If a car insurance company website is easy to use, you're more
likely to buy from that insurer than from one with a clunky site --
even if you have to pay a little more, according to new research
from J.D. Power & Associates.
Yet most major insurance companies make it easier to get service
on your own policy online than to shop for a new one, says J.D.
Power. Both objectives are important for attracting and keeping
But "with the exception of the stars, very few excelled in
both," says Jeremy Bowler, senior director of J.D. Power's global
Among the 20 insurance companies included in the firm's 2013
"Insurance Website Evaluation Study," Esurance, GEICO and
Progressive stood out as top performers. Users in the study found
it easy to shop for new policies as well as get service on existing
policies on the websites.
Industry-wide, though, insurance company websites scored higher
for servicing than for selling, with an average score of 414 on a
500-point scale. Shopping had an an average score of 347.
Not surprisingly carriers with better websites and lower prices
won over shoppers. But in many cases carriers with higher-rated
websites beat competitors with lower prices. The study found that
60 percent of the time, customers comparing quotes on two carrier
websites chose the insurer with the better site, even if it quoted
a higher price.
Struggling to catch up
Bowler observes that
that are struggling to catch up built the servicing function on
their websites first, before investing heavily in the shopping
function. Some companies feared the inherent risk of having a fully
automated underwriting system operating on a website 24 hours a
day, he says. What if there were a glitch, and thousands of
policies were underpriced before the error could be fixed? This is
the kind of question that keeps insurance executives up at
"To build a system that's trustworthy takes an investment seven
digits long," Bowler says.
But now, at a time when more than half of insurance shoppers
scout out options on the Web, companies are seeing the cost of
providing a good online shopping experience.
"There's an opportunity cost: GEICO's eating your lunch," Bowler
For servicing, users in the study rated their insurance
carriers' websites for how easy it was to perform several different
tasks to manage their policies. The easiest was paying bills. Users
rated companies an average of 4.5 out of 5 points for that task.
Requesting a replacement ID card and adding a driver or vehicle to
a policy was harder. The average score for both those tasks was
In the shopping evaluation, customers were asked to compare two
sites and rate them on how easy it was to request a quote, compare
policies, find policy information, get discount information and
find company contact information.
The two tasks that were hardest to accomplish were also the ones
customers considered most important for shopping: finding policy
information and requesting a quote. On average, users rated
websites 3.6 and 3.8 out of 5 respectively, for those tasks,
compared to 4.2 for the ability to find company contact
Don't make me wait
Speed and accuracy are critical for the online quoting process
to work well. One strategy carriers are using to speed up the
process is to prefill forms for customers, Bowler says. You provide
a driver's license number, for instance, and the website retrieves
a bunch of data automatically for you. Quick and accurate
pre-filling is one of the most impactful steps carriers can take to
improve the experience, Bowler says.
Reducing the number of screens you have to go through to
accomplish a task also helps. Some carriers take customers through
five screens to do something, while others make them go through
more than a dozen, Bowler says. The worst-performing websites keep
customers waiting between multiple screens while the backend
Clearly communicating which discounts are available and which
ones have been applied in a quote is also important.
"If customers weren't sure all the discounts were accounted for,
scores would tumble by 80 or 90 points," Bowler says.
One of the prime reasons customers abandon insurance carrier
websites to phone the call centers is to verify price quotes, he
Meanwhile, companies with the best websites are using
customer-friendly videos to explain information, while those that
are lagging behind are still using 1990s-style pdf documents with
frequently asked questions.
It's an uphill battle for insurance companies with bad websites.
Only 21 percent of customers with a negative online experience with
a carrier's website say they will return to the site, and a mere 16
percent say they will recommend the website to others, the study
found. Meanwhile, 68 percent of customers with a positive
experience say they will return to the website, and 65 percent say
they will recommend it to others.