Andrew Lo, CEO of Kanetix.ca
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Consumers embrace voice assistants at CES 2018

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) highlighted how voice assistants will be showing up in more and more homes in 2018.

It all started two years ago, when Amazon began shipping its Echo smart speaker with its voice assistant, Alexa. Google soon followed with its version of the smart speaker, Google Home, in December 2016.

After gaining millions of users south of the border, both are now available in Canada. Amazon finally made the Echo available to Canadians in December 2017—but not before Google beat them to it months earlier in July of last year.

For the past two years at CES, the conversation has been dominated by Amazon as technology makers showcase their products working with Alexa. This year, however, Google came to CES in full force to go head-to-head with Amazon.

Insurance brokers need to pay attention to the smart speaker trend. According to Steve Koenig, senior research director at the Consumer Technology Association, voice assistants like the smart speaker will become the fourth sales and service channel. The other three channels are digital, mobile and retail, all of which are well established norms—and it likely won’t be long until smart speakers are too.

Considering how affordable smart speakers are, it’s easy to see why many Canadians will be tempted to have one. In fact, the smart speaker is the fastest growing consumer gadget category, according to a recent study from Canalys, growing faster than augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) gadgets, as well as wearables.

Smart speaker shipments are expected to top 56 million units in 2018, according to Canalys. Another study, this one by Park Associates, shows that 10% of American broadband subscribers have already adopted smart speakers in their homes.

Technology makers have begun integrating Alexa and Google Assistant deep into their operating systems. LG recently announced that its 4K televisions will come with Google Assistant built-in. Samsung, on the other hand, is building its own voice assistant, called Bixby, that will be integrated into its TVs, refrigerators, and even its robot vacuums.

Smart assistants will also be built into your car. Toyota and Lexus announced that Alexa will come built-in to their infotainment and navigation systems. Last but not least, Alexa is making its way into bathrooms, as part of Kohler’s Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror. Not only does it provide all the functionality of Alexa in your bathroom, its voice-controlled light-dimming system is designed to give you a better grooming experience.

The ubiquity of smart assistants could really fire up consumer desire to buy more Internet of Things (IoT) devices to make everything in their homes compatible with a voice assistant. Demand for devices such as smart plugs and smart thermostats has risen as smart speaker adoption has also grown.

According to a recent study by ComScore and Statista, the owners of smart speakers in the U.S. are 2.2 times more likely to own a smart thermostat, 3.3 times more likely to own a smart hub that automates control of several appliances in the home, and 6.6 times more likely to own a smart lighting system. It is far more exciting to get your smart speaker to control things rather than just tell you the weather or the latest news headlines.

So what about the insurance industry? Here’s a look at what the insurance industry has done with smart speakers in Canada so far.

  • Aviva Canada – Aviva made a skill for Amazon Alexa to help consumers find answers to insurance questions. If a person is curious about coverage, for example, they can say, “Alexa, ask Aviva ‘What does full coverage mean?’” Drivers in Ontario can also get auto insurance quotes through Alexa.
  • Manulife – Manulife’s skills for the Amazon Echo advise customers on the remaining balance on their health benefits. If you need more dental work but aren’t sure how much coverage you have left, simply ask, “Alexa, ask Manulife Benefits ‘How much do I have left for my dentist?’”
  • Car insurance quotes on Kanetix.ca and InsuranceHotline.com – Drivers can request a quote through Google Home by saying, “Hey Google, ask Kanetix.ca for a car insurance quote.” If a user requires additional help from an advisor, they can just say, “Hey Google, call Kanetix.ca,” and Google Home will connect you to Kanetix over the smart speaker.

From an implementation standpoint, the biggest difference between Amazon and Google is that you can train Google Home to recognize your brand. For Amazon, you need to enable a skill from the Alexa app on your smartphone.

It seems inevitable that consumers will eventually expect to have the ability to use this technology throughout the sales and service journey for all their insurance needs. Insurance brokers who already have a website that quotes and services policyholders should consider the implementation of a smart speaker version coupled with the ability to quickly connect to an advisor.

Perhaps a better use for a smart speaker—beyond asking for the meaning of insurance terms or getting a quote—is providing a voice-activated, self-serve ability to the policyholder. Imagine a conversation like this:

“Hey Google, what is my deductible?”

“Your deductible is $500.”

“Hey Google, how much is my monthly insurance payment?”

“Your monthly rate is $140.00.”

“Hey Google, when is my insurance payment due?”

“Your payment is due on the 10th of each month.”

“Hey Google, please set a reminder two days before my payment is due each month.”

And finally, “Hey Google, call my insurance broker.”

Making it this easy will certainly impress your customers. You need to determine the functionality you want to introduce to your policyholders and integrate the data back to your Broker Management System.

I encourage all of you to investigate with your technology service provider how smart assistants can help your clients— and ultimately your business— because this is more than just a trend. It is a business opportunity, and if you get in on it early, you just might distinguish yourself from the competition as an industry leader.

As president & CEO of Kanetix.ca, Andrew Lo leads all digital innovation and operations for Kanetix Ltd., Canada’s largest digital customer acquisition platform for insurance and financial services.

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Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine