Ipswich, Mass. - The Customer Respect Group, an international research and consulting firm that focuses on how corporations treat their online customers, released findings from its Third Quarter 2007 Online Customer Respect Study of the Life Insurance Industry.

The study evaluated the websites of a representative sample of auto insurance companies. Using a common set of criteria, it brings an objective and consistent measure to the analysis of corporate performance from an online customer’s perspective. A directly comparable Customer Respect Index (CRI) is provided for each company. The CRI is a qualitative and quantitative in-depth analysis and independent measure of a customer’s experience when interacting via the Internet, according to The Customer Respect Group.

The industry average CRI was calculated to be 5.0 on the ten-point scale, which places it in the bottom 33rd percentile of all sites reviewed in all industries. This is an improvement from the bottom 20th percentile. Much of that improvement was the result of better transparency in privacy policies from life insurers. The worst CRI area was in Site Simplicity, in which it scored in the bottom 28th percentile of all industry sites. In no area was the insurance average above that of the all-industry average. 

The only life insurer to achieve an “Excellent” rating was Thrivent Financial. Seven companies achieved scores of 6.0 or higher and were rated “Good.” Mutual of Omaha was the highest scoring of these at 6.5, followed by Nationwide and Symetra at 6.3, and Genworth and Principal Financial at 6.2.

The CRI is composed of six sub-indices that factor into three meta-concepts identified by customers as their critical concerns when using websites:
•    Site Usability - How usable is the site to a wide range of users? This includes simplicity (ease of use) and attitude (accessibility).
•    Communication - How willing is the company to engage in a one-on-one communication to answer specific questions? This includes responsiveness (quality of email replies—both speed and helpfulness— response tone and other communication methods).
•    Trust - Can this site be trusted with your personal data? This includes transparency (clarity and comprehensiveness of privacy policies), principles (respect for data privacy, cookie explanations) and privacy (respect for data privacy, clarity and comprehensiveness of privacy policies).

In the Usability index, the percentile ranking fell (as measured against all sites in all industries) from the bottom 41st percentile to the 28th percentile. This does not necessarily indicate sites are getting worse, just that they are failing to keep pace with improvements made in other industry Web sites, according to the firm. There were some impressive performances, nonetheless: AIGSunAmerica, American Skandia and Mutual of Omaha all performed strongly. 

In the sub-index of attitude, which examines Accessibility, the percentile ranking of the bottom 48th percentile was unchanged from 2006. It represents the industry’s highest percentile ranking. However, there is a clear division in this index between companies that prioritize the issue of accessibility and those that do not. Eighteen percent of life insurers excelled in Attitude and stand alongside the best in any industry. However, at the other end of the spectrum, almost 20 percent of companies scored “Poor.” USAA deserves special mention in this area for an excellent performance, as do Standard and Principal Financial, all of which scored above 8.0 in the Attitude sub-index and in the top 10% of all companies across all industries. 

The performance in the Principles sub-index (a measure of the respectfulness of the data-handling practices of companies) is unchanged at the bottom 38th percentile. Personal data re-use remains high among life insurers. Some 8% of life insurance companies share personal data with affiliates, business partners or outside parties without explicit consent. This figure represents a slight increase compared to the Life Insurance Q4 2006 report and reverses a trend where data sharing has been on the decrease in this and other industries. Best performers here were Western Reserve, American Family and Symetra.

The largest increase in percentile ranking was in the transparency sub-index, which looks at the clarity of the explanation of data-handling practices. In 2006, life insurers were in the bottom 28th percentile, but in this latest report, it jumped to the bottom 41st percentile. While privacy policies are not as respectful as in other industries, as indicated in the Principles Index, more companies are being explicit. Thrivent Financial, Genworth and New York Life led the way in the transparency sub-index. 

Online responsiveness is a constant challenge for this industry, which still prefers to make more direct and personal contact. Nearly 20% of life insurers still offer no e-mail capability. On the positive side, the percentage of companies that responded consistently to inquiries increased since the previous report (from 44% to 56%). The number of helpful replies received increased by eight percentage points. In addition, the number of inquiries ignored is down slightly, from 26% to 23%, although it’s still among the highest of any industry sector. Overall, life insurers ranked at the bottom 29th percentile. 

The top companies in the latest study were:

Thrivent Financial - 7.0
Mutual of Omaha - 6.5
Nationwide - 6.3
Symetra - 6.3
Genworth - 6.2
Principal Financial - 6.2
Industry Average - 5.0

Source: The Customer Respect Group

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