San Mateo, Calif. - Progressive Insurance ranked as the No. 1 site in two studies conducted by Keynote Systems Inc., an Internet performance firm. The two studies line provide a comparative examination of online customer experience and best practices implementation by leading automobile insurance Web sites.Keynote's customer experience study shows that consumers are turning away from obtaining auto insurance quotes over the phone and increasingly turning to the Web for those same quotes. This study uncovered that in the highly competitive $158 billion auto insurance industry, price competitiveness and the online quote process are the leading indicators of success in landing new customers online.

The Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Auto Insurance Web Sites examines the online experience of 1,500 prospective auto insurance customers as they interacted with leading auto insurance sites.

The study measured 250+ metrics for each site including ease of use, satisfaction, brand appeal and customer acquisition impact during April 2006. A companion study, the Keynote WebExcellence Insurance Carrier Scorecard, measured and ranked insurance sites for online excellence according to their use and execution of 240+ industry best practices in online policy sales and servicing. That study was conducted in May 2006 and was based on the collection of nearly 4,000 pieces of competitive data for each of 16 sites included in the study.

AIG, Allstate, American Family, Esurance, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, MetLife, Nationwide, Progressive and State Farm sites were evaluated for the Customer Experience study. Most of these sites plus the Amica, Electric Insurance, The Hartford AARP, Safeco, Travelers Insurance, Unitrin Direct, USAA and 21st Century sites were included in the WebExcellence Scorecard study.

The Progressive, GEICO and American Family sites were deemed the best auto insurance sites on the Web, topping the Keynote Customer Experience Rankings, an overall measure of customer experience and customer satisfaction across the more than 250+ metrics measured in the study.

Progressive (included Progressive and Progressive Direct sites), GEICO, along with USAA, also ranked atop the Keynote WebExcellence Scorecard based on their performance across the 240+ best practices evaluated in the study. The overall success of these sites also translated into increased customer acquisition impact.

GEICO, State Farm and Progressive topped an important 'driver' of the Customer Experience study called Customer Acquisition Rankings, a measure of success in driving site visitors to obtain a quote and/or obtain an auto insurance policy from the company.

Their success in the online competition for customers is particularly significant given the fast growing importance of the online quote process in driving the auto insurance business.

Close to three-quarters of online consumers (72%) report they use the Web to obtain quotes when evaluating auto insurance coverage options; a 5% increase since last year's study. By comparison, the number of people reporting they obtain a phone quote decreased by six percentage points, dropping from 55% to 49%.

"We have seen a steady trend upward in the number of consumers using the Web to obtain quotes and a corresponding steady drop in those using the phone for quotes," says Lance Jones, associate director of Internet research for Keynote. "The online channel continues to grow in importance and will be the key driver of sales growth in the auto insurance industry. The companies that provide a strong online customer experience, such as GEICO and Progressive, will ultimately benefit from this trend."

The single most influential driver of a consumer's decision to purchase auto insurance is price, with more than three-quarters of consumers (77%) saying that price is "extremely important" in their decision.

However, with the Web becoming the primary source for obtaining quotes, Web site features and ease of use are gaining in importance. Almost two-thirds of consumers (64%) say that the ease of use of a company's Web site is extremely or very important in their selection of an auto insurance policy--and 74% report that the actual online quote request process is extremely or very important in their selection process.

The industry appears to clearly understand this, as the Keynote WebExcellence Insurance Carrier Scorecard reported that over the past year more than 8 of 10 insurers (81%) have either increased the number of states they offer online quoting in or significantly enhanced the functionality of their quoting platform. More than 75% of insurers evaluated for the Scorecard indicated plans to significantly enhance their quoting and purchasing applications in the "near future."

"Not only are insurers expanding their online quote processes, they are also improving them," said Chris Musto, general manager, financial services for Keynote. "Consumers use to be required to fill out lengthy coverage protection forms online and choose from 10 or more coverage types. Today, about half the insurers we study allow users to get quotes by choosing from a group of several pre-set coverage packages."

Further, rather than delivering the user a single quoted policy as they used to, today 38% of insurance carriers deliver multiple quoted packages, up from 25% a year ago, which gives customers a better understanding of both price range and the cost to upgrade in protection.

According to the Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Auto Insurance Web Sites, Esurance, American Family and Progressive Direct have the best online quote request processes. The success of these sites in the quote request process contributed significantly to their overall customer satisfaction and online customer acquisition success. GEICO's success was driven largely by the company's first place ranking in terms of overall product and price satisfaction.

In the Keynote WebExcellence Scorecard, Progressive and GEICO, along with USAA, ranked at the top the functionality category, and Esurance joined Progressive at the top of the ease of use category. The scorecard also ranked the sites in two other categories and five tasks including the ease with which a consumer can quote and purchase a policy, pay a bill and view the policy online.

"Price satisfaction was clearly the leading driver of customer acquisition success. In fact, price was more important in the auto insurance industry than in any of the other dozens of industries we study, including the online travel industry, where price is of paramount importance," says Jones. "Despite this, auto insurance companies need to pay much closer attention to their site effectiveness with consumers. We saw some sites gain a significant advantage over competitors based on their online experience - and we saw some very competitively priced competitors fall flat because of their poor online experience. Price and online experience are the dual engines for driving quote and sales growth in the auto insurance industry."

Source: Keynote Systems Inc.

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