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Good products, not-so-good service

The insurance industry continues to give customer service the short shrift. Now a study reveals it's critical for influencing customer buying decisions.

Shalini S. Dagar | Print Edition: April 18, 2010

Insurance is one of the sunrise sectors in India and has witnessed heady growth in recent times. Indeed, insurance penetration almost doubled over the last four years to touch 4.3 per cent in 2009. But fundamental questions have remained: Has the service standards of the industry kept pace with its rapid expansion? Is there product innovation to meet the varied needs of customers?

A new joint research by Grant Thornton UK and Grant Thornton India—the "mystery buyer" survey— studied insurance companies across term life, motor and home and contents to answer precisely these questions. The policies were evaluated on pricing, cover, and other benefits, including additional products offered. Quality of service was based on the overall experience of buying insurance for a customer— e.g., the time taken by the insurance agent to establish contact with the customer, his domain knowledge, etc.

THE BEST IN CLASS

Term Life Insurance

  • Bharti Axa Life Insurance
  • Canara HSBC Oriental Life Insurance
  • Reliance Life Insurance

Comprehensive Motor Insurance

  • Bajaj-Allianz General Insurance
  • Reliance General Insurance
  • Tata AIG General Insurance

Home & Contents Insurance

  • Bharti Axa General Insurance
  • ICICI Lombard General Insurance
  • The New India Assurance

Each category lists the top three insurers in alphabetical order. Source: Grant Thornton

The study comes up with an interesting conclusion. In the Indian insurance market, customer service plays a critical role in influencing buying decisions. The results reveal that the ranking of products was correlated to their customer service standards. There were examples when insurers tumbled down the rankings only because of relatively poor customer service. "Consumers are much more concerned about service interface than the product itself," says Ipe Jacob, Consultant, Financial Services Advisory, Grant Thornton UK.

Ironically, despite customer service being the critical differentiator, most insurance companies did not seem to attach great significance to it. The quality of the insurance agents varied widely across the spectrum. Unsurprisingly, the agents of the state insurers are probably the most knowledgeable but seemed least interested in selling. For the rest, the standards ranged from average to abysmal.

Despite the stellar growth of the industry, service standards in insurance, then, need an overhaul. Please the customer to profit from him.

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