In the age of e-commerce, insurers need to look beyond their own industry for examples of online customer engagement. This goes for examples both to emulate and avoid. My recent online experience with Zagat.com falls, unfortunately, into the latter category.In New York City for the fourth meeting of the IT Strategies Executive Roundtable, I had need of some Manhattan-focused restaurant intelligence. Where to go but Zagat? (Useful trivia: Zagat rhymes with "Cat in the Hat"-as I once heard an heir to the Zagat empire say on a New York radio station.)
Zagat is the authoritative source for New York restaurant information and has expanded over the years to cover other geographies. One of the ways restaurants prove their credentials as establishments that matter is to display their Zagat review in the window. For the discriminating New York restaurant customer, if you're not in Zagat you don't exist.
Like other long-standing information-providing businesses, such as newspapers, Zagat had to cope with the consequences of an online world. The company's revenues came principally through sales of their books containing all the restaurant information. If memory serves, they provided full information online for a time. They eventually transitioned to a pay site model, which was probably unavoidable.
Today they charge a subscription fee of $24.95 annually and $4.95 for 30 days. As a business traveler only planning to be in town for a few days, the latter figure seemed perfectly reasonable. The site provided the means of subscribing using credit card information.
What did not seem reasonable was that Zagat would automatically renew the subscription at the expiration date. Although Zagat was upfront about the renewal itself, only by reading the fine print of the subscription agreement could one learn that canceling the automatic renewal would be more difficult than the convenient online subscription process:
Your Subscription will continue and renew automatically, unless terminated by ZAGAT or until you notify ZAGAT by telephone or mail of your decision to terminate your Subscription.
Surely many tourists and business travelers could benefit from a temporary subscription and might even be willing to pay the $4.95 for a mere week. Why make the default assumption that the subscription ought to continue and effectively put obstacles in the way of those who don't want to renew?
As a user of the Internet, I may be used to getting a great deal of content free, but I was willing to pay for this particular service. I was not willing to have to work hard to get these people to stop extracting funds from me. The effect of this practice for the temporary user was to feel ensnared by trickery to pay indefinitely for a service that would be useless once one left the geography. If other consumers react the way I did, Zagat is harming its brand. Zagat may be an authoritative source of the information in question but, to invert an adage, sharp practice can negate a multitude of virtues.
The general customer relations message is that trust is essential to a brand. If there is a specific e-commerce lesson to be learned, it is that trust is even more important in a channel selected for its convenience. Consumers use the Internet to get things done quickly; don't use their haste as an opportunity to exploit them. Opt-in or opt-out functionality should always favor the consumer's interest.In the age of e-commerce, insurers need to look beyond their own industry for examples of online customer engagement. This goes for examples both to emulate and avoid. My recent online experience with Zagat.com falls, unfortunately, into the latter category.
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