The Internet: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Internet insurance customer—buying, paying, asking questions, changing coverages; going where insurance customers have never gone before.

Perhaps you’ve never thought of online commerce in the insurance space in terms of Star-Trek-like trailblazing behavior, yet it is clear that thanks to the advent of the World Wide Web we are now requiring customers to behave in many new and different ways. I thought of this recently while moderating an interesting Web seminar for INN dealing with online self-service for insurers recently. 

Our panelists were trying to come up with reasons for why online self-service hasn’t been more popular with insurance customers. Certainly, this practice has many benefits for the insurer—saving on personnel costs, speeding some transactions and perhaps even enhancing the customer experience. And there are pluses for insurance customers as well—delivering faster service and putting consumers more in control of their interactions.

The more I think about the whole online self-service experience, however, the answer to its lagging adoption lies in a single factor—fear. It’s not the consumers don’t want faster interactions, or even that they turn their noses up at incentives offered for doing business online. Those are appealing, but there are a number of less appetizing aspects of interacting with any vendor online, and they often have nothing to do with the vendor, per se.

Commerce via the Web is a paradigm that is in many ways still in its infancy. While it excites and interests us in many ways, we have also seen enough trouble in our online interactions to be wary of trusting it too much. The customer-facing systems we encounter are all-too-prone to freezing up or breaking down. And when that happens, all our rage and frustration are vented on an unresponsive screen and a seemingly distant vendor.

The rage and frustration are multiplied if the online vendor doesn’t provide a human for us to converse with, or at least someone with whom to trade instant messages. Of course, having humans at the ready is costly, so vendors are loath to provide them, especially in this current economic malaise.

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

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

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