How to get the best from your online presence


Basic HTML used to be enough to impress customers. But these days, with aggressive price wars and the growing popularity of comparison sites, successful insurers know they need to offer much more in order to attract new customers and retain existing ones. So, how does your website stack up?

One way to find out is to consider Global Reviews’ quarterly home and motor reports for the three months to the end of November 2008. The company, which provides independent analysis and recommendations for websites across more than 40 industries, specialises in insurance sites.

For the reports, Global Reviews asked more than 1,000 insurance customers what they wanted from a home and motor insurance website. A team of analysts then looked at leading websites worldwide – both insurance and non-insurance related – to create benchmarks of best practice. The leading insurance providers were then assessed and graded against 550 criteria, and received a mark each time they met a benchmark. For example, an insurer that scored 450 out of 550 would have received a grade of 81%.

Bertie Stevenson, UK director of Australia-based Global Reviews, says: “When we’re looking at best practice we’re not limited to the UK, which is pretty slow in terms of the insurance sector. There are some fantastic sites out there. For example, there are sites that look at your postcode. It shows the most common claims within your postcode, how that company has dealt with them and how you can avoid those claims from happening.”

The five main criteria included quote and application, sales support, customer support, overall website utility and content. Global Reviews analysed its own insurance customers and also any five competitors that its clients wanted to have analysed.

Here we explore the findings of the quarterly reports and outline what insurers can do to improve their websites.

Motor insurance benchmarks

The variation between scores for the 12 insurers analysed for motor was much smaller than for the 15 insurers analysed for home. Churchill and Sheilas’ Wheels led the way with 51%, while Tesco (44%), Admiral (43%) and Budget (41%) posted the lowest scores. The average was 47%.

Generally, the companies at the top of the benchmark scored highly across all categories. But areas where companies scored particularly well or badly can be pinpointed.

In the quote and apply section (see bar chart, above), More Th>n received the highest score of 57%, followed by Admiral and eSure at 54%. Providers were assessed on categories such as the information available about the policies, quote content and payment options.

Sheilas’ Wheels was top in sales support with a score of 52%, just ahead of More Th>n with 51%. Sales support includes availability of online help, error handling and the ability to save applications.

Swiftcover (61%), Direct Line (58%) and Churchill (52%) were the top three in customer support. This looks at how a website answers customer queries through tools such as frequently asked questions (FAQs), or how well it connects customers with an adviser through services like web chat.

Norwich Union stood apart in overall website utility with 75%. It was found to have a high-quality homepage and easy site navigation.

For content, the Automobile Association (AA) had the highest score of 55%, closely followed by Swiftcover and Churchill with 54%. This includes claims information, tips and advice, and supporting motoring content. Hitesh Bhatt, head of e-marketing at Churchill, which is a client of Global Reviews, says: “This analysis helps us to benchmark and achieve best practice by prioritising enhancements. The Churchill website was relaunched in October 2008. The new site allows customers to navigate around the site either from the left or using the top tabs and has received good feedback.”

Bertie Stevenson, UK director of Global Reviews, says the reason Budget came last in the latest report was mainly because it didn’t offer much in addition to its quote and buy facility.

“They need to pad it out with auto content, claims information and say who they are,” he says. “In these times of financial trouble you must convince people that should the worst happen, you’ll be here.”

A Budget spokesman says: “Budget is surprised by these results as its own consumer research suggests customers like the simplicity of its website. Recent figures demonstrate that more people than ever are choosing to buy online with Budget, rather than over the phone.

“The benchmark here is surprisingly low and suggests that, as an industry, there is some way to go to truly impress the customer. We’re always looking at ways to improve our site and we will be sure to make good use of the feedback from this research.”

Content and customer support are the two areas where websites vary the most. They are also the easiest to improve because there are no web development issues.

Meanwhile, sales support and quote and apply are considered the most important categories. But they tend to be the hardest to improve because the quote process is tied to the back-end quote engine.

Home insurance benchmark

The gap between scores was much larger for the home insurance sites. Lloyds TSB had the best overall score with 62% and Zurich had the lowest score with 46%. Lloyds TSB was boosted by the quality of its customer support, with a score of 70% for this category.

Churchill received the highest score for quote and apply with 64%, followed by Lloyds TSB at 62%. Privilege and Churchill scored 68% to finish first in sales support. Norwich Union and Halifax had the best scores for overall website utility with 79%, while Direct Line had the best content with 56%.

Zurich was penalised for failing to provide enough claims information. Bertie Stevenson of Global Reviews says the insurer should include more reassuring information on what is involved in making a claim – for example, what can be expected and how long it usually takes. Stevenson added that the FAQ section contained questions that weren’t extensive enough.

Zurich declined to comment on the results.

Global Reviews says that since its last benchmark in August, four insurers have made notable changes to their websites. Norwich Union improved its score by 7 percentage points, Churchill by 6 points and the AA and Lloyds TSB by 4 points.

The top performers were still the best scorers even before their recent changes, but Stevenson says they continue to work on improving their websites. “A website is never finished,” he says. “Between 2005 and 2007, a lot of insurance websites would stay the same and then they’d relaunch it and think, that’s finished, I can forget about it for another two years. That’s not the way to run a website because customer expectation is always growing. In 2008, a customer was quite happy to go through the quote process and get 16 errors and will go and fix them. But at the end of 2009, consumers will expect far more.”

He adds that because the leading sites are so much better, customers now take that level of customer experience for granted.

Take online mapping. Three years ago, a hotel or bar could put a static map of their location on the site and people were happy with it. But with the development of Google Maps and Microsoft’s mapping services, customers now expect the map to be interactive.

Another example is “informed validation”. Currently, most insurance customers finish filling in their personal details before they are alerted to any errors. But with informed validation, the data entered is validated after each field.

Even if websites offer these new functions, they may fall short in other areas. The trick, says Stevenson, is to analyse websites globally and choose the best features from each to create the ultimate site.

“There’s no one website that’s perfect; we cherry-pick all the best ideas from all the websites,” he says. “America’s a very good place for us to find good stuff, as is Australia. South Africa’s not bad. I remember seeing a recommendation for a Bulgarian site the other day, so they come from all over.”

Five ways to improve your website

• Don't just watch your nearest competitor. Customers' expectations are driven by all the sites they visit and it is important that you are up to date with the way users like to do things

• Keep up – your website is never finished. Knowing the best way to do things is only half the story. You need to continually develop and improve all areas of your site. Customer expectations are always growing and what was new last year will be old this year. Fewer customers will bother with your site if the experience lags behind your peer group

• Highlight your market strengths. In the current financial climate you need to reassure users that you will be around when they need you

• Claims information is important. Provide a section on making a claim, including a step-by-step guide. This gives great reassurance to prospective customers that they will be able to claim when the time comes. It also enhances the experience for existing customers when they need to claim

• Have a comprehensive set of frequently asked questions. This will allow customers to inform themselves online. It will also deflect some customer enquiries away from the contact centre.