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The Customer Respect Blog has moved – please join us

August 6, 2010

We. like many started a blog to discuss in a more informal way, some of the observations we noted while reviewing, benchmarking and using websites in the broader  financial services industry.

The blog provides a platform for us to express our view and for you, our readers to get a better ‘flavor’ or who we are are and what we do. We have been surprised and quite delighted to find out that our blog readership, often times exceeds our website traffic. Is this to be expected or is this a change in the way people look for information?

Blog content is up to date (or should be ), it is editorial in nature and therefore should inform and advise, we certainly hope we do that. The website, in comparison is much more static, we do not move premises, our mission statement is largely unchanged for the past 7 years, our approach and products have changed but this is slow moving, as it should be, after all you cannot change your product set every week.

The blog allows us to comment and highlight key issues and trends, not least social media, mobile and the trends for consumers to assume greater control over the process of buying products. It allows us to demonstrate our expertise, again we hope it does, and this speaks directly to trust. Our opinions demonstrate what we know and what we think and in a firm of advisers, our value lies entirely  in our expertise. So what tell you all of this? Well as part of our blog maturity, it seems wrong to have multiple sites and so we have moved our blog to our own website and as such our experimentation on this ‘outpost’  is at an end.  You can reach the blog now at

www.customerrespect.com/blog

We hope you continue to read and digest our thoughts and views as well as consume our products and services.

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Twitter Continues to Attract Insurers

June 23, 2010

Follow me, I am an exciting insurance company

Twitter has been adopted into many roles for insurers as they look to understand and exploit the technology. In a recent survey of insurers, we found that all of the companies engaged with a social media strategy see Twitter as playing a role. So what are they using Twitter for?

As a driver to other forms of content.

Some insurers have build and established blogs, microsites, financial guides and task-focused calculators as ‘Tweet’ destinations. Active in this endeavor include @libertymutual and @allstate with extensive blogs. Online calculators and quote tools are promoted by tweets by @farmersgroup and @newyorklife. @Chubb has been relentlessly promoting their new Facebook site.

To deliver news

Typically these accounts push out news items, often manned by and PR groups and directing links back to corporate websites. PR groups typically do not follow many people and have a low level of conversation. Examples are @USAA_News, @ThriventMedia and @AMFAM_media. Not all of the news relates to the company with Fathers Day and the USA soccer team recently coming in for comments.

To provide customer service

Twitter has a role in reaching out to customers. Used primarily in other industries including BestBuy, Comcast and AT&T, it has started to appear in insurance where it is most prominent in the auto segment. As this use matures, we are seeing more specific twitter identities being added by companies for this role. @Ask_progressive, @GEICO_Service and @esurancecares are three examples even though the primary Twitter identities still field a lot of service questions. There is a high level of  individual conversations and few tweets sent to the entire follower base. To preserve privacy and enable private messages, there is a little ritual mating game played where both partied ‘follow’ each other. Caseloads can be estimated by follower counts. The twitter identity @Progressive, which has been used for customer service sent 80% of the messages to individuals.

To promote sponsorships and events

Last summer, there was tremendous activity in sponsorship activity and we can expect the same increased activity levels again this summer. NASCAR, tennis, baseball and golf are popular sporting themes from insurers including @Nationwide, @StateFarm and @TheHartford. @Metlifeblimp provides updates of every location visited and @NewYorklife promotes events at the Bronx Zoo.

To develop a brand image

Some insurers are creating or enhancing brand images, often going a long way to ‘stay in character’. The @Aflackduck and @TheGEICOGEEKO are good examples. Mutual of Omaha is developing its @ahamoment image.

Provide claims information

After snow, rain, hail storms, after flooding or other natural disasters, insurers are sympathizing with their customers but also providing links to claims groups set up to handle the event. Active in this category include @Progressive, @amfam and @allstate.

To acknowledge compliments

Tweeters, for some reason, seem very inclined to compliment brands on good service or products. Maybe it’s because they can. Compliments are captured and ‘retweeted’ often with a ‘thank you’ message. @StateFarm, @amfam are active in this category

The Numbers

With so many objectives, it is hard to compare success metrics. One simple measure is the number of followers; another is the customer service ‘cases’ started (or closed). PR and media groups tend to measure ‘influence’ or ‘reach’ adding their followers to those of anyone that ‘re-tweets’ them.

So looking at the simplest measure, followers, here is the latest set of tables.

The Leaders in Follower Count

USAA, as always beloved by its customers, have led this table for a year now and it will hard to see them getting dislodged. State Farm is the ‘energizer bunny’ of insurance tweeters. They just keep tweeting away adding to their follower count, utilizing most of the strategies listed above.

USAA
State Farm Insurance
Aflac
Allstate
Progressive Insurance
Nationwide
Chubb
GHCommunity
The Hartford
Farmers Insurance
Liberty Mutual
Geico
Esurance
Travelers Insurance

Movers and Shakers

The average monthly follower growth is about nine percent; movers and shakers exceed this number, and restricting ourselves to companies with at least 500 followers, we can predict new strategies or staffing. Farmers takes the latest best ‘mover and shaker’ title with 1525 followers in June, up from just over 200 in March. Chubb is a company to keep your eyes on; they have increased social media activity on Twitter, Facebook, and crowd sourcing. The following companies have increased the follower count the most, as a percentage, in the past 3 months.

Farmers Insurance
Travelers Insurance
Geico
Chubb
Liberty Mutual
American Family

Talkers

The average across the industry is slightly less than one tweet per day. So who are the most active tweeters?

State Farm has led this category for 10 months in a row so we must applaud their stamina. In the past 3 months, they have averaged over six tweets per day. Allstate would lead if we combined Allstate and their separate GHCommunity, together sending eight tweets a day.

The leading tweeters by volume

State Farm Insurance
Progressive Insurance
Allstate
GHCommunity
Esurance
Geico
Liberty Mutual
American Family
Aflac
Farmers Insurance
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Insurers Move Hestitantly Towards Online Quote Engines

June 15, 2010

In the latest Customer Respect study of life insurer websites (Customer Respect Q2 2010 Life Insurance Benchmark), it is clear that insurers are struggling with the conflict between distribution strategies and online functionality. As with most industries, customers are looking to research products and services online and are looking beyond brochureware content traditionally served. With online travel, banking and shopping commonplace, consumers have grown accustomed to comparison-shopping. The growth in insurance aggregators responding to paid search terms such as ‘life insurance quote’ confirms this trend. Insurers, however, have traditionally sold through agent consultation and self-serve online tools and calculators viewed by some as contradictory to this process.
Not all consumers are the same and while many continue to consult and buy from the agent, the number who demand self-service is growing. Insurers must provide a multi-channel distribution model to maintain the range of customers that they already enjoy. This does not imply selling insurance online, even though we are starting to see that trend for term life. It does indicate a need to help the consumer price out their options prior to consultation.
The most popular online tool, supported by two-thirds of the major insurers, is to help calculate the amount of term life insurance a consumer should have. The quality of these tools varies with many sites using mediocre third party applications. This type of tool does not influence the distribution model too much, hence its popularity and besides, many such calculators exist on personal finance sites.

Helping the consumer choose between term and whole life is much less popular as it directly addresses the type of question a consumer would ask an agent. These tools are generally custom developed and quality is higher. MetLife, New York Life, Western & Southern Life and ING offer the best tools in this category.
As for price estimates, these are becoming more popular, especially for term life. About half of the major insurers now have at least a simple tool. A few allow the quote to be continued into an application, a few others will transmit the quote to an agent for completion but the majority provide a simple quote based upon a few questions and leave it to the consumer to take the next step. The trend is for better quality calculators and MetLife, ING, TIAA-CREF, Prudential, Western & Southern now all provide options.
According to Comscore, aggregators provide 78% of online life insurance quotes. To counter this, insurers need to address this demand head-on while maintaining their distribution channel integrity. Expect to see a transition for greater online self-service websites coupled with greater sophistication in handling a multi-channel process.

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Put Life Insurance in the Shopping Cart – is this the way of the future?

June 9, 2010

Term life insurance is the simplest type of life insurance policy. It is very easy to understand, it works like this: You typically pay a fixed amount per month for your beneficiaries to receive a fixed and agreed payout on death. It is a cost-effective way to provide a security blanket for a set time-period that might cover a mortgage, kids in college or expenses that would otherwise ruin your family in the event of your death; at the end of the period, it has absolutely no value.

It is easy to understand primarily because this is how most people see insurance; it is how we buy car insurance. We pay, hoping never to use it and at the end of the year, we pay it again. The parameters could not be easier, the younger and healthier you are, the cheaper the coverage. So why is it hard to buy?

Insurance companies prefer us to consult with a local agent that can guide us through this complex financial transaction. Is this just the way of the world? Should we accept that we must have this consultation with an agent who will make an admirable attempt to place a life insurance policy within the big picture of our retirement planning, net-worth management and inheritance planning? All these are good things and financial planning is highly advisable but what if we really do just want to buy a term life policy?

Barriers always create alternatives and web aggregators have sprung up offering us competitive insurance quotes in part to satisfy the growth in the Google search term ‘life insurance quote’. Aggregators often insist upon extraordinary amount of personal information and we accept a multitude of agents calling our homes.

A growing trend might derail the process and that is retail insurance. Term life is a becoming a commodity and if you want it, increasingly you can go online and buy it. In the US, this trend is slow, just a handful of smaller providers, but across the pond in the UK, they are fast saying ‘cheerio’ to the old ways. Life insurance sites are starting to look a lot like retail sites, stepping the consumer through a easily understood process. A quick estimate can be followed with a full online application and finally a purchase. A look at a screen shot for AVIVA, the UK largest insurer is typical; it follows all of the rules and best practice for retail buying online.

AVIVA - Term Life Insurance Online Application

Online Application for AVIVA term life insurance

A progress bar shows the consumer where they are in the process and the hesitant consumer can call out to get help or request a call back. If any information is not available, the consumer can save and come back later. Specific concerns are addressed contextually with online help and the VeriSign badge provides security assurances. In short, while it is not perfect,  it is a simple online retail application for term life insurance.

Of course, the agent cannot advise of us of all the products we could and should be buying and maybe more than a few people will make mistakes by self-serving. But, maybe more people will take out life insurance if it is simpler and avoid disasters for their families.

When will we see online life insurance in the US? It is here already but not in the same volume as in the UK but it surely is a matter of time.

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Facebook – Let the Recruitment Begin

June 2, 2010

As news revolves around Facebook privacy, the platform continues to occupy pole position in the minds of many insurance companies. The length of time a consumer spends on Facebook and the ability to develop a sophisticated online presence have been attractive for a while but the feature gaining most attention is the ‘LIKE’ button. Insurance agents have long preferred referrals to leads and the like button promises to deliver. American Family are one of the industry pioneers in understanding and supporting the button. On individual agent Facebook pages, consumers are encouraged to ‘LIKE the agent’ (or the company); this has the effect of posting a message to their friends indicting this ‘recommendation’ and providing a convenient link to the agents Facebook page – very neat.

The number of recommendations of an agent or the brand depends on the use of the button but more on the number of fans; as a result, we are starting to see strategic recruitment efforts from some companies.

The leading Facebook fan pages for companies are:

Company Fans
USAA 77686
Allstate 17800
Thrivent Financial 14442
State Farm Insurance 14393
GEICO 13758
American Family 10181
Progressive Insurance 9972
Anthem Footprint 6080
Nationwide 5191
NorthWestern Mutual 4051

There are other pages devoted to popular brand images or campaigns, not all of which controlled by the brand owner (an interesting discussion for another day). The numbers can be impressive, the question is how many are true fans of the products. Some of the leaders are:

Brand Image Fans
Flo, The Progressive Girl 507500
The AFLAC Duck 171515
Nationwide NASCAR Racing 21142
GEICO, The Pothole 12562
Ahamoment (Mutual of Omaha) 2030

Movers and Shakers

With average recruitment growth across the industry running about 8 percent per month, pages that exceed this number typically indicates a campaign or change in strategy. The fastest growing average monthly growth  (over the  past 3 months assuming a minimum of 250 fans) are:

Ahamoment (Mutual of Omaha) 128%
New York Life 92%
Anthem Health Footprint 32%
Amica Mutual 17%
State Farm Insurance 14%
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Is MetLife Changing the Way We Buy Life Insurance?

May 25, 2010

MetLife recently announced a new set of online life insurance tools (www.metlife.com/straightstory). While online tools are not especially newsworthy, the change it represents in the life insurance sales model is far more wide reaching. Calculators can be are easily built; sales model adjustments are hard. We have witnessed the effect Progressive and GEICO had on the auto insurance sector; can we expect the same changes in life insurance?

For so long, insurance has been sold through distribution networks and agents. The role of the website has been to compliment that approach. The consumer, on the other hand, is turning more and more to the internet to get answers with a less than stellar experience.

According to Beth Hirschhorn, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for MetLife, “Buying life insurance is challenging for even the most motivated. Of those people who say they will buy life insurance, research shows that more than 80% will fail in their attempt.”

Part of the problem for consumers is the disconnect between what they want from a website and what is provided. Companies are hesitant to provide information online that could make an agent call redundant – after all people buy from agents, and research is clear on that point. Consumers however have simple questions not addressed:

  • What type of insurance is right for me?
  • How much coverage do I need?
  • How much will this cost?

Consumers often assume coverage will be expensive and the lack of easy-to-find cost information halts the buying process early on. Those who want to proceed on to buy are often hesitant to engage with an agent too early and are then confronted a complicated and cumbersome process.

There is however, a very willing marketplace. According to Strategic Research Insights Macromonitor Consumer Study, nearly six in ten middle class households recognize the need to increase their life insurance and half of these households intend to buy coverage in the next year.

MetLife’s new online tools are intended to make it easy to get a no-obligation quote without entering personal information (and without any sales pressure). They have added instant response options such as “Click to Call” and “Click to Chat” to help consumers get immediate answers to questions.

According to MetLife, they want to provide consumers with “an experience that’s intuitive, relevant and groundbreaking in its simplicity”. Life insurance and simplicity are rarely used in the same sentence.

“What’s good for the consumer is good for MetLife. By spending months ‘walking in our customers’ shoes,’ we recognized the buying process was less than ideal. That’s why we are changing the customer experience now with more improvements to be introduced in the near future,” added Hirschhorn.

So what happens to the sales channel? The channel may change but that is going to happen anyway, it must. Some of the key questions for carriers are:

  • Will a consumer that has a clearer idea of their need be more inclined to buy?
  • Will your prospects look elsewhere to get educated and quotes, if so will they return?
  • Will consumer still buy from agents but from those companies that work with them through the initial quoting process?

The growth of online aggregators shows that consumers want to comparison shop and are willing to disclose a lot of information to do so. The question is whether carriers can afford to stay on the side during this process. Much of that comes down to brand or agent loyalty but unfortunately, loyalty is at an all-time low.

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If the Website is Designed to Meet the Company Goals – Is that the Same as What the Customer Wants?

May 20, 2010

Website usability has been top of the agenda for a decade. Trends and fads come and go and we updated/refresh/re-launch sites to keep ahead of the competition. Sometimes, changes might have more to do with internal boredom than improving the site.

During this time, there has been an ongoing debate in the insurance industry as to the core goal of the website. Insurance companies, especially multi-line companies, have never-ending amounts of content and information and every department is convinced that their content is critical to the organization. There is a constant tooth and nail battle for space on the home page, industry sites have become pack rats, and the growth of content and the lack of focus have contributed to bloated and cluttered sites. Companies are adding education sections, product micro-sites, marketing campaign sites and life-style sections. We now see content hosted on remote social sites such as YouTube and Facebook as well as a growing range of blogs.

Much of the lack of focus comes down to the distribution model challenge. People buy insurance from an agent – that is a fact – to date at least. Companies are desperate to increase the average number of their products a customer owns – it has hung around the 1.1 to 1.2 range for a while. Ipso-facto companies need to increase the dialog between the customer and agent. If the website provides a smooth efficient process to learn, research and buy insurance products, where does that leave the agent?

The flaw in this whole discussion is what does the site visitor want? They come to the site for a reason, to perform some task. Consumers have become more web-savvy, they are less brand-loyal, are being educated to price compare and look around. Look at the recent spate of auto insurance commercial, a large number are now focusing on cost savings from switching carriers. Even State Farm is in the game, no longer the wholesome agent holding your hand, the focus is on how much you can save by switching from GEICO.

The web strategy (and the growing social media challenge) needs to be far more focused on satisfying what the site visitor wants and not around the corporate strategy and objectives. It has never been easier for consumers to move between carriers and if one website is confusing and bloated, there are plenty of others.

Recently, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans reduced the main options on the home page from twelve to four. This was to make the critical visitor tasks more obvious and to improve task completion rates. It forced some content off key paths but it was in the way of what the customer wanted. The expression ‘cannot see the wood for the trees’ springs to mind.

Another major insurer changed their site design based upon an understanding of what objective, they and the customer, had in common. The customer does not come to the website to learn about insurance or your products, they come to solve a problem – ‘what type of insurance is best?’, ‘how much do I need?’ and ‘how much will it cost?’. While product research is part of the process, it is not the objective.

The final and common goal of the process is the application. Completing and submitting an application will likely involve the website, the agent and the call center – but to what degree and where and when transitions happens needs to be under the control of the customer. All too often, web sites measure lead generation as if this is an objective, it is not, and you do not make money from a lead. Allow the website to play a full and active role in helping consumer task completion. This will create better prospects, which ultimately will make the agent more productive.

On this subject, I recently read an excellent paper by Gerry McGovern and Kirsten Zhivago. Gerry is the author of the best-selling book called Killer Web Content and the joint paper is titled “Using your customers’ desired actions to increase your sales”. While not focused on insurance, it does tackle head the issue of customer task focus. It is worth a read and a good paper to help the internal discussion about website purpose. Download from http://www.mcgovernandzhivago.com/


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