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4/2/2014
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Esurance Gives Auto Claims Personal Touch With Video

App lets a customer submit a claim via video chat with an agent. One of eight profiles of InformationWeek Elite 100 Business Innovation Award winners.

Esurance aims to deliver the comfort of yesteryear's local insurance agent and the convenience and savings of today's electronic communications with an app-based video-claims service inspired by a 1-year-old's birthday party.

Designed for both iPhone and Android phones, the Video Claim app lets Esurance customers submit an automobile claim via video with a specially trained agent, says Joe Laurentino, VP of material damage, who came up with the idea after sharing his granddaughter's birthday party over FaceTime.

"It's a much more emotional involvement from a claim to a birthday party," Laurentino says, "but there's the same sense of comfort when you're dealing with a person. We had been doing things with photos, but photos are a very transactional-based relationship. I do something. You do something. There's no emotional involvement. A photo is great because that's where our society is. But in the insurance experience, you need that sense of comfort that the person on the other end is going to take care of your needs."

For more InformationWeek Elite 100 coverage and a complete listing of the top 100 companies click here.

Esurance develops its customer-facing applications internally, in part to tap the expertise of its marketing, IT, and appraisal teams. It then uses "test and learn" to develop and roll out the software quickly, says CIO Elinor MacKinnon.

'We're not looking to create perfection the first time through. The technology of today lends itself to rapid development. There's just so much available out there.' -- Elinor MacKinnon, CIO, Esurance
"We're not looking to create perfection the first time through. The
technology of today lends itself to rapid development. There's just
so much available out there." -- Elinor MacKinnon, CIO, Esurance

"We're not looking to create perfection the first time through," she says. "The technology of today lends itself to rapid development. There's just so much available out there."

Esurance does want to differentiate itself with its technology, MacKinnon says. It is, after all, part of the company's brand and a point of competitive pride for employees. Ensuring high-quality video while going to market quickly was key. Within six months Esurance went from concept to rollout. About 15 people "had their fingerprints on the project," says Phil Rodoni, VP of software development.

"Mobile is a very exciting new area for everyone," Rodoni says. "For us, it was like this is an obvious interplay. We didn't want to stop with photo. There was a little pride at play. We wanted to be first with video as well."

Developing the software was only part of the initiative. Esurance trained two associates, both involved in handling video claims. Those associates must be comfortable with video and nonverbal communications, as well as reassuring customers about their financial transactions, Rodoni says.

"There are different consumers in the marketplace. Price is always a driving factor, but I think more important is value," Laurentino says. "Technology is a great way to show the value you can give an educated customer. So when they look for price and they look for the offerings for that price, then they add value into the equation, and that's the consumer who does really well in the online space as opposed to the agency space."

What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/2/2014 | 2:25:48 PM
Video of System
Here's a video, by Esurance, that demonstrates its video claims system.

 

ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
4/3/2014 | 5:11:49 PM
Re: Video of System
Many industries need to consider how they can use this kind of ad hoc video, now that most of us are walking around with a networked video camera nearly all the time. In maintenance, customer service, online sales, shipping/receiving areas -- there are a lot of potential time-saving possibilities. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/4/2014 | 3:37:27 PM
Re: Video of System
As companies do this, they also must remember to spend the time and resources on training the staff who will be supporting customers via video. Esurance included the two initial video service reps from the beginning, a smart move IMHO. In addition to feeling comfortable in front of and with the camera, these agents obviously can't work in a typical call center cube where people may be walking back and forth in the background and the camera can pick up a lot of noise and distractions. 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
4/4/2014 | 3:45:54 PM
Re: Video of System
It's a really key point about the connection to people, Alison. At the InformationWeek Conference this week, Accenture's digital biz leader Mark McDonald made the point that companies going digital should focus on making a better connection back to people. If the digital strategy is just looking to eliminate people, to automate stuff, it's a fast road to commoditization.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/4/2014 | 3:52:35 PM
Re: Video of System
Absolutely! In fact, Esurance sees this as another career path for its claims agents. The service is new -- only introduced recently (you may have begun seeing TV commercials over the past few weeks) -- but if it becomes as popular as the company expects, Esurance could add more specialized video claims professionals, execs told me. It's definitely not seen as a staff reduction initiative; rather, it's a way for the company to connect with customers at a time when many consumers might want to see and speak to a real, live person. They've had an accident and a phone call, email, or IM just won't cut it.
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