It is said that social media is turning the tables and consumers are now in control of the message. That is true, but underlying this conclusion is the fact that the tables needed turning in the first place.

Why are consumers so angry? Why are they mistrusting of corporations, willing to take advice from a complete stranger in North Dakota ahead of the expertise of a trained representative?

In a recent study by The Customer Respect Group of leading U.S. auto insurance carrier websites, titled “Auto-Insurers Online Self-Service Report 2012: Leaders and Laggards” (click here for a slideshow revealing the report's top 10 auto insurance websites), some of the reasons become clearer. Despite spending in excess of $4 billion a year on marketing to convince us to switch providers to save untold amounts of money, websites do not focus on retaining customers they already have.

There is a fundamental difference of opinion about the role of the website between insurers and consumers. The consumer, according to multiple studies, goes to a company website to get things done, while companies seem to think that they go there for a great experience or just to kill time. Unless you are a news organization, consumers have very little interest in surfing your site looking for interesting articles and content. Insurance websites need to be focused on consumer tasks.

In a recent study by HubSpot, 76 percent of consumers, when asked “What is the most important factor in the design of a website?” answered “To make it easy for me to find what I want.” Just 9 percent wanted a “cutting-edge interactive experience.” Yet, when we hand out awards and laud great websites, they are invariably the highly-graphical, innovative kind.

The auto insurance study found that website structure is invariably a mirror image of the corporate structure. Key information is buried under department-inspired sections such as product, claims, customer service and learning centers. Information that crosses departments is often repeated, but with each department adding its own interpretation. Industry websites seem designed by the same folks that build those frustrating IVR systems. Site search is no respite for the weary menu navigator because tasks are questions, not search-friendly keywords. When using search for help to add a new driver to a policy, the results included "adding to a mutual fund," "RV information," and "teen safety tips." All of the results were logical based upon the keywords entered but the context was all wrong. One site search queried whether the search term was meant to be “add new River.” Maybe it thought we were the Chinese Government central planning office.

The ramifications of poor online self-service are obvious. More than half of consumers now surveyed indicate a preference for self-service over other channels. This may be due to the aforementioned IVR systems, which we are now replicating online. Frustrating customers is never a good thing and with the rise of online comparative information, wall-to-wall marketing and social media, the brand loyalty glue is at breaking point, especially with the elusive Gen-Yers and millennials. Deloitte in a recent survey found that 20 percent of 18-34 year olds had changed their carrier in the previous 12 months.

Some insurers argue that service differentiation is provided by the local agent, a personal service from someone that knows you and your circumstances. That is true and the agent for many people provides a very valuable and essential service, but consumers that make the effort to go to a company website have made their channel choice and this must be respected. We live in a multichannel world, and that includes the agent, call center, Web, social media, and of course, the mobile and tablet devices. It is the channel the consumer has control over, not the message.

This blog was posted with the permission of the Customer Respect Group.

Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, has covered technology issues and innovations in the insurance industry for many years.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Terry using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He also can be reached at

The opinions of bloggers on do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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