Smart speakers produced by the likes of Amazon and Google are growing in adoption, with some estimates saying the majority of U.S. households will have one within five years. As they increase in popularity, agents are finding they are proving to be useful business tools.



Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, is a self-avowed lover of technology. That is in keeping with Cruise Planners' focus on giving agents the technology they need to succeed, like its recently announced skills for Amazon's Echo and virtual personal assistant Alexa.

One skill, or capability, is consumer-focused, enabling users to ask about cruise lines. The other, to be called CP Maxx, works with agents’ back-office system to answer business-related questions like, “How many final payments do I have due this week?”

The skills officially launch Dec. 4, Garcia said, but Cruise Planners already gave Echo Dots - Amazon's $49 device that integrates Alexa - to franchisees at its conference in October. And they are already proving useful to agents at home and in offices, even without the business-specific skill.

"They're linking it to all of their calendars, their Google calendars and their smartphone calendars, and they feel so much more efficient already," Garcia said.

The basic functions of home assistants produced by the likes of Amazon and Google - which has a full line of Google Home devices, including the Mini, priced at $49 like the Dot - are proving effective business tools for agents.

"For someone working from home that doesn't have a [human] assistant, there are a lot of little things you can use it for," Garcia said of the devices.

Syncing calendars and being able to access that information via voice is one of the best uses Garcia has seen. Agents are also using smart home devices to set up reminders, like to call a customer back at a specific time, and even to make calls.

Most virtual home assistants have a feature that enables users to store contacts' phone numbers in advance, and use the device to call them hands free.

"Even just using the phone feature - 'Hey Alexa, call Royal Caribbean's group department' - you can load those numbers in there, it does it for you," Garcia said.

When Cruise Planners' agent-facing skill, CP Maxx, is introduced, it will offer agents the ability to ask Alexa a variety of things about their customer relationship management system (which has the same name as the skill), further increasing efficiency, Garcia said.

She predicted other agency networks will follow suit shortly and create similar skills to enable agents to access business information via digital assistants.

For more ambitious agents, Garcia had another "everyday" technology suggestion: Drones. Drones are widely available, and with prices lowering and ease-of-use increasing, they can be a compelling creator of content in destinations.

For instance, one of Cruise Planners' agents that specializes in luxury travel took drone videos off a chartered yacht in Italy, creating compelling content to entice clients.

In addition to home assistants and drones, Garcia also recommended a few free or low-cost services readily available that can help agents conduct business: Fiverr and If This, Then That (IFTTT).

Fiverr is an online community of freelancers that will do work for a low cost, usually starting at $5. Garcia has seen agents use freelancers' services to create logos, videos, blog posts and the like. She herself has used it to help create videos for social media, and even a cartoonized version of herself and Cruise Planners CEO and co-founder Michelle Fee.

"For an agent that's working from home, that's a great way to have an inexpensive way" to create content, she said.

IFTTT is a free app that enables users to create "recipes" connecting devices, social media accounts and more. Garcia, for example, has a recipe that is triggered whenever she is tagged in a photo on Facebook: That photo will automatically be downloaded and stored to both her phone and her Dropbox account. It can also be used for applications like automatically Tweeting photos posted on Instagram as native Twitter photos, to sync calendars and more.

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