Last week, healthcare giant Cigna announced the launch of their Amazon Alexa-powered application, “Answers by Cigna.” After finding via a study of health literacy that many didn’t understand terms like “premium” or “formulary,” their goal is to help members better understand and access their health benefits. Cigna sees the interactive voice channel offered by Alexa as “an exciting and innovative way for Cigna to educate and engage people about healthcare in a way that is convenient for them.”

In less than four years since it was launched by Amazon, the Alexa platform has led the introduction of voice-based digital assistants as a new medium for communicating with consumers. Inspired by the sci-fi computer systems on the Star Trek Enterprise, the platform features use of speech recognition and natural language processing to translate requests from consumers into responses that include answering questions, providing information on weather forecasts, and playing music and videos on devices equipped with screens. The platform also provides developers with the ability to build “skills,” like the “Answers by Cigna” app launched this week.

Other insurers have introduced skills, including the following (see this search of Amazon insurance-related skills for more details):

  • Allstate: The Allstate Alexa skill can help you find an agent or information about your policy.
  • American Family: The Dream Protector Skill from American Family Insurance (has) tips on topics ranging from motivation, happiness, gratitude, finances and more, (and can) locate an agent near you.
  • Amica: Alexa will guide you through important auto and home insurance topics like billing, policy changes, quotes, [and] claims; you’ll get information about Amica’s billing process and coverage types, checklists for getting a quote or changing your policy, and… descriptions of discounts.
  • Farmers: [Find answers to] frequently asked questions about insurance terminology, policy coverages, deductibles, and limits.
  • Geico: Request ID cards, check your account balance, make payments, and request vehicle assistance.
  • Ladder Life: Ask questions about life insurance, calculate your needs, and get a ballpark quote.
  • Liberty Mutual: [Get] auto policy estimates and advice on home and auto issues; start your home insurance claim by answering a few simple questions.
  • Nationwide: Learn more about auto insurance products; find out how to get a quote or get contact information; Nationwide members enrolled in the SmartRide program (device only) can even ask about their driving information.
  • Safeco: The Insurance Advisor provides risk quizzes that evaluate your risk knowledge and behaviors related to when you drive, when you are at home, or your lifestyle.

These insurance-related skills focus mainly on educating consumers by providing information on products and insurance terminology, and some can provide policy information to their customers along with other functions. For example, Liberty Mutual mentions the ability to gather FNOL data to begin a claims process, but this will likely be added by others in time. Nationwide provides a link to their SmartRide device to provide feedback to customers, and with the adoption of smart home and other IoT devices, other insurers will soon add similar capabilities.

One limitation of the Alexa platform has been persistence – skills do not remember data outside of the instance of use of a skill, so if you ask for Alexa to play a song when halfway through telling your device claims information, you’ll have to start over again. Amazon is working on this issue and recently provided updates for users to ask multiple questions within a brief span after getting the device’s attention with a “wake word” (by default saying “Alexa” triggers the device, but as in the case of the two devices in my office, devices can be configured to respond to “Echo” or “Computer”… and, oh, how I wish I could use “Hal” as a wake word, sigh).

Digital voice assistants like Alexa, which include Google Home and Apple HomePod, provide insurance carriers with another digital channel for engaging their policyholder customers, though the platforms are somewhat limited. Future improvements, such as connection to insurer’s customer-facing systems and smart home IoT devices, will bring new capabilities to policyholders, including proactive notification of water leaks, smoke detection, and other risk factors through voice assistant devices. However, data security and assurances of privacy of both voice and customer information must be improved before users will trust voice assistant platforms for interactions with insurers.

“Alexa, when should insurers consider interacting with customers via voice assistants?” With retail and other industries increasingly using voice assistants as a channel for customer engagement, the answer may be “now,” or at least “soon.”

This blog was reprinted with permission from Novarica

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