Farmers Insurance recently launched a new mobile-focused capability for roadside assistance. When a roadside assistance call is placed from a mobile phone, the driver in trouble receives a text link to a mobile site that resembles a ridesharing interface. That allows the site to access the driver's exact location and find the closest possible tow truck. Then, the customer can see the tow's progress in getting to them in real time, like waiting for a rideshare driver. It's the latest of several new offerings in the claims space from the venerable carrier. Digital Insurance caught up with Farmers' chief claims officer Keith Daly to talk about innovations the company is doing in claims.

Digital Insurance: Why re-work the roadside-assistance product?

Keith Daly: We process 600,000 roadside assistance claims per year, and until now we had outsourced it to a third party. But it's a high-frequency touchpoint with the consumer base, and we want to own every interaction that is part of the claims process, and responding to consumers who have been stranded on the side of the road is part of that. We wanted an experience representative of the brand and assurance that when they call this is going to happen. This new digital platform gives customers a view throughout the process.

DI: What are some of the early benefits?

Daly: We've cut response times down by several minutes, and customers rate it 10 to 15 points higher. The new interface provides peace of mind and increases transparency, so we don't have as many callbacks.

DI: Is this something you developed internally?

Daly: Because we are headquartered in Los Angeles, we have a front-row seat for some of the innovation in the Bay Area and Silicon Beach. The provider we used for the tow platform, Honk, is based in Santa Monica.

DI: What are some of the other things you're doing right now to digitalize the claims process?

Daly: One thing we've been highly focused on is video capture, enabling the customer to give us better info at the time of loss. We're able to let consumers at their home film what the damage looks like, so it's not us asking you a laundry list of questions. We can write a lot of minor estimates without having to deploy additional staff.

DI: Is this video still being evaluated by a human, or are machines making the decisions?

Daly: People are looking at it today, but we are running a number of [machine-learning] pilots. We're putting a lot of auto physical estimates through an engine. I certainly believe within the next two years the advancements will be in that space will be a game changer.

DI: Farmers has been a leader in using drones. Do you have an update on that end?

Daly: We've flown about 300 flights in Texas and Washington. The providers we're looking at have enabled somewhat of an autonomous flightt. The claim rep takes the drone out, sets the ceiling and geofencing allowing flights without having to move a joystick or a controller. The whole time the claims pro is there with the customer.

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