Improving customer service is key for most insurance companies these days. Insurers' TV commercials boast that their customers are not simply numbers or applications but real people who get the absolute best personal service. Insurers want their customers to know that once an application has been signed, they will continue to get the same attention and service as they did before becoming a customer.

If you claim to have great service, you have to perform, and one of the best ways to provide excellent customer service is during the claims process. The faster a knowledgeable adjuster can get in touch with a claimant, the less likely he or she is to end up finding legal counsel. This often means being in the field to service insureds during these stressful times. In this case, adjusters will need to have claims functionality in the field in order to have access to policy information such as coverages, limits and deductibles.

Bringing mobile claims functions to adjusters is important. The field adjuster or appraiser is the face of the company, and the more connectivity, communication and functionality a carrier can give them, the more productive and effective they will be. Giving field adjusters mobile claims functionality also enables closer collaboration with home-office staff if additional information is required. It also gives home-office management a more up-to-the-minute view in a catastrophe situation.

To put claims systems on smartphones and tablets used by field adjusters, insurers have two very different choices. They can develop customized apps that provide claims functionality similar to the home-office claims system, or they can simply make their claims systems available on mobile devices through a direct connection to the home-office system.

Giving adjusters remote access to the claims system isn't new. But mobile devices are the next frontier. Mobile broadband is available almost everywhere, whereas most laptops need a wi-fi connection, which can be limited in most remote areas. And while laptops and notebooks can be set up to use mobile broadband, mobile devices are easier to carry and always stay connected wirelessly. Adjusters can arrive with their mobile device in hand and start working.

And mobile devices continue to improve. Notifying adjusters about new claims and assignments on-the-fly via a mobile device is fast and efficient, and they are also ideal for electronically capturing signatures and collecting GPS coordinates to process reports and claims remotely.

The tablet offers a large, easy-to-read screen (unlike a smartphone's cramped space) that offers much of the functionality of a laptop but with better portability and easier connectivity. Some experts predict that the laptop will fade, and the tablet will be the device of the future.

Considering the Options

There is a lot to be gained, but is an app or the mobile Web the best way to go? The choices are very different and should be considered carefully as companies look to provide this functionality to their field adjusters.

Mobile apps potentially provide more functionality and ease-of-use because they're designed specifically for mobile platforms. Adjusters can shoot photos or video with a mobile device and directly upload images to the home-office claims system. This can eliminate the need to carry a digital camera, which requires uploading the files to a laptop and then to the insurer's system.

However, the development process can be complex and time-consuming, and if the adjusters aren't all using the same device, the apps must be altered to run on different smartphone platforms as well as various tablets. And there are maintenance headaches: As insurer's claims software changes, the apps have to change too. Additionally, the look and navigation of the app may be different than the home-office solution that the field adjuster is used to.

The mobile Web offers the advantage of simplicity. You're not creating new software; you're simply enabling portions of an existing system to be available on a mobile browser. This assumes that you have a modern claims system that permits Web access.

Because it's simpler to provide mobile access to the claims system, development may take a couple of weeks instead of many months or longer for an app. There's nothing to maintain, as the adjuster accesses the home-office server that houses the claims system. Having Internet access is the only limiting factor.

The jury is still out on which path will be the best one to take. And what's best for one carrier may not be best for another. IT executives should look closely at both options before deciding what the ultimate goal is for providing remote claim functionality to field adjusters.

Kennen Burkhart, AAM, AIT, is a business development executive with Wyde Corporation, a core insurance system provider.

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