Carriers and agents have invested a significant amount of capital toward electronic interface initiatives that enable the two parties to improve their data-exchange efficiencies and overall operational competencies.But as they carry this out, consumers have been neglected, to the extent that many "lack faith in the quality of online customer service," says Madelyn Flannagan, vice president of education and research for Alexandria, Va.-based Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA).
Flannagan's remarks came in response to the release of IIAA's "2001 Future One Technology Study," which polled 900 consumers, 300 small-business insurance decision-makers, 35 large insurance carriers and an undisclosed number of independent agents.
More than three-quarters of consumers polled indicated they use insurance Web sites to gather information, and 56% use them to request a quote, according to the study.
IIAA isn't alone in believing that carriers' Web sites aren't connecting with consumers. In a report titled, "Online Insurance Sales & Marketing," Matthew Josefowicz, a research analyst for Boston-based Celent Communications Inc., reveals that when consumers are shopping online for policies, carriers miss a "vital chance to stimulate interest in the product and the brand."
Celent also notes that carrier/agency electronic interfaces have received the lion's share of the attention, stating that the Web serves largely as "a tool for carriers to facilitate agent transactions and information flow."
This commitment remains vital, but it can't come at the expense of alienating consumers. "It is time for agents, brokers and companies to put as much focus on consumer services online as they have placed on agency and broker/carrier interfaces," IIAA's Flannagan says.
The promising news is that Celent predicts consumers' desire to use the Web to obtain information on insurance will continue to increase. In 2002, policy purchases "shopped for" online will account for 19% of all personal lines premiums, with the figure growing to 37% in 2005.
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