Over the past few months, a notable trend has emerged in the auto insurance industry: several carriers have begun adding eStara's "Click To Talk" technology to their online auto quote processes. This technology is designed to provide timely assistance while preventing abandonment during complex and critical online transactions. EStara allows users to enter their phone numbers online to request a callback and then select whether they would like to be called via their phone or via their PC through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Carriers such as Esurance are providing this as an alternative service option to existing methods at the point of purchase, such as purchasing online or calling an 800 number. One major national insurance carrier is currently piloting the service and will soon be launching it. Woodland Hills, Calif.-based 21st Century Insurance is using eStara's (Reston, Va.) technology throughout the entire online quote process, while AIGdirect (New York) is making it available through a link in the firm's follow-up e-mails to online quote recipients.
The perceived value proposition of requesting a call is saving time and convenience. By using this technology customers won't have to navigate through what can be cumbersome phone menu options or wait for long periods on hold. Dial-up users like the idea of receiving a call without having to go off-line. The value proposition to insurance carriers is two-fold. First, they are armed with an additional service to combat abandonment and help close more business. Second, by giving the customer the ability to request follow-up, the carrier has created a more acceptable environment to follow up with a courtesy call at a later date should the prospect choose not to purchase immediately. While several insurance carriers already offered the ability to request a follow-up, the task of integrating the online data center with the off-line call center in a manner that ensures a seamless customer experience is a challenge. Many carriers that were hesitant to do this on their own like the prospect of purchasing the service out-of-box.
The service, as currently deployed, is not without room for improvement, however. Testing of the Talk By Phone option by Watchfire G—mezPro analysts went well. After the user was instructed to enter his or her phone number, he or she had the option of choosing to be called immediately or in one, three or five minutes. While the G—mezPro analysts were occasionally placed on hold before speaking to a representative, they appreciated not being required to navigate through phone menu options. Wait times were also extremely short. Although this was not our experience, there is potential risk for a poor customer experience if wait times do become lengthy (more than 15 seconds). This customer will likely have the expectation that the carrier will call him when he reaches the top of the queue and, if placed on hold, will wonder why he didn't just place the call himself. If carriers are confident that wait times will not exceed this threshold, they should proactively promote this advantage online because it would act as a major selling point in communicating the value of requesting a callback versus just calling the carrier.
The Talk By PC option is somewhat more complicated and customers need to familiarize themselves with the idea of using their computer as a phone. Otherwise, this may be a barrier to widespread adoption in the short term. Because this capability is largely unknown by general online users, the onus on carriers to provide an online experience that educates and encourages customers to use it is greater than with the more familiar Talk By Phone option. Currently, the callback request page does state that Talk By PC requires a microphone and speakers. Although this is a good start, eStara does not provide a link to provide users with more information or address frequently asked questions such as whether they'll need to download software. Many clients will want a broader understanding of this technology before trying it. Further, many customers may also be hesitant to use it because they are unsure of the technology requirements to use it. Many home computers may not be equipped with a built-in microphone. While eStara does use a mechanism that tests your microphone before placing the call to avoid a confusing and frustrating experience, the customer does not know this until after initiating the call.
The Talk By PC option is a tailored solution for dial-up online users looking for real-time assistance. Dial-up users can't use their phone lines and stay online at the same time the way DSL or Cable users can. However, these are the same users who have historically had trouble with long buffer times for streaming audio and are likely to have the most reservations about their bandwidth ability to have a successful Talk By PC experience. Carriers need to proactively assuage these apprehensions.
Part of the main value proposition of this technology is that it creates a simultaneous multichannel service solution for dial-up users where one didn't exist in the past. Not only does the online experience fail to make this clear, it actually even clouds the issue further by stating, "You'll need an open phone line to receive our call." While this statement is most likely intended to clarify that cable users with no landline are unable to receive calls through their PC, it confuses the issue to dial-up users by suggesting that they must go off-line to receive a call.
The callback request functionality is put together well, offering carriers another service solution to extend to prospects. Anecdotal reports on eStara's platform and installation have been favorable, and the industry is looking for a solution that connects the Web and call center without an enterprise-level implementation. Until VoIP gains steam across other industries and services, enticing prospective customers to utilize Talk By PC will require a greater degree of initial hand-holding, education and encouragement. The Talk By Phone option is more suited for immediate success; however, carriers still need to better explain why customers should choose this option and communicate its advantages over simply picking up the phone.
Tim Carpenter is an insurance industry analyst with Watchfire GómezPro in Waltham, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected].