms of human communication and will be the Human/Computer user interface of the future. Speaking a question is so much simpler for most people than punching it out on a keypad. But it goes beyond this, because as chatbot functionality grows, current phone apps will become far less prominent. You won’t need to go to an app or webpage, or sit on the phone to pay a bill, instead you simply speak to your digital assistant and it does the legwork for you.
I really recommend IAs look at Amazon’s new Echo Dot coming out October 20th for $50. It can just sit on your desk and you can start asking Alexa questions. Because this is a consumer facing service, we have a landing page, Safeco.com/Alexa, that makes it easy to access and enable the skill.
The combination of Amazon Alexa and Safeco Insurance Advisor is a great conversation starter for IAs and shows consumers that they are on the cutting edge of how consumers want to interact. Our objective is to help people have a better understanding of insurance so that our agency partners can focus on having meaningful conversations with their customers that really add value.
As people begin using Safeco Insurance Advisor, we will learn what they are asking and the concerns they might have. We will share that knowledge with our agency partners so they can incorporate those insights into how they start conversations with customers or what they emphasize in their marketing.