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Design, Not Performance, Defines Success of Online Quoting: Study

But product satisfaction still is the greatest indicator of customer acquisition.

With auto insurance providers' website generally comparable in terms of performance, strong design and good products are the best ways to get a reputation for exemplary customer experience, according to a recent study of several carriers' websites by Keynote Systems, a San Mateo, Calif.-based provider of application testing services.

Nationwide ranked highest in Overall Customer Experience based on Keynote's survey of 2,250 customers of the websites. On the technical portion of the study, however, Nationwide was middle-of-the-pack in terms of performance.

Chris Musto, GM of the Keynote Competitive Research group, says that this can be explained by the fact that the difference between companies is negligible when it comes to performance.

"Nationwide was middle of the pack for responsiveness, and middle of the pack for reliability," he says. "But it wasn't as if there was some best in class and they were just swamped. Generally the sites in the study did pretty well."

[Inside Nationwide's analytics strategy]

It takes a significant deviation from the mean for a website to start losing points with consumers based on performance, Musto explains. But insurers do tend to have more site issues than other financial services companies because of the challenge of putting customers' desired web experience on legacy systems.

"Insurers are constantly tweaking with the process in the front end, and trying to engage with the latest in web development. But the backend underwriting system is what it is," he says "We see it break more than we see things break in other studies -- like when people apply for credit cards."

[What makes a great online quoting experience?]

Nationwide's ascension represents the first time an established online trailblazer such as GEICO or Progressive wasn't alone at the top of the customer experience list, Musto points out. He credit's Nationwide's changes to its site over the years, its allowance for customers to complete the quote online instead of going to an agent, and its appointment of a veteran banking executive to handle e-commerce as helping its status improve.

"Its quote and research process is essentially incremental tweaks over something they rolled out years ago, and over time it's moved the needle," he says." Some of the things they did in terms of using dynamic fields, the way they recalculate the premium on the fly, people have grown to expect that kind of experience. It's almost as if how people want to work on the web has caught up to what Nationwide was doing."

The top site for technical quality was 21st Century Insurance, which Keynote announced as a client today.

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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