Online expectations of insurers’ Web presences are higher than ever, according to a new report from Forrester Research, for a confluence of reasons; the economic instability has increased demand in certain sectors, insurance advertising is a billion-dollar venture, with most of it directing consumers to Web presences, etc. As a result, whether quote-seekers or self-serving policyholders, consumers expect sites to be available, easy to use and fast. And if a site doesn’t live up to these expectations, a competitor is only a click away.

When prioritizing characteristics of a website, consumers ranked usability first, as 95% of consumer respondents rated it “very important.” At 86%, quick loading times was the second priority, and information security and privacy was third at 78%. But websites are not only expected to perform well, they’re expected to perform well all of the time.

Behind only personal banking websites, insurance websites are expected to be available at least 99% of the time by a wide majority of consumers and agents.

Availability issues impact agents in particular, according to the report. For agency employees who are spending at least half to more than three-quarters of their day navigating online resources or carrier portals, issues with websites freezing or locking up were mentioned by nearly half of the agency respondents as the reason for being dissatisfied by a recent visit to a carrier portal.

Forrester lists five recommendations for insurers as to how to attack this consumer-centric market:

• Take the customer journey to experience what they will experience.

• Measure sources of leads, shopping to sales conversions, customer feedback and other relevant performance metrics.

• Get granular by using experience monitoring tools to see when user drop-offs occur, and use performance monitoring tools to measure your site’s performance against your peers.

• Get in the field and spend time with agents to understand how they use your site, the impact of slow performance, and the alternatives paths they take when they can’t do what they want online.

• Streamline processes using scenario design to learn and manage customers’ expectations, wants and needs.

According to Forrester, the main takeaway is that consumers, in particular, as well as agents control as insurers walk a razor-thin tightrope, with impeccable performance standards and a sea of competitors waiting below.

Thus, understanding what makes customers and agents happy about engaging insurers online is critical to business in the industry. According to the report, the business outcome of performance failures directly affects the growth and cross-selling objectives for carriers, as consumers and agents look to do business with firms that make their lives easier and value their time. With competitive pricing more transparent, further fueled by a soft market, the online experience of customers and agents impacts businesses’ top and bottom lines.

When asked if a bad experience with a website would affect the likeliness of recommending the company, as a whole, to a friend or family member, 83% say it would have an impact, and 54% said it would have at least a somewhat significant impact.

Justin Stephani writes for Insurance Networking News, a SourceMedia publication.

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