The Toyota recalls have many customers scrambling to find out more about their coverage. Insurers are receiving a deluge of customer inquiries about insurance concerns spurred by the recall of new Toyota vehicles, and are considering subrogation action for accident claims that resulted from vehicle defect. This is a perfect time for carriers to use the Web to assuage worried customers with online content and educational materials. But most carriers aren’t even using the Web to deflect calls to their calls centers. A quick check of leading sites this morning and none had any content, banners or message to customers about the call. The recall is a perfect chance to evaluate why insurers are struggling to encourage customers to use online self-service.

Insurance online self-service continues to gain momentum, but customer adoption remains low. We found that 55% of U.S. online adults who own insurance have not visited their insurance provider's Web site in the past year. eBusiness managers for direct and agent-based insurers struggle to increase adoption due to an array of problems, including the infrequency of insurance interactions, customers' channel preferences and limited functionality. eBusiness needs a comprehensive strategy, and can use an array of tactics to increase customers' adoption. You can read the purchase the complete report here.

With the exception of some direct insurance companies, most eBusiness managers have focused on driving online sales, and have not truly addressed online self-service. Many insurance eBusiness executives we spoke to in the United States are only now implementing formal programs to increase online self-service. There are several good reasons to do so because:

1. Online self-service is more cost-effective. The Web simply costs less to serve customers than traditional call centers for many simple tasks, such as billing and simple policy admin (e.g. add a driver, change address).

2. Online self-service influences customers' purchase decisions. We found new insurance buyers are more likely to purchase from an insurance carrier offering online self-service functionality on the Web.

Insurance eBusiness executives face many barriers to increase online self-service adoption. Insurance is a low-frequency, low-engagement consumer category. And many customers prefer person-to-person services on complex customer service transactions like filing a claim. eBusiness managers are less likely to promote online self-service because of clunky online registration and limited technical functionality.
eBusiness managers need a tool kit with a comprehensive set of tactics to increase online self-service. eBusiness managers will lead a cross-functional group to implement the following tactics and increase online self-service adoption:

1. Segment customer behavior. Online customer behavior, not demographics, helps eBusiness managers segment customers and predict future online activity. eBusiness managers should work with customer intelligence to segment customers based on their exhibited online behavior, and develop propensity models to predict which customers are more or less likely to use self-service.

2. Market the benefits to your customers. eBusiness managers should work with marketing and other channels to create integrated and complementary campaigns communicating the customer benefits of online self-service across channels.

3. Use explicit calls to action on your home page. eBusiness managers should tout the benefits of online self-service on the home page to make it easy for customers to see the value of self-service. Insurers should emulate firms like E*TRADE FINANCIAL, exposing relevant benefits and valuable rich Internet applications for self-service users.

4. Teach customers how to use it. Insurance eBusiness executives should emulate banking and brokerage sites for good practices in increasing online self-service adoption. For example, Wells Fargo invites customers to test-drive its online banking functionality.

5. Make it easier for customers to register with second-factor authentication. Getting customers signed up for online self-service is a major hurdle for eBusiness managers. A major U.S. multi-line insurer implemented a Web-based, second-factor authentication solution from Acxiom to improve the registration process, and saw a large increase in successful online registrations.

6. Use agents to promote self-service. eBusiness executives need to work with call center and agent leadership to create call scripts, in-person forms, incentives and educational materials that promote the benefits of online self-service across channels.

7. Reward self-service loyalists. Customers need encouragement to change behavior and use online self-service. Insurers should emulate Bank of America by rewarding loyal online self-service customers.

8. Use e-mail for onboarding and reminders. E-mail remains an extremely cost-effective marketing channel. It should be used in a formal onboarding process to improve early registration.

9. Offer elegant escalations to assisted service. Self-service isn't right for some customer service interactions.

Do you agree or disagree?

Chad Mitchell is a senior analyst with Forrester Research. He covers mobile and social media strategies in insurance, acquisition, cross-sell and retention marketing strategies, comparative raters, online guided selling tools, emerging Web and call center technologies for sales and service, agent portals for marketing and underwriting, and the best practices of leading multichannel firms. Additionally, he advises leading insurers on best practices for public and secure insurance Web sites—analyzing functionality for quoting, policy administration and claims.

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