Some firms can be cavalier with customer contacts; others are slow to respond to online service requests.
Posted Sep 13, 2004
For a sector that prides itself on providing reassurance and protection in times of trouble, the insurance industry is surprisingly weak when it comes to responding to its policyholders and securing their data, according to a new survey by The Customer Respect Group (CRG).
The report, "Online Customer Respect Study: Insurance Companies, August 2004," finds, for example, that 17 percent of firms provide no acknowledgement of receipt of any inquiries, and that 27 percent fail to respond to any online inquiries whatsoever.
The survey compiles results from CRG's examination of 72 insurance companies' Web sites, using a 10-point scale to rate firms on several fronts, including transparency, responsiveness, and privacy, along with an overall rating. Responsiveness was the insurance industry's worst performance, and its score there--3.4--places it right near the bottom of the 14 industries CRG covers, according to company president Roger Fairchild.
Fairchild calls the results "discouraging." He says, "It seems to me to be a real waste of opportunities" that insurance companies put so much time and energy into developing Web sites, and then when customers make inquiries the insurers don't respond properly.
CRG's survey also takes note of how insurance companies handle policyholders' data--not only how (and with whom) each firm shares that data, but whether policyholders are informed of the practice, and whether they are given the opportunity to manually opt in or out.
In response, CRG spokesperson George Cohen says that CRG "selects the site at each insurance firm that it feels is most appropriate." In its methodology, CRG notes that often it surveys the Web site of a relevant subsidiary rather than that of the parent company. The actual MBIA site it used for its study was themunicenter.com, which, according to Cohen, does not have the universal privacy-policy link James describes.
CRG also finds that as a whole, the insurance industry operates without sufficient regard for protecting customer data. While 86 percent of the company sites visited utilized Web forms for submitting personal information, only 34 percent of them provided fully secure versions of all forms, according to CRG's data.
Additionally, the percentage of insurance firms that explicitly state they're sharing customer data with outside entities jumped from 35 percent to 60 percent in the six months since CRG's previous survey. "Companies are being more clear in their policies, so it's become more clear what their policies are," Fairchild says. In other words, for some firms, as transparency has improved, the inadequacy of their privacy policies has come to light.
Fairchild ascribes this failing to "a lack of sophistication." The lowest-scoring insurance firms, he says, "probably put a Web site up [only] because it seemed like something they needed to do, but they're not sophisticated enough to really understand how it's supposed to function." It's critical, he adds, that these firms revisit their online service policies "to capture the potential revenue that they're missing and help them retain the customers they do have."
Fairchild claims industry statistics support the value of quality online service. "Ten percent of all revenue is initiated by a visit to a Web site," he says, and that "could be 25 percent higher if all best practices are in place." Among those practices, he says, are follow-up emails to online inquiries, which he considers a good indication of high-quality online service. "If you're going to take the time to respond," he says, "you should take the time to make sure [your response] was relevant to the question."
Additional results from the study include:
How quickly do companies respond to online inquiries?
15% Within 1 hour
23% Within 4 hours
31% Within a day
18% Within 2 days
13% Over 2 days
How is personal data used?
17% Only for a given purpose
9% Internal marketing
24% Share with affiliates
36% Share with business partners
12% [Policy is] Not explicit enough
2% Do not collect or use data
How much do consumers care about online privacy policies?
0.4% Don't care
29.8% I look for secure (SSL) sites
3.2% I usually input false data
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