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Claims on the Go.

The Internet and wireless communications have made mobile claims services more effective and more efficient.

Sending vans out on the road to settle automobile claims on the spot is a lot more complex than making sure there's enough gas in the tank. Today, effective mobile claims service relies on advanced Internet technology.

When mobile claims service began in 1990, the technology was pretty simple. Cell phones let the insurer stay in contact with appraisers. A desktop computer--laptops weren't reliable Then--and a laser printer filled out the complement of technology.

Today, following the growth of the Internet, it takes high-powered technology to electronically link "claims offices on wheels" with the company. Technology enables superb mobile claim service that satisfies customers and agents while providing the efficiency of an all-electronic, paperless environment. An automated flow of information throughout the entire claims process results in increased customer satisfaction and retention, greater efficiency and lower costs.

For appraisers, necessary equipment includes a van with a power source to run a laptop and a laser printer for issuing checks. The laptop's appraisal software, including updated pricing and technical information, lets appraisers complete their work efficiently and accurately, with all the information, including photos, saved in electronic format.

Quadruple Duty

For instant communication with those in the field, the technology has moved beyond cell phones. The state-of-the-art unit is a compact instrument that combines two-way radio, cell phone, pager and electronic messaging. Radio lets inside staff instantly contact an appraiser to reschedule appointments and get answers to questions. It reduces telephone tag, helps make the claim-settlement process go faster and eliminates per-call charges. If the appraiser is in an area that the radio doesn't reach, the cell phone or pager features can be used.

Internet at the Heart

Today, the Internet is the heart of the communication network for mobile claims service. With the Internet, information about a claim has to be entered only once. Once it's in the system, the Internet is the pathway that makes it available to everyone who needs it, including appraisers, inside claim staff, managers and agents. This provides great gains in efficiency and customer service.

Let's look at how the information flows from the start to finish of the claim process. First, the insured or agent contacts the call center with the first notice of loss. The claim representative asks detailed questions about the car's location and condition, records the information and verifies coverage by looking up the customer record via the Internet.

As soon as the interview is done, the representative sends the information through the Internet to the dispatching unit, which assigns claims to the mobile appraisers. Instead of calling the appraisers, the dispatchers post their assignments to the Internet using file-transfer protocol. Through out the day, the appraisers can click on the in-box icon on their laptop screen to open a folder containing their new assignments. It's a lot more efficient than listening to instructions over the phone. All relevant customer information is downloaded to their appraisal software, eliminating rekeying.

The appraiser drives out to inspect the vehicle, which could be at the customer's home, office, body shop or elsewhere. The appraiser completes the estimate on the laptop computer and uses a digital camera to photograph the damaged vehicle, and the photos become part of the electronic record.

Payment on the Spot

Often, the appraiser can give the customer a check on the spot by extracting the appraisal information to a check-writing system and printing a check from a laser printer in the van.

When the appraisal is finished, the appraiser connects to the Internet, clicks on the out-box icon and sends the electronic file to the claims office. The appraisals and photos are logged into a database for instant retrieval by inside staff. If the insured or agent calls with questions, the claim representative can pull up the file immediately service that the customer will remember and appreciate.

Consider a vehicle that's a total loss. With the information immediately at hand, the inside adjuster will be able to resolve the situation in a few minutes and answer any questions the insured or agent might have. He or she will be able to arrange for salvage removal immediately, reducing the time at the lot and storage charges. The customer will get the check faster, and the agent will have a more satisfied client. Before the Internet, inside staff didn't have the information until the appraisers had mailed or faxed in their paperwork.

Wireless Is Key

Connectivity for field staff is a continuing challenge. If a phone jack is available, the appraiser can plug his or her laptop into a phone line and connect to the network. But it's not always possible to locate a phone jack at the side of the road or in a body shop. To solve the problem, insurers are planning to equip appraisers' laptops with wireless modems, so they can connect almost anywhere or anytime.

While an insurer can build its own Internet system for mobile claim service, it's not necessary to reinvent the wheel. It's more cost effective to use a third-party application service provider that can customize its offering to meet the company's specific needs. The application service provider should provide a high level of security through secure-socket-layer technology, 128-bit encryption and database authentication. These features ensure that only authorized parties can view claim information.

Optionally, the insurer may wish to make available limited or even full claim information on a password-protected section of its Web site so the agent or customer can view it. Security features let the customer see only his or her claim and agency staff view only their customers' claims. (Confidential information, such as medical notes, is excluded.) The company also may wish to let its independent agents directly schedule appraisal assignments using the Internet.

Mobile claims service has come a long way in the past decade, but the most dramatic changes have been wrought in the last several months by tapping the power of the Internet. The industry can expect to see continuing improvement in the technology, providing greater efficiency and higher levels of customer service, in the years ahead.

Francis P. Arment is vice president, claims, Plymouth Rock Assurance Corp., Boston.

Crashbusters--From Vans to High-Tech

Plymouth Rock Assurance Corp. started Crashbusters in 1990 as the industry's first complete mobile auto-claim settlement service, because the company's philosophy is to give customers superior service. In Massachusetts, where the insurance commissioner sets private-passenger auto insurance rates, service is one of the few ways a company can distinguish itself.

The colorful vans let the company deliver claim service in a fast, innovative way. Customers liked the service, and the vans drew a lot of attention in the local media and became the marketing hallmark of the young company, which began selling insurance in 1984.

Over the years, the company has continually upgraded Crashbusters. While the basic concept of the service--sending out appraisers to settle claims and write checks on the spot--remains the same, the infrastructure has changed entirely.

Joseph Deboisbriand, a staff appraiser, has driven the Crashbusters vans for six years, covering a wide swath of territory north of Boston. "When I first started, we didn't have much technology," he said. "We carried books to look up parts and hand-wrote checks. Now, we have laptops, Mitchell appraisal software, digital cameras, check writers and electronic communication with the claim office. This makes my job a lot easier, because everything is so paperless."

Since last August, Plymouth Rock has provided an electronic link for its field appraisers, so they no longer have to mail or fax in completed appraisals and photos. Now, Deboisbriand can handle at least seven appraisals a day vs. five a few years ago.

At the end of the day, Deboisbriand plugs his laptop into a modem. He connects to the claims mainframe and pulls up his schedule of appointments for the next day. This includes the location of the vehicle, the customer's name, the deductible and the vehicle identification number. He electronically transfers all this information to his appraisal software on the laptop.

Then he clicks on a single icon, and the computer elecronically sends the files on all the claims he settled that day to the claim office. This includes appraisals, a check register, digital photographs and a total-loss form, if needed. The claims staff can view this information immediately.

What's most important is providing a high level of customer satisfaction. Deboisbriand invites the claimant to step inside the Crashbusters van. It's equipped much like a motor home, with comfortable chairs, a desk and a printer.

"I give the customers an instant printed appraisal, a contact person in the claim office and a list of registered auto body shops. They almost fall over when I hand them a check right there," he said.

Technology also helps agents, who can check the status of their customers' claims on a secure portion of Plymouth Rock's Web site (

Crashbusters has been adopted by Plymouth Rock's sister company in New Jersey, Palisades Safety & Insurance Association. To highlight the fact that Crashbusters is more than just vans, the service was recently renamed Crash busters Claims Services and given a new logo.

Plymouth Rock is currently rolling out a streamlined "24/7" claim service to its independent agencies. Customers can call in claims to the toll-free 24-hour service line, eliminating the need for agencies to fax in claims.
COPYRIGHT 2001 A.M. Best Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Plymouth Rock Assurance Corp.
Comment:Claims on the Go.(Plymouth Rock Assurance Corp. )
Author:Arment, Francis P.
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Previous Article:The Push for Privacy.
Next Article:ECoverage Goes Under.

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