Insurance companies trying to reach customers online face some of the same challenges as their financial service peers in banking and brokerage when it comes to privacy and security, and even greater challenges in helping customers to take advantage of what their sites have to offer. Effective messaging is an important component in meeting both of these challenges, but insurers lag in getting the message across about both privacy/security concerns and functionality, according to recent research by Gomez.
It's Not the Technology
When consumers visit financial services sites online they aren't as leery about having their information sold as they are when buying products online, but they still worry, according to Tim Carpenter, an analyst with Waltham, MA based Gomez, Inc. "People want to know their information is not floating out there for anyone in the world to go and get it," he says.
Companies need to go well beyond simple advisories to customers about frequent password changes and keeping log-in information to themselves. Further messaging needs to make clear what measures carriers themselves are doing to protect personal and financial information, according to Carpenter. Insurers stack up well in terms of up-front statements on privacy, but they underperform other financial services sectors on measures such as security statements, secure and authenticated e-mail forms, and notifications of last log-in time/date.
"With a combination of privacy/security messaging and expectation setting, other financial services industries have learned over time how to massage customers and make them feel comfortable online," Carpenter asserts. "There is no question that the online customer experience at various insurance carriers is sub-par relative to the banking and brokerage industries, and a large part of that is just being able to effectively communicate what you can and cannot do online."
This is especially problematic given insurance's regulatory scheme. "A customer can go through a 15-minute enrollment form only to find out that as a Massachusetts customer they can't see their policy details," Carpenter says.
Consumer expectations will require the eventual solution of regulatory, legacy and other barriers to functionality, but in the meantime, messaging needs to let customers know where they stand. Simple HTML checklists can help, but a better way to approach the problem is through the use of stand-alone tools that help guide customers.
For example, Carpenter relates, Bank of America offers online users a tool whereby customers wishing to enroll are directed to enter product and state information which will prompt certain messages via a dynamic dialog box. Using such a tool based on "if/then" permutations, an online insurance customer can input product or policy information and be apprised of their options up-front, according to Carpenter. Given the obstacles carriers face, "it's not going to be 100 percent correct-someone may not be able to view something they thought they could," Carpenter acknowledges. "But if you can set the correct expectations for the majority of customers, it's going to result in added customer satisfaction."
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio