Wireless Can Boost Productivity

And Improve Customer Loyalty

by

“Mobility” is a hot topic these days. Everyone is excited about mobile and wireless technologies, from Wi-Fi and mobile applications to the hot new PDA phones.

With all the excitement, many industries are re-examining their business processes to determine the most useful and cost-effective ways in which to wirelessly enable their employees. The recent upswing in the economy has many insurance carriers increasing their IT budgets and allocating funds to deploy wireless in the workplace.

How can you use this technology to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, reduce paperwork and cycle times, and still deliver a recognizable return on investment (ROI)? There is high interest in Wi-Fi and wireless local area networks (LANs), and you may wonder what role these offerings can play for your company.

First, lets demystify some terminology. The terms “mobility” and “wireless” are frequently used interchangeably, but they deal with different types of solutions. “Wireless” refers to hardware solutions and “mobility” refers to products that enable a remote worker to interact with corporate applications and data. Wi-Fi is not a form of wireless Internet connectivity; rather, it provides connectivity between pieces of hardware, such as laptops and your Internet router. A wireless mouse that uses an infrared beam to “talk” to your laptop or keyboard is an example of a wireless solution.

When it comes to mobility, the most successful deployments have occurred when a company takes a top-down view of how different functions within the insurance industry operate together. It helps to view your industry from a customer-in approach; in other words, how do customers interact with your company? How can mobile technologies be used to provide customers with a better experience and make it easier to do business with you?

It makes sense to use field force automation solutions when there are mobile and field employees, but much of the insurance business is comprised of office-bound workers. Some insurers may look at mobilizing their hard-wired workers to bring them closer to the customer. Increased customer interaction has been shown to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Lets look at how these varying technologies may be deployed across the insurance industry to build collaboration between work groups, provide mobility solutions for field workers and peek into the future of wireless insurance using location-based service technology.

Collaborative Solutions

A wireless LAN, or WLAN, can allow more collaboration between office workers who can take their laptops to different conference rooms or around the corporate campus. They are not truly mobile, because their connectivity is bound to the wired Internet connection within the office or campus.

An example of a mobile collaborative solution might be to deploy a mobile enterprise-grade instant messaging (IM) solution whereby field employees can collaborate in real time with colleagues. The term enterprise-grade differentiates from free IM clients, and this is an important distinction.

Many employees use free IM clients at work to communicate and collaborate quickly with colleagues as it is not a store-and-forward medium such as e-mail, and questions often can be resolved more quickly than by making a phone call. For all the upside of IM, there is a serious downside to using free IM clients. They generally are not endorsed for use by IT departments as they cannot control their use, and the free services do not have the same security measures used by an enterprise-grade IM client.

This is especially important with the proliferation of more and more insidious computer viruses and worms that are being deployed through instant messaging clients. A true enterprise-grade IM solution not only allows the IT department to control its use but allows employees to use it at their desks, and when they leave the office, the IM client “goes mobile” and can be used on their mobile phones or other wireless devices.

Mobility Solutions

Some property and casualty insurers have successfully and profitably mobilized their claims adjustors. Recent deployments have shown that claims management is where mobile technologies are providing the greatest positive impact for insurers. There are different aspects to a claims adjustors workday that can benefit from true mobility. Your company need not mobilize every aspect of an adjustors life to reap serious rewards in terms of both money and customer loyalty.

First, lets look at how claims adjustors start their day. They usually begin their morning developing the days schedule of visits and then spend the latter half of the day doing laborious paperwork. By mobilizing its automated scheduling, routing and dispatch system, an auto insurer can save its adjustors hours in their workday by intelligently routing the days service calls. As new claims are reported during the day, the dispatch system alerts adjustors in the area to pay a visit to the client. With secure wireless Internet access to corporate data and systems, paperwork is greatly reduced and, in some cases, eliminated.

Insurers may also extend applications such as damage estimation to the mobile workforce so that they can provide the customer with real-time figures on cost repair and submit a repair order directly to a carrier-approved body shop. Companies can equip adjustors with handheld devices for electronic signature capture and printers so checks can be handed to customers on the spot. For these companies customer satisfaction and loyalty rates will increase, and they will be able to process more claims in less time.

More importantly, the company saves money by controlling the losses and preventing escalation of damages, and ensuring a claimant in a car accident wont be coming back with new aches and pains that werent evident at the time of the incident.

Location-Based Services: Looking to the Future

Location-based services are those that use technology to show where a person or assets are located. If you have rented a car that has a system that navigates directions for you and shows on a small screen your position on the road, that is a location-based service. A metropolitan police station, for example, can use the technology to see where all the police cars and motorcycles are within the city and dispatch those assets closest to the scene of an incident.

Insurers may be able to utilize a type of service whereby a Global Positioning Device is placed in a policyholders automobile and is connected to several mechanical aspects of the vehicle with the purpose of collecting information on how a customer drives. This provides qualitative data about the driver such as the distance and the speeds at which they drive, and whether they drive at night or during the day. The information can then be used to adjust a clients policy downwards for those who rarely drive and upwards for those who are considered a higher risk.

While surely many here in the U.S. will think this an intrusive Big Brother tactic, those who have clean records and dont log many on-road miles will surely welcome the idea of paying a lot less for their insurance. Insurers are likely to increase profitability through this “pay as you drive” model by increasing their customer base of verifiably safer drivers.

Location-based technology is just one arrow in the quiver for insurance companies to consider as they look forward to deploy next-generation wireless solutions.

Evaluate the potential by examining which of your business processes could be transformed and optimized through the use of mobile and wireless technology. Select partners who understand the dynamics of the insurance industry and will integrate solutions to work within your IT infrastructure.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 23, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.