Overwhelmed by incoming calls from affected policyholders, the company quickly joined forces with its affiliate, the Illinois Farm Bureau. "Overflow from our Louisiana and Mississippi-based policyholders was directed to the Illinois Farm Bureau call center," Nugent explains. "Our IT department set up a link through our network that enabled agents to process policyholder claims."
As a result of the experience, Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance established a formal relationship with the Illinois Farm Bureau. "We now have backup services between our two call centers," Nugent adds.
Following Hurricane Wilma in October, Tallahassee, Fla.-based Citizens Property Insurance Corp. ($3 billion in total assets) also entered into a partnership to handle the volume of calls. By working with Fort Myers, Fla.-based Lynx Services, Citizens ensured that it could handle all first-notice-of-loss calls hitting the call center.
"We saw our heaviest call volume approximately three days after Hurricane Wilma made landfall," recalls Robert Sellers, director of technology and infrastructure for Citizens. "We really underestimated the time frames and the surge of calls we got following the storm."
Citizens plans to alleviate future potential call center bottlenecks by upgrading its call center capacity. The insurer already has upgraded its telecommunications capacity with additional circuits. "By adding additional, geographically dispersed routes in Tallahassee and Jacksonville, we have made an efficient and cost-effective investment," Sellers asserts.
Jack Be Nimble
Shifting resources to where they are needed most also helps carriers respond to surges in calls following a catastrophe. "Carriers need to remain nimble and switch responsibilities during emergencies," says SAP's Schwartz. "By adding solutions that can alleviate potential staffing issues and augment corporate processes, insurers are improving response time and delivering better customer service."
Prepared carriers even "reconfigured" claims teams by enabling them to electronically share updated policyholder data instantly, according to Accenture's Costonis. "This capability made it possible to assemble teams on the fly and have them operate in real time or near real time," he says.
SAP's Claims Management suite is one solution that facilitates such flexibility, helping insurers efficiently manage the explosive volume of calls hitting their call centers, according to the firm's Schwartz. The suite's centralized database stores all policyholder data. In the event of a catastrophe, members across the enterprise can access each caller's data online through "virtual claim files," he explains.
"Upset, displaced customers want to talk to an adjuster," Schwartz says. "There is nothing worse than being put on hold or being directed to leave a message."
Spinning the Web
To avoid exceeding call center capacities, other companies are tapping Web-based customer-facing applications. For example, by providing online quote platforms, Floodwatch -- a division of Chicago-based Financial and Professional Risk Solutions, a unit of Aon -- hopes to help customers update their policies with flood protection prior to the upcoming hurricane season.
"In the excess flood market, quotes typically are not done this way," says Tom Becker, director of national sales for Floodwatch. The Chicago-based underwriting firm provides insurance for financial institutions, nonprofit organizations and small corporate entities in need of specialized products.
"After the 2005 hurricane season, flood insurance is now in demand -- we want a platform where the borrower can get quotes in a nonpainful way," Becker contends. "Currently, we do a lot of cumbersome e-mails, faxes and telephone calls to get and secure quotes for coverage. This [platform] will streamline the process." Becker says he expects the technology to be available by the third quarter of this year.
Similarly, Citizens has made its claims and policy applications available over the Web. "Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, our agents, adjusters, employees and emergency claims response vehicles can connect to these applications," the firm's Sellers explains.
But enabling policyholders to connect with their carriers and providing adjusters with tools to connect with business-critical systems is only part of the equation. Following the storms, many insurance companies were stymied by how to actually get people to the loss sites to process claims. Thus, insurance companies now are empowering their claims agents with more mobile devices.