Published: April 18, 2019 | Comments
You’re waiting at the gate for your flight and just remembered to check whether your health insurance covers you on vacation in Belize. No sweat. Just quickly ask Alexa on your phone and receive an instant answer. Yikes! You just tripped and knocked over your friend’s brand new 60” 4k flat screen. “Alexa, ask my insurance company if my liability insurance covers a broken television.” It does by the way. These are just two example scenarios that customers of a German insurance company can now take advantage of. Today, one in four Americans has access to a smart speaker like Alexa or Google Home according to a recent study. As the adoption rate continues to rapidly increase, it’s time to ask when, not if, digital assistants like Alexa will be deployed for customer service. Up to a quarter of all companies will have integrated a virtual customer assistant or a chatbot into their customer support by 2020, according to a Gartner report. So how did one German insurance company do it?
First things First - How Alexa Works
While on, Alexa passively listens for its name, which is the wake word. The device is activated upon hearing its name and begins recording. It forwards the speech in audio form to Amazon’s servers where its first run through a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm. Once turned into text, it is parsed, run through the relevant Skill and the task is then performed. A “Skill” is an application designed for a narrow purpose such as fetching the weather. The entire process takes mere seconds.
News, Weather & Games
There are currently around 70,000 unique Alexa Skills with the number growing daily. Nevertheless, the most frequent uses are still simple questions and tasks. According to Amazon, the most popular Skills in 2018 were weather, news and quiz and trivia games. However, several companies have begun rolling out customer service applications such as Capital One, whose Skill enables customers to query their account balance.
Travel & Liability Insurance via Alexa?
In cooperation with a German insurance company, the Versicherungskammer Bayern (Bavarian Insurance Chamber), Unymira combined its knowledge management platform and chatbot with Amazon’s Alexa. In phase one - which is currently complete and live - Alexa provides support for standard informational and policy questions.
Perhaps a customer has a little New Year’s mishap and sends the champagne cork flying into the glasses. No problem! They can quickly ask Alexa if it is covered, find out the deductible and how to proceed.
From FAQs to Purchasing Policies
In phase two, which is actively under development, Alexa will expand from a purely informational role into an interactive one. Customers will soon be able to update policies or purchase insurance. Being in the health insurance industry, personal information and privacy issues are paramount. Implementation challenges include GDPR regulations and how best to verify actions done via Alexa, such as with two factor authentication.
The Chatbot behind the Curtains
Using a specially developed skill, Alexa employs Unymira’s Knowledge Bot to answer customer questions about travel and liability insurance services. With Alexa connected to the company’s knowledge base, she always has access to the latest answers and policies instead of relying on static files or preprogrammed responses. Information is updated directly in the company’s knowledge base and immediately live, without requiring developers to update the Alexa skill and release it again via Amazon!
Combining chatbot technology with Alexa enables true interactive dialogue based on the user’s questions versus canned responses. Moreover, the integrated machine learning ensures that the chatbot continuously learns and adapts to user questions for ongoing optimization. In future versions, the chatbot will learn from both audio via Alexa and text input (e.g. via the website), for faster and deeper learning.
Opportunities for Customer Service
As the number of smart speakers in American households continues to increase, more consumers expect to interact with companies directly via voice. This is comparable to the rise of live chat as users no longer wish to stop and draft an email but instead instantly pose a question while shopping online.
However, there is still a large gap to bridge. Only a few companies currently use a digital assistant as part of their customer journey despite the many advantages they offer. These include:
1. Reduce Agent Workload & Deflect Tickets
Digital voice assistants can easily relieve agents of standard inquiries and tasks so they can focus on more complex issues requiring a human touch. This reduces call volume and deflects tickets.
2. Better Serve Customers with Disabilities
For those with physical disabilities such as visual impairment, Alexa can be a huge help. A mobile phone or computer screen is not required to access support information. This is equally beneficial to the elderly who may have trouble navigating computers or not have a cell phone.
3. More Efficient Workflows
Virtual assistants can also be used to gather initial information about an issue. While consumers today are weary of voice prompts on the phone, digital assistants are modern and more natural.
4. 24/7 Service just a Wake Word Away - No Screen Required
Digital assistants offer another 24/7 support channel which doesn’t rely on outsourced call centers in other time zones. Customers don’t need to sit down at their computer or even pick up the phone. Service is just a few words away whether standing in the kitchen or sitting on the couch.
From Here to There: The Future of Voice Service
Customer support via digital assistants is a question of when, not if. However, launching a new voice channel is not as easy as simply releasing an Alexa skill. As one customer found out, having a solid knowledge and technical basis is not only required, but makes the entire process much easier. Taking advantage of their knowledge management platform and chatbot, it was easy to extend existing functionality to Alexa. Before asking whether your company can do the same, ask whether it has the necessary foundation first.
Visit Unymira to learn more about using Alexa as a customer service channel.