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Insurers Upgrade Call Center Technologies To Improve Customer Experience

Insurers like Farmers and Esurance are changing their contact center philosophies and upgrading call center technology in an effort to improve customer satisfaction and boost customer retention.

Driving the Claims Process

Innovation First Notice's Powers is quick to point out that the FCR metric represents different things to different people, particularly in claims reporting. In some call centers, resolving a first call may mean providing a customer with a claim number, the name of an adjuster, a time when that adjuster will contact the customer and a URL so that the claim can be tracked online.

For more innovative carriers with enhanced contact center capabilities, it could be more literal, particularly when dealing with high-frequency, low-severity claims, such as a typical automobile fender bender. "First call resolution in that case would mean that an adjuster or a customer service representative on the phone would actually move that claim through a rules-based engine, settle the claim and issue a check," Powers says.

While Web-based auto insurer Esurance (San Francisco; $600 million in 2006 approximate written premium) provides as much information and services online as possible, it still considers its call centers a priority and has made recent investments in its call center technology to improve the claims intake process, which was handled by a third-party administrator until 2002. In June, the company announced it had selected Innovation First Notice's ClaimCapture for claims reporting. The platform, which will be hosted by Innovation First Notice on an application-service-provider (ASP) basis, will be deployed into Esurance's Sioux Falls, S.D.-based service center.

Wayne Sharrah, chief claims officer at Esurance, says the company is beginning to view its call center as a mini claims office. "We've really adopted the philosophy that those people are the very first individuals that the insured specifically talk to after a claim happens," Sharrah relates. "So we need to teach them to be claims people."

Esurance claims technology manager Mark Hofmann says that even when the carrier's claims operation was handled by a third-party administrator, the company maintained its own call center for first notice of loss. In the beginning, the unit employed about six people. It has since grown to a 50-person team. "From a technology standpoint, though, we really hadn't changed a whole lot," Hofmann says. "I think that's one of the opportunities we saw with Innovation First Notice. We wanted to be able to make decisions better and provide more information for our customers and provide better service to them up front."

The ClaimCapture solution's business-rules capabilities, Hofmann says, will allow the call center's loss reporting unit (LRU) to identify more-specific questions based on the type of claim a customer is reporting. Further, Esurance plans to integrate ClaimCapture with a ProcessClaims (a Chicago-based CCC Information Services company) solution in use since October 2003 that allows LRU agents to, among other related capabilities, electronically dispatch appraisal sources when vehicle inspection is required for a given claim.

With the tools Esurance is implementing, Sharrah says, the company's call center will be able to "push claims forward." In the past, a CSR would take down a customer's claims information and send the data along to a claims branch, where an adjuster would call the customer back.

"The two biggest things customers want to know [when reporting a claim] are: 'When is my car going to get looked at?' and, 'What about a rental car?'" according to Sharrah. "Before, the LRU couldn't answer those questions. Now they can service the customer in those ways and actually set up inspections and get cars to shops if necessary."

"What we're doing is speeding up the process," Sharrah says. "Our customers feel very positive when they hang up the phone because they're not waiting for someone to call them back -- it's already taken care of. It's a change in our philosophy relative to how we service customers."

Having already won awards from JD Power and Associates for its claims contact centers, known as HelpPoint, Farmers Insurance Group, a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services (Zurich; $67.2 billion in revenue), is looking to further improve customer satisfaction through another conduit -- its captive agents' call center. In June, the Los Angeles-based insurer announced the grand opening of two ServicePoint operations centers. The call centers, which primarily serve the carrier's agent community, are based in Kansas City, Kan., and Austin, Texas, and feature the technology that already has been deployed in the carrier's HelpPoint centers.

"There are actually the exact same business drivers with an agent-focused call center," says Farmers' Snikeris. "Our philosophy is that we have to provide a level of service to our agents -- quality information in a timely fashion -- because that provides them with the capability of getting back to the customer. If we can provide that experience to agents, then our agents will in turn be able to provide that experience to our policyholders. We don't differentiate from that perspective."

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