When it comes to providing speedy and satisfying auto claims experiences for customers, insurers have a lot of work to do. Fortunately for them, new mobile applications can provide just the edge they need to make the process of managing and completing claims faster and more efficient.

Industry research shows that auto insurers need to do a better job of handling claims. A J.D. Power and Associates report released in early 2013 showed that appraisal and settlement times were taking longer compared with previous periods.

The global marketing information services company, in its 2013 "Auto Claims Satisfaction Study-Wave 2," noted that satisfaction with the auto claims experience declined in early 2013, as claimants indicated they were paying more to have their vehicles repaired. Overall customer satisfaction declined compared with the firm's Wave 1 study.

The Wave 2 study, which was based on 2,878 responses from auto insurance customers who settled a claim within the previous six months, found that appraisal and settlement times were taking longer. On average, claimants were waiting 3.3 days for an insurance appraisal, up from 2.9 days in Wave 1, while settlements took an average of 6.6 days, up from 5.8 days in Wave 1.

Settlement payments were also taking longer, averaging 14.9 days in Wave 2 compared with 13.9 days in Wave 1.

J.D. Power released an updated report in July 2013, and the results were not a whole lot better. Satisfaction with the auto claims experience held steady in the second quarter of 2013 compared with the first quarter of 2013. But small improvements in satisfaction with repairable claims were offset by significant declines in satisfaction among total loss-claimants, the firm says.

Emerging mobile applications that customers can access via their smartphones or other devices are helping insurers improve the auto claims process.

"Customer connectivity is evolving rapidly," says Tony Pavia, a principal covering the insurance market for Capgemini, a provider of consulting, technology and outsourcing services. "What began in the '90s as carrier self-service applications are migrating to mobile devices, but with expanded capabilities that reflect the functional capabilities offered by mobile devices, like instant communication through text messaging and image capture afforded by mobile device cameras."

Consumers are using their mobile devices to take pictures of accident scenes and damaged vehicles, schedule physical damage inspections, set up repair shop appointments and arrange rental cars, Pavia says. "And in the case of first-party damage, insureds are being directed to third-party repair providers like glass companies," he says.

"There's no doubt that mobile connectivity is on every carrier's radar and as is always the case, carriers are at a different stage of maturity that can vary widely," Pavia says.

The mobility trend is being driven from two directions, Pavia says. "From the carrier side they see [mobile apps] as a way to improve settlement cycle time, which leads to increased customer satisfaction and lower operating costs," he says. "However, consumers are demanding mobile connectivity, especially younger insureds who use their mobile devices as their primary communication tool."

One of the key metrics and primary measures of effectiveness in the claims segment is settlement cycle time, Pavia says. "It's a metric that eloquently serves the carriers' drive to be more efficient but at the same time drives improved customer satisfaction," he says. "The primary objective is to return the claimant to their pre-accident condition as fast as possible."

Mobility is playing a key role in meeting that goal, Pavia says, from collecting the facts of loss to activating services that support the settlement process to the instant communication between claimant, carrier and service providers.

"The internal operational components of carriers are being affected as well," Pavia says. "Mobility is changing the speed and efficiency of connectivity between inside and field claims handling staff, which is also accelerating the settlement process."

Auto insurers that have rolled out mobile apps are seeing results, and so are their customers.

Allstate Inc. provides the Allstate Mobile App. The platform allows customers to perform a variety of functions from a mobile device, including pay bills; get a digital insurance card; find and contact an agent; file a loss; send a message; update communication preferences; view claim information and payments, policies, documents, inspection details, coverages/deductibles; and learn about the claim process.

Allstate Mobile App also houses the company's latest mobile offering, QuickFoto claim, which it unveiled in late 2013. "This new tool allows customers and claimants to submit photos of their minor collision-damaged vehicle from a smartphone to help speed up the claims process," says Pam Overton, claims VP at Allstate.

The key business driver for providing the Allstate Mobile App is to allow customers to have increased flexibility in terms of how they do business with Allstate. By making it easier for customers to file claims, the company is enhancing its own business model.

"The claims experience ultimately contributes to Allstate's success," Overton says. "Mobile technology is a way to enhance the claims process because it enables customers to do business with us when, where and how they choose."

Mobile technology such as the mobile app platform delivers an easier and more convenient claims process and gives customers policy information and resources at their fingertips.

"More than half of Allstate's customers have a smartphone, so connectivity on the go is clearly important to them, which means it's important to us," Overton says. "We view mobile functionality as a key differentiator for us. Customers' needs and expectations continue to change and the technology we use must continue to evolve."

By providing self-service mobile apps, Allstate has reduced the number of calls to the company for simple tasks that consumers would prefer to do themselves. Enhancing its ability to serve customers has also led to greater customer loyalty and retention.

Allstate will continue to add new mobile features for its customers. "Mobile adoption is growing rapidly and more customers are downloading Allstate Mobile everyday," Overton says. "We remain committed to delivering compassionate service that is fast, fair and easy."

Another insurer, USAA, is providing the USAA Mobile App, which offers insurance, banking and financial products and services for its 10 million members. "Our members are early adopters of technology and rely on USAA's Mobile App because they need to be able to reach us 24/7," says Michael Burns, AVP, claims systems development at the company.

Insurance members can report a claim, check the status of a claim 24 hours per day, upload photos, check their deductibles, schedule appraisals and rental cars, and receive and request reimbursements for towing and glass claims, Burns says.

A unique feature of USAA's Mobile App is that a member can talk to a claims adjuster via all USAA channels through its Claims Communication Center 24 hours a day, and the conversations are seamless, the company says.

"For example, the member can ask a question on USAA.com and check the answer shortly later on the USAA Mobile App from their iPhone, Android or iPad," Burns says.

Another feature of the app allows members to diagram an auto accident on USAA.com or record their version of the accident via the USAA Mobile App for iPad. Additional insurance features include the ability to pull up an auto insurance ID, and get quotes for auto, renters and valuable personal property insurance, Burns says.

"Regarding valuable personal property products, members can also upload receipts, photos and submit appraisals to our Mobile App, which will assist them later if they need to report a claim," Burns says.

The main benefit of the mobile app is for members, "which is central to everything we do at USAA," Burns says. "Mobile enables our members to have flexibility on when and how they need to reach us and the ability to interact with our claims professionals at their own pace." Additional benefits include faster claims handling time and a better member service experience overall, he says. As for future plans for mobile technology, "we are committed to continuously improving the experience for our members," Burns says. "This includes enhancing our mobile capabilities. We also have a dedicated in-house team that is constantly reviewing our members' needs and developing new features that make life easier for our members."

As the number of consumers with smart phones continues to increase, look for insurers to leverage more mobile applications to make the claims process more efficient and fast for their customers.

Bob Violino is an editor and writer who covers a variety of technology and business topics and a regular contributor to insurancenetworking.com.

New Mobile App Drives

Change at Direct Auto Direct General Insurance aims to offer affordable auto insurance to a broad range of drivers, including those who might be considered "high risk" and not accepted by other insurers. The company maintains a network of more than 400 locations across 13 states, along with Web service options, and offers products and services including comprehensive and collision auto coverage, motorcycle insurance, individual term life insurance and roadside assistance.

Like many insurers, Direct Auto is looking to leverage the growing number of consumers who use smartphones and other mobile computing devices. To that end, the company recently announced two new mobile device capabilities to help customers monitor their driving habits, potentially save money on their auto insurance and make paying their insurance premiums more convenient via a mobile app and new text message payment option.

One offering, the free DirectDrive app for iOS and Android devices, grades users based on safe and responsible driving. The DirectDrive app is designed to allow users to monitor and track their good driving habits using a smartphone's various sensors to measure driving behaviors, such as hard stops, accelerations and decelerations.

After logging each trip, the program calculates a user's driving score on a scale from "good" to "better" to "best" and tracks the trip history over time. Based on a driver's scores, the app then offers the driver feedback on how to improve their driving.

In addition to learning about their driving behavior, users can compete with other users on a DirectDrive "leaderboard" that ranks the top drivers in each state. As users demonstrate good driving behavior, they are awarded achievements that can be unlocked to boost leaderboard points, the company says. - Bob Violino

For more about Direct's mobile efforts, visit http://bit.ly/1jOD6Hp.

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