Talk me through it?

Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are among a growing army of intelligent assistants raising a cacophony of questions (all in Natural Language, of course) about man versus machine in the pursuit of a flawless customer experience.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), 2017 was heralded to be “the year of voice recognition”. The advent of Deep Learning has dramatically enhanced language technologies and, while there remains considerable progress to be made, Voice Recognition technology is already making audible waves in the insurance industry.

Faceless computing
Two key stories have ushered this “era of so-called faceless computing” into the insurance arena. In early January, Fukoku Mutual Life decided to make thirty-four employees redundant in favour of artificial intelligence. The IBM Watson technology is capable of analysing and interpreting unstructured text, audio and video data to calculate payouts.

Around the same time, Aviva announced that it had created a new skill for Amazon Echo’s voice-activated intelligent assistant, Alexa. Customers can now ask Alexa for over 300 insurance-related definitions, and Aviva have made it very clear that this is but the beginning. Voice recognition will play a crucial role in shaping the future of insurance interactions.

Does the insurance customer care if it’s a faceless chatbot or a faceless human? Does it even matter?  twitter icon

From conversion to completion and beyond, the American software company Nuance offers insight into how this future may look. At the beginning of the customer journey, intelligent virtual assistant Nina can answer any queries a prospect may have, all in natural conversation – and at 3am, if that’s when it suits. This flexibility applies to multiple channels; conversational Interactive Voice Response (IVR) automates telephone calls to provide the customer with answers without the rigmarole of a holding tone or interminable menu options.

By acting as a personal guide, Nina exemplifies the ability of virtual assistants to offer an unprecedented level of personalisation. Any post-purchase dissonance is pre-empted by the customer’s ability to avoid multiple menus and instead talk directly to Nina Mobile, the in-app virtual assistant who can complete transactions at the customer’s command.

Even more game-changing is the use of biometric security – we have already seen how fingerprint identity has percolated into everyday life with our iPhones; it’s highly likely there will be a day when the insurance customer’s most secure password is their voice.

Service is sovereign
As machine intelligence grows in its mastery of voice recognition and conversation, it encroaches upon a quality which sets us apart as human – the faculty of speech. As we rush to redefine what it means to be human, perhaps the more penetrating question is – does it even matter? Does the insurance customer care if she is talking online to a faceless chatbot rather than a faceless human?

We have entered an age where service is sovereign. Be it human, machine, or an intelligent combination of the two – it’s up to the industry to get it right.