Allstate Insurance Co.www.allstate.com

It has been two years since Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate Insurance Co. first announced its multchannel strategy. Allstate has spent a lot of time-and money, no doubt-building connectivity between its Web site, and its customer-care centers, providing self-service functionality to policyholders and consumers.

By all appearances, the company's revamped Web site demonstrates Allstate's commitment to develop the Internet as a viable customer-support alternative. The design of the home page is sharp, colorful and very practical. The top of the page has buttons directing users to screens describing product offerings, customer service (for registered users), how to locate agents, and a description of Allstate's financial services offering, and financial planning tips.

In the middle of home page is a section labeled "Shopping For Insurance." Users who click on the buttons for auto, home and life are given the option of learning more about the products, or getting quotes. When you click on the "Get A Quote" button for auto insurance, you are given two options: a fast quote (standard questions such as state of residence, ZIP code, make of car, daily usage) and an extensive quoting process.

The quick quote provides rate and coverage information. However, users who want to purchase insurance online are directed to extensive application process. And, once users enter all the information and get a quote, they may be directed to call a customer representative, or to click on the agent locator.

Safeco Corp.

www.safeco.com

Safeco Corp. endured some tough times in 2001. The Seattle-based insurer brought in a new president and CEO, a new chief operating officer and a new CIO-Yom Senegor, from Accenture. On top of that, the company announced it was cutting its workforce by 10%, or 1,200 employees.

Despite the turmoil, Safeco did enhance its Web site in June, enabling users to get online quotes for auto and term-life insurance. In fact, the Web site offers users the option of using Web chat to discuss insurance needs online with a customer service agent. The company also upgraded the account services section of the site. Registered users now can manage all their policies and accounts-with one log-on and customize their online profile.

Although Safeco's home page is rather plain, it is loaded with many features. For example, users can easily navigate to areas supporting the three constituencies that Safeco is supporting through the site: individuals and families, businesses and independent agents/financial advisers.

One suggestion: pages on the Web site are not linked properly. For example, if you surf to the Account Services page, you cannot simply click on the "Back" button on your browser to get back to the home page; you have to click on the "home" link.

Coverna Direct

www.coverna.com

What's difference between getting insurance online directly from a carrier or purchasing coverage online? For starters, insurance companies that enable consumers to purchase insurance online typically provide other policy-management features on their Web sites, whereas Internet sites that enable consumers to get quotes and purchase policies don't always provide customer support.

Coverna Direct is the direct-to-consumer subsidiary of Peoples Benefit Life Insurance Co. Coverna enables users to get instant online quotes for a wide variety of life and health insurance products. Prospective clients also can save their quotes or applications online. Policyholders also can download PDF files to initiate policy changes or to file a claim.

However, the site does not enable policyholders to change their information online or to submit claims online. And that's a significant shortcoming compared to carriers who actually issue online policies. Coverna does have a page where users can enter their information asking a customer service representative to call them. But the call-back isn't supported at Internet speed; users are told to expect the call "within four hours."

Coverna Direct's site promises users that it "makes buying insurance easy." What it doesn't do is provide is Web-based customer service, a significant drawback compared with other online insurance offerings.

GEICO Insurance

www.geico.com

Geico, a Washington, D.C.-based subsidiary of Bershire Hathaway, has made a name for itself with its slick TV advertising campaign featuring a lizard (a gecko, get it?). Geico's Web page prominently features the green lizard (now holding an American flag, no doubt in response to Sept. 11), a marketing gimmick that unfortunately diminishes an otherwise well-designed Web site.

The Web site packed with loads of features, customer-support functions and a user-friendly design. Looking at the home page, your eyes are immediately drawn to a yellow-shaded box for policyholders to log in, a nice feature that providers policyholders a quick way to access Geico's online customer service center. Once they've logged in, customers can pay their bills, view their policies and make changes online, and initiate a claim.

Geico Direct built its reputation by providing quick online quotes for auto insurance. The company has expanded its online quoting capability to include homeowners, renters motorcycle, mobile home and flood policies. Geico also provides information about commercial and umbrella coverages, but consumers must call a customer-service representative to get a quote.

Geico's Web site enables users to switch all of the screens to Spanish, a great feature for Hispanic consumers.

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