Christelle Colman
CEO of EASA

Which 2017 events had the biggest impact on your industry?

Without a doubt, severe weather-related incidents had the biggest impact on our industry and business this year. The massive storms and flooding in Gauteng and fires in Knysna are some of the more notable events that took place in 2017.

Our primary role at EASA is to facilitate emergency response to people affected by these types of situations. This means that our teams are operating at full steam around the clock to help those in need. It is during these emergencies that our services are tested to the limit. We view every emergency situation as an opportunity to learn and improve our services for the next emergency.

How do you prepare for these events?

At EASA we have to be prepared for any type of an emergency that could take place at any time. This is why we have developed emergency response plans tailored for various scenarios activated in the event of emergencies. Despite South Africa experiencing multiple extreme weather-related emergencies during 2017, our plans responded well and we are confident that we are geared to cater for these events on a more frequent basis.

By having proper plans in place, that are adapted and improved on after each emergency, we can be poised and be ready for these events.

Our core philosophy at EASA is ‘You Live, We Care’. We fulfil this through proper planning and preparation to ensure our clients’ customers can get back on track as soon as possible after an emergency.

This is the real value of having assistance services available to policyholders. When it comes to including these services in a policy, there is no risk profiling that comes into play; these are services that are provided for situations that can impact anyone – such as at home, on the roadside or a medical emergency.

These services provide peace of mind for policyholders in that should they have an emergency situation, they know that professional help is on its way.

The positive events of 2017?

This was the year we really got to understand the concept behind artificial intelligence (AI) and technological innovation. These innovations are starting to gain traction in the industry as a whole. Instead of thinking that AI is going to take away jobs from human beings, we are realising that it is enabling us to provide a faster and more efficient service to our clients; when it comes to emergency services, response time is critical. These technological tools enable us to improve our service delivery in a more structured way.

Prior to incorporating this technology, in roadside assistance by way of example, it would take an operator on average of nine calls to assist a client, as the operator would have to phone various people to find out who could assist the client.

Now we have deployed a digital solution to our service providers, which notifies us of a roadside-assistance case immediately that we can pick up via the service provider.

Read More: Putting disaster recovery plans to the test

We allocate the case via this solution and the entire process runs through the digital channel. This alleviates the dependency on telephone calls, which are fraught with potential problems – including miscommunication.

This is hugely beneficial for our clients, who receive a faster response and who remain fully informed throughout of exactly who is assisting them and where they are. For example, in the event of a motor-vehicle emergency, the client will receive the details of who will be picking up the vehicle and how close the towing operators are to their location – all via geolocation technology.

In terms of our records, these digital solutions enable us to resolve a case immediately
and to process payments much faster. Everything happens in a matter of minutes and it makes for a much smoother experience for our clients and their customers. It’s all about technological enablement and using technology to further enhance and improve our service delivery.

IT WAS THE YEAR WHEN WE REALLY GOT TO UNDERSTAND
THE CONCEPT BEHIND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
(AI) AND TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION.

Other plans realised?

This is a fast-paced industry where things change quickly, so we’ve developed a number of new products – all of which are enabled via technology. We’ve also launched a new home marketplace product, which provides an ‘Uber-like’ solution for home renovation services. It’s all done through a mobile application called ‘Homio’. All our biggest achievements this year have been focused on technology and improving our offering. We want to make this a strong value proposition in how we deliver to clients.

Looking ahead of 2018?

We have to get political stability right. If we don’t, many more foreign companies will pull out of the South African market. This is not only the case in our industry but also for other insurance companies with foreign shareholders and service providers. Absa, for example, was affected when Barclays withdrew.

And other hurdles we need to overcome?

The biggest hurdle is the underperforming economy because we can’t always give our staff the rewards or bonuses they deserve. This adds pressure on the workforce. In a call-centre environment, like the one we have, you have to continuously focus on keeping the workforce motivated.

Employers need to understand that when the economy suffers, all of us suffer. It’s something we don’t talk about, but if it impacts an individual, it affects the business and the way we interact with our clients.

A hurdle we have overcome is the new BEE code. The new code has come a long way in addressing real, black economic transformation at the right levels; we truly embrace this and have managed to achieve good results as a level-2 BEE company. We support black independent business operators, such as the independent black towing operators, via the services we provide.

With the corporates, we look to the small to medium enterprises, which has translated well on our BEE scorecard. We have to give government credit and I think we’re correcting what was lacking in the previous codes.

Other opportunities in 2018?

We believe the companies who can lead in embracing technology will really differentiate their service and product offering. Our strategy is focused on growth and expansion through technological enablement in all aspects of our business: in the way, we deliver our service, the kind of products we offer, and in the kind of business we attract. We are fortunate to be a part of a global company, from which we not only learn a lot but can also employ to roll out global technologies in South Africa – just with a local element. There’s
a lot of hype and a lot of talk about technology, but the businesses that are able to implement technology effectively will change the game.