The auto insurance industry has improved its e-customer respect index score, bringing it up to the all-industries average at last, according to the Customer Respect Group's Q2 2007 Online Customer Respect Study of the sector.
The study evaluated the web sites of a representative sample of auto insurance companies, aiming to provide an objective measure of corporate performance from the online customer's perspective.
Key areas of improvement
As a result, auto insurers have moved up to the mid-range of all industries (from the bottom quartile in the previous study). Overall, the industry now provides better and more concise information about policies and practices, and auto insurers are continuing to show a strong commitment to their customers by making web sites accessible and usable to many different types of users.
In addition, a much higher number of e-mails were responded to - an area in which the industry was especially poor in the previous study.
Leaders in respect
GEICO and Progressive tied for first place in the index rankings, marking the fourth study in a row in which Progressive came out at the top. GEICO showed a significant improvement from 4th place in the previous study. But it was American Family that showed the most improvement overall compared to the previous study.
The study found that most auto insurers are now quick to reply to e-mails and tend not to ignore queries, but that they don't always fully answer questions. According to Terry Golesworthy, president of the Customer Respect Group, this may be because insurers prefer to channel queries through agents - a theory supported by the continued high proportion of auto insurers that continue not to offer a means for visitors to communicate online.
Nearly three-quarters of e-mails (74%) were answered within 24 hours (which is 30% above the all-industries average) but only 43% of replies fully answered the questions posted (which is 35% below the all-industries average). But twice the average proportion (14% versus 7%) of auto insurers still do not offer a means to communicate online.
Personal data issues
Auto insurance companies, while obviously improving, still need to explain more clearly their use of any personal data that consumers supply them with online. More than twice the all-industry average of auto insurers were unclear about data sharing, while 27% did not clarify their e-mail marketing practices (3 times the all-industries figure).
Of the companies that did explain their policies clearly, only 36% said that they did not share personal data. However, only 42% of those that re-use personal data allow visitors to opt out from marketing programmes (compared to the all-industries figure of 79%).
According to Golesworthy, these privacy issues are of particular concern given that auto insurers gather above-average amounts of personal data from web site visitors. Leading the field for clarity and openness were AllState and Nationwide, whereas the best policies for customers were from Liberty Mutual and AIG Direct.
Golesworthy concluded: "There has been an improvement in the industry, specifically in the willingness to engage with the customer one-on-one, but this is inconsistent across the industry. We see some companies starting to view customer respect and interaction as critical to driving more business through the website, while other companies are struggling to integrate the website into standard business practices."