Just when I'd forgotten that I've been with Insurance & Technology for a full year now, I discovered - in my e-mail inbox - the recently released American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report for the fourth quarter of 2007. Around this time last year, I wrote my first story for I&T on ACSI data from the fourth quarter of 2006.Last year, the ACSI showed that health and life insurers had made big customer service improvements. And at the time, I wrote (well, I quoted ACSI leader Claes Fornell) that contact center improvements had a lot to do with the industries' improved customer satisfaction scores:
From the March 2007 issue of I&T:
From a value standpoint, premiums remained relatively flat, according to the study. While that certainly helped customer satisfaction scores, Fornell says, the quality of service -- a big part of which is call centers -- also improved. "Insurance companies don't have that many points of interaction," Fornell explains. "When they do have them, in large measure, it would be at call centers."
Looking at this year's ACSI (and keeping the sentiments of my colleague Anthony O'Donnell's recent blog post in mind), I'm reminded of just how intangible the concept of customer satisfaction can be. It's price, it's service, it's reputation and, more than likely, it's several other things no one has considered.
In this year's results, life and health insurers saw their ACSI scores drop 1.3 and 1.4 percent from the year previous. Last year both those industries saw large gains of more than 5 percent.
Commentary provided by Fornell says that, on the health side, last year's increase was due in part to slower growth in premiums. Fornell writes that such momentum has slowed.
from Fornell's analysis:
Not only are premiums and co-pays now rising faster than inflation, but fewer employers are providing group health coverage. As a result, healthcare (and health insurance) has become an out-of-pocket expense for a larger number of households, something likely to negatively affect the satisfaction of customers.
While 2006's big winners, life and health, faltered slightly in 2007, the P&C side saw an impressive 2.6 percent improvement over last year's score.
Most notable among those insurers was Progressive, which jumped up 8 percentage points - the highest increase among any company in any industry measured.
from Fornell's analysis:
This is a large increase. Progressive made improvements to its award-winning website and offered significant rate cuts on insurance for RVs, motorcycles and boats.
So what have I learned in a year? Well, I know now that improved contact centers -- while still a key for any insurer with a customer service improvement initiative underway -- isn't the silver bullet when it comes to keeping customers satisfied. In fact, I'm not so sure that customer service improvement initiatives, in the traditional sense, are the best idea. Initiatives have a beginning and an end, while the myriad of factors that influence customers' satisfaction levels will continue to change -- with no end in sight.