Move fast & fix things: Building a hurricane response in 12 hrs

Thu Oct 26 2017

Satellite image of Hurricane Irma over Florida

Here's what it takes to build a hurricane response strategy that works.

If tech isn’t at the heart of your hurricane response plan, you’re doing it wrong

As a tech company providing home insurance, the most important interaction we have with our customers is when their house gets damaged and they need help getting it repaired. For claims, hurricanes like Irma, the largest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, are the ultimate punch in the mouth because they create severe damage to a lot of customers all at once.

The legacy technology used by insurance companies for dealing with claims is the telephone, which just isn’t good enough, particularly in a disaster situation. We needed a new strategy for handling the damage to our clients’ homes. And we needed it fast.

This is the story of how we built the best hurricane response process, that made our customers’ lives easier in a time of stress, and got comments like “A lot of people wish they had Kin” from our customers, and how we built it in about 12 hours.

Communicating with customers in a disaster

After a hurricane there are often no roads, no phone, no internet, no power and our customers have a lot of other stuff to worry about. Getting in touch is a challenge.

Given the situation we decided to build our claims process on top of SMS. So we built an integration from our CRM system into a text communication platfrom and sent a text message to every customer, seeing if they were okay and asking if their house had sustained damage.

We kept it super simple:

"Sam, this is Kin Insurance. How is everything? You can text us at this number to start the claims process. This way you don’t have to wait on hold."

In less than 30 minutes we had received an SMS reply from more than half of our clients. We routed their text responses into our policy administration system, our CRM system, our claims system and Slack, creating company-wide visibility into how customers were communicating with us and which customers needed the most help.

Customers told us what they needed from us

It’s hard to overstate just how amazing this was. We went from “jeez, I wonder how bad it was” to having instant visibility into who was fine and who was affected in about half an hour. We quickly triaged our customers into “fine”, “has some damage, need to file a claim” and “home uninhabitable.”

Most importantly, it opened up a line of communication with our customers.

Many of them replied back saying they were fine and thanking us for checking in:


A tree limb on a damaged fence

Many customers had questions about their coverages, so having the customer text responses tied into our policy administration system was useful because it meant our CSRs could quickly reply with a text message explaining the coverage to the customer.

For example, this customer didn’t know if her fence was covered (it was), her deductible ($2,000), and if she should file a claim (probably not, unless there was more damage to her home).

For customers who had more significant damage we pushed the description and photos sent by the customer directly into the claims system to help with prioritizing the assignment of claims adjusters and increase the adjusters’ efficiency.

A roof with missing shingles and other damage

Texting is efficient. Who knew? (Everyone.)

Overall, handling claims via text improved our efficiency by around 20x. It also established a very high service level for our customers with nearly instantaneous responses. They responded when they were able, and sent in pictures of the damage to their property en masse. Many also indicated that they weren’t sure of the conditions of their roof.

Send in the drones!

From the reports coming in via SMS, the 5,000+ variables we collect on each house during underwriting, and the weather data about the storm itself, we had a pretty good idea of which houses were most at risk. So, we had a drone visit each one. In some cases we were able to identify damage on top of the house that was not easy to see.

The drones were often able to provide aerial images of damage to the customers’ house before they had even returned home, since many people left the state for safety purposes before the storm hit. It also removes some of the burden from homeowners that would have trouble reaching their roof to document the damage themselves.

Having good video and photo records very quickly after the event helps us ensure the claim is settled quickly and accurately. And this is ultimately what the whole process is for — getting our clients compensated for damage to their home in a timely fashion, and doing it without adding to their worries after a natural disaster. Next time when we get punched, we have a plan that we’re comfortable with.


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