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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."

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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," 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.

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