Return of the Guru

Insurer Portals Will Live or Die Based on How Much Consumers Trust Them

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, July 1, 2010

A recent INN posting cited a study, which found that insurance carriers need to ensure the responsiveness of their online portals in order to avoid losing business—a rather obvious conclusion.  

The survey, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for OpTier, a New York-based provider of business transaction management (BTM) for the enterprise, also found that 83% of Americans are likely to resolve any issues they experience in purchasing or processing an insurance claim online by reaching for the phone. The study found consumers with a college degree (89%), a household income of $50,000 or more (86%) and those who are married (86%) are most likely to abandon the computer to resolve an issue experienced online. This, I would argue, is the key finding here.

Certainly, we want our customers to get their products, services or help as quickly as possible, and there’s no arguing with the fact that automated online help is faster—and cheaper—than having a human being speak to the customer to resolve a problem. As our INN article points out, with the time of customer service representatives a finite resource, online customers moving to other channels can be an expensive proposition for insurance companies. Indeed, a February 2010 report from Forrester Research Inc. titled "Increasing Online Insurance Self-Service Adoption," estimates that "for every 20,000 calls deflected to online self-service, a carrier could realize $100,000 to $200,000 in potential cost savings."

If we want more customers opting for online self-service, however, we need to understand why they are so quick to pick up the phone when any issue arises. For many consumers, any indication that something is wrong with their transaction triggers anxiety. When that happens, they fear that if they continue with automated “help,” they may sink even deeper into a pit of uncertainty and their situation may grow worse.

When consumers reach a cyber-standstill, they tend to wonder if they have done something to botch the process, which only serves to increase their tension level. Alternately, some consumers may choose to blame the insurer’s computer system for not understanding what it is they want. Either situation does not bode well for the customer to turn to automated help from a soulless network (think Cyberdyne Systems from the Terminator film series), rather than from another human being who can (hopefully) relate to their distress and answer their questions.

As consumers, we want our computer systems interactions to be rapid, accurate and free from hassles. As carriers, our biggest challenge is to provide that “hassle-free” experience. Consumers don’t necessarily want systems to be more “responsive,” since responsiveness is a human characteristic. We do, however, want those systems to operate in such a way that the company’s competence—and our own—is not called into question when a problem arises.

In the end, we still don’t quite trust computer networks to give us the kind of service we need when the wheels have fallen off our transaction. It may be that we are approaching a tipping point at which we have traveled as far as we can with automated portal service. From that certain point on, competent and caring human beings need to pick up the customer service ball and run with it.

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

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