Customer service. Delivering on promises. Using Web-based technologies to improve the customer experience. Carriers tell us that this is how they're differentiating themselves from the competition. But is it only lip service?Here's my own experience. After receiving a non-renewal letter for my auto insurance, my carrier, a large insurer in the Northeast, told me that my independent agent had gone out of business and it was up to me to find a new agent and reapply. With no phonebook nearby, I went onto the company's Web site and found the page to request a call from a local agent. I received an e-mail confirming my request and promising a call soon from the appropriate agent. Several days passed. Then a week. Still no call. Eventually I called a local office and spoke to an agent.

In the meantime, based on a recommendation, I contacted a different carrier. This carrier, which reported direct written premium in excess of $1 billion in 2002, touts the fact that they do not have agents. Instead, you deal directly with the company through their customer service representatives. The company's marketing emphasizes its exceptional personal service. Again, I submitted my name and phone number on the carrier's Web site to be contacted. On the Web site, the company promised that I would hear from someone within two business days. Six business days have passed and I am still waiting.

This is troubling. Exactly what is happening to these leads? Where's the disconnect? Carriers are implementing Web-based technologies to help serve customers on the front end. But what's happening on the back end to follow through? Integrating technology with the human element (i.e., agents, CSRs) is critical in all aspects of a carrier's business. But when the initial touch-point with a prospective customer goes awry, lip service is not good enough. They can kiss that customer good-bye. Actions (or lack of them) speak much louder than words.

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