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11:11 AM
Tim Carpenter, Gomez, Inc.
Tim Carpenter, Gomez, Inc.
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Most online property and casualty insurance offerings are poorly equipped to accommodate consumer objectives. Several carriers, however, are bucking the trend.

Most online property and casualty insurance offerings are poorly equipped to accommodate consumer objectives. Carriers' offerings were built to support guaranteed quotes based on detailed personal and motor vehicle history that could later be directly converted to an online or offline sale.

Quote completions haven't happened with the success rates or volume carriers had originally envisioned. The reason: Most carriers' online quote paths misinterpret user behavior and intentions. The misconception is simple to spot in retrospect. The average online shoppers are usually in the initial stages of the process and desire convenience as well as a smooth handoff to the offline channel. They view lengthy and highly accurate online quotes as an obstacle to fulfillment of their objectives.

This is not to say that online binding and paths built for highly accurate quotes should be abandoned; conversion rates continue to increase. However, paths for online binding should not be pursued exclusively at the expense of other initiatives meaningful to the lion's share of online shoppers.

Several carriers, however, are bucking the trend. They provide quote task flows that enable online shoppers to more easily accomplish their goals and transition to the offline channel to complete their business. This enables these carriers to capitalize on the online channel's true potential: driving offline sales.

Prioritizing the Sale over the Channel: Progressive is one carrier that sees the bigger picture. The carrier's objective of increasing completed online quote volumes is secondary to increasing overall sales. The firm has integrated its online quote form with back-end call center systems to provide customers with an accurate wait time specific to the state from which the customer is calling.

Progressive also provides a customized, unsolicited local agent list directly after the first field (ZIP code) is entered in the quote form. Both measures act to promote the channels where most sales are closed (telephone or in person) and make offline access appear convenient to the customer.

Progressive understands that by making the quote equally accessible online and offline, there is little risk of losing direct business to independent agents. The rationale: No matter which channels Progressive pushes, customers will ultimately shop where they desire to shop. That Progressive can successfully follow this strategy despite potential business loss suggests that traditional carriers could deploy integrated captive agent promotion tools fairly easily.

Balancing Accuracy with Patience: The majority of online shoppers do not require a highly accurate quote to move to the next step in the shopping process, our research suggests. Most, in fact, prefer a less-accurate quote if it is a reliable enough estimate and involves a less-painful process. Carriers that offer quick quotes in addition to long quotes tell us that as much as 75 percent of their total completed quotes originate from the shorter implementations.

That only 19 percent of the 16 firms on the Gomez Internet Carrier Scorecard offer quick quotes as an alternate to their longer brethren indicates a serious misstep industry-wide. Insurance carriers are grossly inefficient at using the online channel to attract customers who do not demand a highly accurate initial quote online and then moving them towards a sale offline.

Allstate is one carrier that has seen the light. The carrier offers online paths to the customer who wants a highly accurate quote, as well as the customer who needs only a ballpark estimate before moving offline.

Reusing Information To Promote Offline Channels: Similar to Progressive's integrated agent locator, Nationwide offers an integrated agent locator at the end of its online quick quote that requires no further user input. The referred agent's contact information remains persistently available in the upper left-hand corner as the prospect continues to navigate the site.

While agent information is not provided without user solicitation, and improved messaging around the link would better promote its utility, the approach proactively ushers the customer to the next step. To date, few carriers utilize the potential of Web technology to reduce obstacles to the offline handoff.

Across financial services, firms are beginning to understand the role of the Internet. While it can and will serve as an independent sales and distribution channel, this is only a small part of the online channel's potential impact. As insurance carriers better understand user intentions and the potential for the online channel to affect offline sales, the industry will begin to adapt significant enhancements leading to segmentation of task paths, a smoother handoff to proven offline sales channels and greater overall sales.

Tim Carpenter is an analyst with Gomez, Inc., an Internet benchmarking and improvement strategies firm in Waltham, MA,

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