State Farm Insurance Company (Bloomington, Ill.; $32 billion in 2009 premiums) recently unveiled a widget for its Pocket Agent for Android application, On the Move, which consumers can set to return text messages automatically while they drive. The ostensible goal of the widget is to cut down on drivers taking their focus off the road to text, thus cutting down on accidents. Insurance & Technology talked to Patty Gaumond, assistant VP of enterprise Internet solutions for State Farm, about how this functionality meshed with the carrier's overall mobile strategy, how such ideas get from employees to implementation and more.
Insurance & Technology: Why did State Farm decide to add this service only to its the Android version of Pocket Agent, which also has an iPhone version?
Patty Gaumond: Of the phones we provide services for, Android is the only operating system currently that allows for widgets, and we wanted to make this safety feature as easy and as quickly accessible as possible to improve safety while driving by limiting distractions. We decided on a widget instead of an application because a widget is already available for instant use, because it requires no loading time. We felt this was the most user-friendly way to make this service available to the mobile user. In some cases we haven't built for all platforms; for example Pocket Agent is on iPhone and Android, but not BlackBerry. We want to see which consumers are most likely to interact with us through an app, and what we need to make available on our mobile Web site.
I&T: How does this fit into State Farm's overall mobile strategy?
PG: Our goal is to be a leader in the mobile space and we want to accomplish this by providing positive, productive and innovative solutions for users. We try to see where the consumers are going and what drives their decisions, make sure our plans are still reflective of where trends are going. As we look at the capabilities that we feel we need to focus on, we look at consumer insight and trends, even those outside our category. In this case we identified a capability we believe would be useful, and where would it be most effectively served.
I&T: Does it mean, therefore, that it's important to be first-to-market with new mobile capabilities?
PG: Being first-to-market is great and important, but providing users with a quality product is key. As consumers continue to embrace these types of capabilities using these mobile devices, they expect companies to be there to engage with them in the ways they choose. We watch the numbers, ratings, downloads, retention, but also keeping doing up-front work to see where it makes the most sense. We have Fast Estimate [a quoting tool] on our mobile Web site. It was first to market there. That was a judgment call based on a lot of insights.
I&T: How else is State Farm using technology to enhance the customer experience? Are safety-focused initiatives such as this core to that customer experience strategy?
PG: We offer Fast Estimate and provide improvements to Pocket Agent as well as enhancements at our Web site. We also have the Learning Center as well as social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. We want our customers to be able to connect with us any way they choose. [Safety is] a key piece — we help people "manage the unexpected" so our safety efforts help "reduce the unexpected."
I&T: This idea came through the State Farm Employee Innovation Challenge, an initiative that "sourced input and ideas from thousands of employees." How successful has that challenge been in terms of getting technological ideas from employees’ imaginations to the market? What are some of the advantages to encouraging all employees, regardless of background, to challenge the IT department with consumer-focused ideas?
PG: Sometimes, ideas are specific, like On the Move. Other times, the ideas reshape our in-flight work. The key advantage is that it unites all of us to a common goal — meeting customer needs.