The power of assistance apps

ITIJ 213, Assistance and Repatriations Review, October 2018
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Mobile technology is such an integral part of our everyday lives that we rarely think about it anymore. Still, the assistance industry faces a number of challenges when it comes to engaging with customers via apps. Christian Northwood explores how these challenges are being overcome

With the app market becoming so saturated, standing out is the main challenge for assistance providers who offer an app to their customers. Users don’t just expect one or two services to be delivered via the app they are looking to be supplied with an entire suite of resources. Sweden-based company Global Warning Systems (GWS) strives to make travellers safer and was created in 2008 after its Founder Lars Lidgren experienced the SARS epidemic in 2003, the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, and the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, all first-hand. Its app is part of a wider travel security platform offered by the company called Safeture, which allows both staff and the companies they are employed by to ‘quickly receive alerts and support when something serious has occurred based at their exact location’, explains CMO Jonas Brorson. “Because the app is part of the entire platform, there are many features that are designed for travel safety and tailored to business needs,” he told ITIJ. “The app is also available as a software development kit solution, which gives us a unique advantage.” As part of the package, users are able to access a wide range of services, including multilanguage translation, exchange rates, travel booking information, location sharing, local news from ‘credible sources’ and much more. Most importantly, however, ‘Safeture makes it possible to contact each other immediately to make informed decisions’.

man and woman computerAssistance firm Tangiers International, headquartered in Malta, provides ground support services for many types of companies, among them insurers. Its app also provides a rage of features: “Customers can use their mobile phones to check a policy, submit and track a claim, investigate local healthcare options and access emergency assistance – from anywhere in the world,” explained the company’s Managing Director Jane Hegeler.
Safety features are certainly a key draw when it comes to assistance apps. Nathan Holloway, Business Development Manager at CEGA Group, in the UK, believes this is the strength of his company’s assistance app INtrinsic: “Users see the app as an essential tool that provides access to vital (and potentially life-saving) integrated medical and security intelligence, response and assistance services – tailored to their destination and needs.” 
But as well as loading up on features, users want their apps to be sleek, smooth and provide quick access to the services they need most. CEGA Group’s INtrinsic app was created in partnership with security specialist Solace Global, and Solace Managing Director Emily Roberts explains that a personal touch goes a long way in making customers use the app again: “Clients can make the app their own, including adding a client-specific button that can store important company information – such as key contact details, insurance policy number and travel policy documents – encouraging users to use the app regularly.”
If the end-user finds the app easy and effective to use, reuse goes hand in hand with renewed policies
Holloway agrees: “We use bespoke branding of the app to encourage ownership, and work closely with clients to introduce the app to users. To date, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Hegeler stresses that, at the end of the day, a better working app means better usage and profit for the assistance company: “We bundle this [the assistance app] into our offering for our clients – underwriters, brokers or employers. If the end-user finds the app easy and effective to use, reuse goes hand in hand with renewed policies.”
 
Safety first
With global business travel spending rising to $1.33 trillion in 2017, according to a report from the Global Business Travel Association, keeping employees safe when abroad is an ever-increasing concern. Brorson explains that GWS’s app contains its risk management tool Instant Security Overview, which allows for the instant location of employees, plus a direct line of contact. “By being updated with real-time security information, users avoid new incidents, and companies can quickly make wise decisions to ensure the safety of their staff. Safeture also focuses on preventive work. The platform incorporates travel information on more than 200 countries and regions, local government contact information, diseases – and how to avoid them, current security threats, and monthly global health reviews,” he explained. Hegeler also states that being able to keep track of an employee’s current and future location helps them stay one step ahead of danger, and her company’s app uses notifications to make sure the user is aware of any ‘heated situations’ that they may be heading into.
Holloway stresses not only the increasing growth in business travellers, but also the increase in business travellers heading to unfamiliar locations. Furthermore, a 2017 survey from the Federation of Risk Management, the International SOS Foundation and KPMG found that for 41 per cent of companies, the current geopolitical climate is the biggest complexity of a risk manager’s task, with a further 64 per cent believing that exposure to health, safety and security risks linked to workers’ mobility has increased over the last two years. Keeping those employees located in more unstable areas in the loop and with quick access to help is, therefore, key. Holloway explains how his company’s app goes some way to helping: “The INtrinsic app helps reduce travel risks proactively via a single mobile source, avoiding the complexities associated with multiple supply chains. It ensures that employees are fully prepared for specific assignments abroad, aware of real-time health and security risks overseas, easy to locate, and able to access integrated medical and security assistance quickly in an emergency. And that personnel, assets and vicinity risks are monitored globally by the INtrinsic team, 24/7.” The combination of this constant monitoring allows companies to easily monitor an employee in one place, says Holloway, and able to fulfil part of their duty of care obligations.

airport woman phone

Although safety is a major concern, cost containment is also a key consideration for assistance companies, and their apps are created with this in mind. “The cost of an emergency abroad can spiral out of control rapidly if the right support is delayed by multiple supply chains or complicated communication,” Holloway told ITIJ. “By providing mobile access to integrated medical and security intelligence, risk mitigation and responses, the INtrinsic app can reduce the cost, frequency and severity of emergencies overseas.” For CEGA and Solace Global, the app helps users to more easily access CEGA’s existing global network of overseas partners and agents that provide on-the-ground support during events. This network is constantly being assessed and reviewed, making sure it is cost effective. 
 
The Tangiers app also saves money by saving time, and some of these savings are passed onto the insured. “It reduces phone calls and minimises the time it takes to look for a provider,” Hegeler explained, adding that the app’s ability to give a traveller updates for the location they are in, or their destination, and on-the-spot claims processing, all helping to make the process as efficient as possible.
 
One step beyond
Standing still is not an option with technology, and constantly looking ahead to new technologies is vital. Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more prevalent in day-to-day life, and assistance app developers are looking to harness its power. “AI will also have a big role to play with how claims are handled and is already helping streamline processes and improve end user’s experience,” said Hegeler of Tangiers, while Roberts of Solace Global said that his company is exploring the ways AI can help further improve the information and support it provides to its clients. 
employees are fully prepared for specific assignments abroad, aware of real-time health and security risks overseas, easy to locate, and able to access integrated medical and security assistance quickly
Brorson asserted that GWS is already harnessing AI’s unique capabilities, using it to develop tools that allow the company to handle large amounts of information to make accurate assessments, and sorting that makes life easier for its analysts. “We are convinced that AI will be increasingly important in the future,” he concluded.
Wearable technology – such as smartwatches – is also increasingly becoming part of day-to-day life for many travellers, and although none of the apps profiled in this feature are currently available on tech of this kind, it is again very much on the cards. “It definitely has potential for future assistance apps, given the capabilities of wearable tech such as heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking being built into devices,” explained Hegeler.
In conclusion, Roberts of Solace summarises where the future of assistance apps is heading: “Technology is continuously advancing. The more we can harness these new solutions, the greater the user experience is, and the better we can help businesses manage risks quickly and easily.” ■