The Check Is in the Car Complaints are down and profits are up since Progressive Insurance put its reps on the road.
By Christopher Null

(Business 2.0) – If you've ever been in a fender bender, you know how it feels to wait for your claim payment to arrive. Insurance companies love to hold the money as long as possible to wring out every penny of interest.

Progressive Insurance in Mayfield Village, Ohio, is the notable exception to the industry rule: It tries to unload payments as quickly as it can--by getting its claims adjusters out of the office and onto the street, where they rub elbows with clients and commiserate about the jerk who was driving the other car. The logic behind such a radical notion? Happier customers and more productive claims reps will more than make up for the lost interest revenue.

At Progressive, that radical notion is spelled IRV. The acronym stands for "immediate response vehicles," a fleet of Ford Explorers and Escapes loaded with enough communications gear--laptops, printers, and cell phones--to allow adjusters to settle claims right at the scene of an accident. That's a big improvement over the scenario that still pervades the industry: wait a week to see the car and make handwritten notes, snap Polaroids, drive back to the office, type it all into the mainframe, and issue a request for a check.

Ten years ago, the IRV project involved just 10 adjusters in Florida. Today more than 11,000 mobile claims reps share a fleet of 2,600 IRVs. Not only did the program help improve customer retention by 20 percent last year, it has helped Progressive shave labor costs: San Francisco claims manager Hellen Greenway, who oversees more than 100 reps, says Progressive's mobile adjusters can handle nearly twice the workload they could a decade ago. Progressive also credits the fleet of Fords with helping company revenues climb from $1.8 billion to more than $9 billion during that period. And, for the record, the ultrabusy Progressive agents aren't contributing to accidents. Adjusters are strictly prohibited from talking on their cell phones when they're behind the wheel. --CHRISTOPHER NULL