Website benchmark survey: Insurance companies struggling to meet customer needs online

Rebecca Jennings, senior client advisor at international benchmarking firm Global Reviews, provides an insight into the performance of credit card companies online.

With some 65 million people driving 31 million vehicles and living in 25 million homes in the UK, the British motor and home insurance markets remain fiercely competitive. With comparison sites having muscled in on the market some years ago bringing increased price transparency, both home and motor insurers have struggled to make their online site stand out in the crowd, and face an uphill task to differentiate on anything other than price.According to The Global Reviews Insurance Benchmark Survey, conducted quarterly, most brands in both the home and motor insurance markets struggle to provide the required level of customer experience online. The survey looks at several hundred online criteria designed around the needs of consumers researching and applying for insurance online. The criteria are then scored and weighted to produce an overall customer experience score for each insurance website, which is expressed as a percentage. A score overall of 55% to 67% is required for the site to be deemed to be meeting basic customer expectations (so less than 55% suggests the site is failing to do this), whilst a site scoring between 68% and 83% would be exceeding expectations. Scoring above 83% would be deemed exceptional, and indeed very few sites have ever reached those heights. So it probably won’t come as any surprise to learn that no site in the home or motor survey in Q3 2011 does so. How do they perform? Well, as you can see from Graphic 1, the insurance industry as a whole has plenty of room for improvement. Overall, the average score in our home insurance survey is 47.8%, whilst motor insurers score a slightly higher average of 53.3%, compared to health at 49.9% and life at 42.9%. Interestingly, there is a lot of uniformity in overall scores across the brands in our surveys, suggesting that problems are at an industry level, rather than caused by development and implementation issues at brand level. For example, the overall scores for motor insurance brands vary between 48.7% and 56.5%.Let’s look at some of those industry issues which seem to be stalling the insurance industry online. As can be seen from Graphic 2, the lowest scoring categories for the home insurance industry are around helpful self-service information and contacting the company. The situation is the same for the motor insurance brands (see Graphic 3) – the availability of self service information here being particularly acute. So what can the industry do to improve its levels of customer service online? Well, in terms of helpful self-service information, few brands currently offer comprehensive hints and tips for protecting your home and vehicle, or full explanations of the terminology used. A simple glossary of terms explaining, for example, what does third party fire and theft motor insurance actually mean, or the difference between the various types of door lock that home insurance companies enquire about, is really a must for companies selling products with complex legal terminology such as insurance. Churchill, for example, do this quite comprehensively, with full FAQs for both home and motor, covering general policy questions such as “What is a multi-car discount?”, as well as terminology questions such as “What is No Claims Bonus or No Claims Discount?”. Our user experience surveys suggest that the majority of consumers shopping for insurance online would prefer to solve any problems they had through the online channel itself rather than go to another channel, so extensive and easy to navigation frequently asked questions and glossaries are a must.It doesn’t end there though; with the power of comparison sites in this market, consumers are increasingly looking to insurance brands themselves for comparisons of products, both between different products from the same insurer but also between insurance companies. Whilst it may feel like a brave move to compare your products and prices directly with others on your website, your site is the best storefront you have to explain your offering and justify the price. Even if your price is occasionally beaten by your competitors, your own site should provide the perfect place to support the pricing and display your added value.At present this functionality is largely lacking. Few sites offer tools to allow users to compare prices from competitors, although the home insurance brands do increasingly offer some simple comparisons of cover options. For example, several use third party data provider Defaqto to provide side by side comparisons of the elements offered by their insurance and particular competitors. These comparisons fall short of comparing prices though. Brands in our motor benchmark largely shy away from any such comparisons at all, with none offering side by side list comparisons of policy coverage. Whilst offerings in the insurance market can be complex, and price determined by each applicant’s individual circumstances, the proliferation and power of comparison sites in the UK insurance market generates expectations of openness that at present many insurance company websites are failing to meet. Another area within self-service that many (though by no means all) brands fall down on is supplying help and advice on how to claim. A number of brands give a variety of phone numbers to call, with little or no online content on what information, for example, to have to hand when you call, or any insight into what you can expect to happen when you do make a claim. A good example - Directline’s motor insurance website - offers not just both daytime and out of hours phone numbers but also extensive information in the form of short videos on what happens next, how they deal with a damaged vehicle, and how the claim will be finalised. They also have a stand-alone frequently asked questions section for motor claims. Such detail not only reassures users once they actually have the need to claim, but is also of importance during research and selection of an insurance provider. It serves to demystify the claims process, and communicates the message that claims are an accepted part of the insurance process , rather than something the insurance companies would rather not talk about!A developing opportunity in the home insurance market is the provision of self-service tools to help customers value their homes and contents. Many home owners significantly underestimate the cost of replacing their entire home contents – say in the aftermath of a serious fire – so home insurers are slowly catching on to the advantages of online tools to help with this. LV, for example, offer an application which shows users a visual prompt of rooms in a property, with lists of typical contents allowing users to enter the value of such items in their homes and calculate an overall contents total. A neat application, which could be taken one step further by allowing users to save their progress rather than having to redo each room again if forced to cut their research short. In fact, many insurers currently fail to allow users to save their applications at all, forcing users to complete them in one sitting; whilst most life insurers now allow users to save part completed applications, motor and home insurers do not. One exception; Swiftcover for motor insurance. The other area where many brands fall down right now is on providing sufficient and varied options for users to contact them. This includes not putting contact numbers on all relevant parts of the site, not having easy email forms or contact addresses that can be found at all relevant places, and making it hard for users to escalate a query if the online FAQ fails to deliver. For example, no sites in our sample offer call back functionality – where a user can request the insurance company call them by sending a request through the website – and none offer live chat online. Whilst these may be expensive customer service tools to implement, there is growing evidence that consumers are reassured by their presence, even if a relatively small percentage feel the need to use them. Making sure relevant email and phone numbers are placed wherever a user might feel the need to use them - throughout the online application process, for example, rather than just at the beginning - is a vital step for gaining user trust and reducing the percentage of users who drop out during the application process.Overall, it’s clear that the insurance industries in the UK have some way to go to fully meet customer expectations online. Global Reviews would suggest that starting with a comprehensive glossary and FAQ would be a good place to start, followed by clear and comprehensive guides on how to claim, and the impact on your insurance cover of doing so. A wider embrace of the tendency of users to compare across products and brands will build trust, as well as provide insurers with a clear platform for displaying service and offering benefits over competitors. Finally, added-value applications such as home contents calculators and the ability to save and return to application forms increase consumer utility and ultimately increase their propensity to return – and complete that form. To find out more about Global Reviews visit www.globalreviews.co.uk or find on Twitter: @GlobalReviews

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.