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Online, Auto Insurance Service Beats Shopping, Study Finds

By Aaron Crowe

Insurance company websites are easier for auto insurance policyholders to use for service than for potential customers to shop for a policy, according to a recent study.

The J.D. Power & Associates 2013 Insurance Website Evaluation Study found that requesting a quote and finding policy information are the two most difficult tasks among online shoppers. Finding company contact information is the easiest task to perform.

In the servicing part of the study, the easiest task for policyholders is paying bills. Printing or requesting a replacement insurance ID card and adding a driver or vehicle to a policy were marginally more difficult.

Only 16% of customers with a negative website experience say they’d recommend the company’s website to others.

While price is significant in a shopper’s decision, a positive website experience may still influence customers, the study found. A higher rated site in the study that also offers a lower price quote tends to close a shopper’s business a majority of the time — 90% — as expected.

But a higher rated site that provides a higher quoted price still closes a majority of the time — 60% — the study found.

Jenni Gritti, who works at a public relations firm, says she and others in their late 20s buy insurance online so they don’t have to deal with common problems when buying it in person or over the phone.

“Depending on the company, sometimes people upsale, have no clue as to what they are doing, take too long, have conventional hours that I don’t keep,” Gritti says.

“The ease of navigating through policies was great,” she says of her online shopping experience at Ensurance.com, adding that she found navigating the site, purchasing and paying bills online incredibly easy.

More than half of all insurance shoppers use the Internet to find options, and many further seek to obtain quotes online, says Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the global insurance practice at J.D. Power & Associates.

“Since policy shopping frequently includes the tasks of finding policy information and requesting a quote, it is understandable that customers who did not find those tasks to be particularly easy tend to abandon one brand in favor of others, often providing a low rating for that site,” Bowler says in a statement.

And when customers find it easy to view their policies, change contact information and other servicing tasks online, they’re more likely to return to the site and recommend the website and insurer to their friends and colleagues, the study found.

“Since customers indicate that finding contact information is easier than requesting a quote, at least some of them will use that contact information to obtain quotes by other means, such as contacting a company’s call center,” Bowler says.

“The cost of using human resources to address these questions and requests is much higher than an automated system on a website, which means that companies may be able to realize savings by improving the process through which shoppers request quotes online,” he says.

Among the 20 websites included in the study, Esurance, Progressive and Geico performed particularly well in the ease of use for both shopping and servicing with their websites.

Diane Comeau, who works in marketing in Massachusetts, says she switched from Allstate to Geico after finding Geico’s website much easier to navigate than Allstate’s. Reviewing her auto policy and paying the bill online was easy at Allstate, but comparing insurance options was difficult, Comeau says.

She switched to Geico partly because it was cheaper, but also because its website was easier to navigate and was intuitive, with options popping up when she was searching for particular items.

“On Geico, I was able to actually ‘create’ my ideal policy whereas on Allstate, you had to select from previously determined options,” she says. “Geico was a breeze to pay my bill online and support was excellent, in so far as answering questions in a prompt manner and with the exact information I needed.”

Comeau, who expects to return to Geico, is indicative of online insurance customers. Sixty-eight percent of customers in the study who had a positive experience say they “definitely will” return to the website, compared to 21% who had a negative experience.