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What You Should Expect from Esurance

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The company’s automobile insurance is available in just 27 states so far, but with the astounding rate it has grown — from writing premiums of $4 million in 2000 to $600 million in 2006, a whopping 14,900 percent change — chances are it won’t be long until a job lands in your body shop via the online insurer, Esurance.

The technology-driven company, which offers homeowners, renters, health and life insurance in addition to auto insurance, highlights the ease of its use with the prevalent advertising tagline “Quote. Buy. Print.” But it’s not just the 24/7 customer service and convenient access to policy information that’s got motorists switching companies in droves: A comprehensive and simply navigated Web site is a solid example of the Esurance commitment to customer satisfaction; and its technology-based model not only streamlines the costly insurance process and gives some policyholders lower insurance rates, it also saves trees by communicating via email.

As a matter of fact, its popularity is as hot right now as the pink hair of “special agent” cartoon spokesperson Erin Esurance. In the TV advertising, she fights high auto insurance rates and oxygen-sucking villains, but in reality she’s battling (with the help of the in-house Esurance creative advertising team) for the insurance-buying market’s attention against some cavemen, a gecko and insurers that make experiencing a car crash look like a walk in the park.

BLENDING OLD AND NEW

Groundbreaking as it is for consumers, who can make claims online and even compare insurance rates from different companies, working with automobiles covered by Esurance is not all that unusual from the body shop perspective.

Esurance runs a standard direct repair program (DRP) and uses a blend of new and traditional portions of claims handling, but the communication process is really what makes them unique, says Joe Laurentino, material damage director for Esurance. After all, the natural flow of business isn’t always confined to “normal” working hours, and very few repairs are in on Monday and out on Friday, so having 24-hour customer service and using the AutoWatch program allows policyholders to communicate as often as they wish with both the body shop and the insurance company.

“Plus, when there’s regular communication, customers are less apt to react negatively when there are delays,” says Laurentino.

Its DRP shops write their own estimates, and if a customer chooses a non-DRP shop, Esurance will send an appraiser or another representative to inspect the vehicle. The company seems truly dedicated to customer satisfaction, as well as to quality repairs.

Sometimes, an aftermarket part might be the most economical choice in a vehicle repair, but if it doesn’t arrive on time, fit correctly or doesn’t return the vehicle to pre-crash condition or value, will it cause delays in cycle time or compromise the integrity of the repair? These questions are always considered at Esurance, since the answers could damage the reputation of the company or the body shops it works with.

“That’s why it’s in the company’s best interest to continue looking out for the best interest of all parties,” Laurentino says. “We’re fast-growing, and we don’t get [customers] by saying no … We want to pay what’s right.”

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Rick Rehm is the information technology manager for the multi-shop Mike Rose’s Auto Body in northern California, where they have a relationship with Esurance at all seven locations. While it varies from shop to shop, Mike Rose’s Auto Body has about 15 DRPs and has been working with Esurance for about eight months.

“They’re a bit unique in the way that they are technology driven,” Rehm says. “Where a lot of companies we’ll get a lot of phone calls for, with Esurance it’s done through the electronic estimating systems, email, things of that nature. So they’re real big on technology.”

When it’s time for a status update or other business, many insurance companies offer body shops an 800 number, where they might be put on hold to wait for a representative. With Esurance, however, shops can log onto a Web site and get a response in 30 to 60 minutes.

Even before an Esurance job came into one of their shops, Rehm had personal experience with the “virtual insurer:” He was with Allstate for his own personal insurance until they upped his premium, and, at a friend’s suggestion, he checked out Esurance and switched policies for a lower cost.

“It was about a month after that, we had a walk-in Esurance customer, and the estimator that helped that customer out said, ‘Wow, what a great company to work with,’” says Rehm. “And so I let our marketing director know, and he got on the horn, and that’s how we got our relationship with them.”

The company’s explosive growth may be indicative of best business practices today and in the future, when electronic media may continue to be the preferred method of communication due to their flexibility and ease.

“Our customers like to communicate electronically; they are forward thinking and appreciate the chance to speak with us electronically,” Laurentino says. “The number one complaint about insurance companies is that you can’t get a claim representative on the phone.”

Launched in 1999, Esurance is a subsidiary of the publicly traded White Mountains Insurance Group. The company is divided into four regions, but has a united goal of continuing education company-wide: About half of the representatives are I-CAR Gold Certified staffers, and about half have attainted I-CAR Platinum status.

Esurance is available in 27 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

With corporate headquarters in San Francisco and a 24/7 Customer Service Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., the insurer also has eight regional offices scattered throughout its coverage area. They are in Sacramento, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Dallas; Atlanta; Phoenix; Melville, N.Y.; Madison, Wis.; and Knoxville, Tenn.

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