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Mobile Insurance Websites: More than Just a Pretty Face

Michael P. Voelker | April 29, 2015

More and more, mobile devices are the platform of choice for consumers accessing the web. The mobile tipping point was reached in early 2014 when users choosing the mobile web surpassed users on a desktop connection.

“Over time, we’ve seen mobile change from a novelty to being a fully functional part of the digital experience offering,” says Andy Fulford, Progressive Insurance’s business leader of e-commerce. “It has even become a primary source of interaction for some of our customers.”

“The rules have changed. People are using smartphones, and if you don’t have a mobile site you are out of luck,” says Scott Cornelius, president of ECI Insurance Agency in Oklahoma. The agency’s mobile website is based on the Insurance Website Builder platform from Insurance Technologies Corporation (ITC), which reports a 50 percent increase in mobile usage across its customer base this year compared to 2014. 

Insurers Get the Mobile Message

“Improving the customer experience is the number one strategic initiative for insurers, and the top technology to improve the customer experience is mobile,” says Mark Breading, partner, Strategy Meets Action. “About half of all insurers have some major project underway in either traditional web or mobile web service.”

But it’s not enough to just have a mobile web presence. An insurer’s site needs to deliver capabilities consumers crave. On small-screen devices, design and navigation are particularly important considerations, but the discussion needs to start by identifying the business objective an insurer has for users of its site.

“A lot of insurers look at it the wrong way. They want to present marketing materials first, and they are concerned that their site looks pretty. However, the consumer doesn’t care if the site is pretty, and they don’t want to wade through a bunch of sales content just to get to the functionality they came for,” says Karen Pauli, research director at CEB TowerGroup.

In fact, 85 percent of consumers will abandon the mobile channel if they can’t get what they want quickly, according to TowerGroup research.

“Consumers want it to be super easy to navigate to high-demand transactions,” Pauli says. “That includes claim inquiry: Who’s my adjuster? Where is my check? What body shops and towing companies does my insurer use? On the policy side, they want access to policy documents and ID cards and the ability to make premium payments.”

“We want to be sure that once prospects and customers get to our site that they have something to do rather than just looking at a picture,” says Cornelius. The agency’s analysis of its mobile site shows that making a payment, reporting a claim, and reading ECI’s blog are the three links visited most often.

“Making a payment and reporting claims are things that don’t happen just between 8 and 5, so we have the capability for customers to connect with every insurance company we represent. Those features are right up front and easy to find,” Cornelius says.

A premium quote function is also front and center at many company sites, including those of direct-to-consumer insurers such as Progressive and Esurance.

“Quoting is certainly a key interaction for us, but we also prioritize customer service activities like paying bills or accessing insurance identification cards. We’re also looking at ways to make claims simpler in mobile by shortening and simplifying what can be pretty complex processes,” says Fulford.

“As the appetite for mobile interactions is increasing among consumers, the tolerance for complexity is decreasing. Our goal is to provide simple, seamless experiences that meet our customers’ needs,” he adds.

Although the quote function sits at the top of Esurance’s mobile site today, the company launched its mobile website in 2009 after recognizing the need to be able to provide customers immediate help in the event of an accident or claim.

“We started with a simple plain text site and, over time, upgraded to a mobile-optimized interface and added new functionality based on what is most important to our customers on the full site,” says Carla Silvey, director of ecommerce product management, Esurance.

The mobile site still emphasizes function over form today, with minimal graphics, simple navigation, and plainspoken navigational choices, such as “at the scene,” “ready to file,” and “see your claims info” for claims. 

“We aim to be fast and efficient. Quoting gets top billing on our mobile website, just as it does on our full website, as new visitors are most likely there to get a quote. Our mobile website also offers core service functionality, but the majority of our policyholders use our app or the full site for servicing, so quoting is the priority,” says Silvey.

Pauli also stresses that mobile-delivered functionality must have an effective connection to the back end.

“Some insurers believe if they get some really good portal technology and visual capabilities, they don’t have to worry about how those technologies interact with production systems. That is a huge mistake,” she says.

The consequences of a disconnect can be painful for consumers. Pauli recalls a recent situation where she needed to make a policy payment.

“I went on the company’s website using a tablet and entered all my payment information. Everything looked good until I saw some disclaimer text at the bottom that said it would take three to five days for payment to post.”

Pauli called the company’s billing department and found the reason for the delay. “Although the company had built nice external facing technology, their billing core is still so old that someone has to print off a report and manually enter payment information into the system,” she says.

Assessing Effectiveness

Insurers rely on a variety of tools and techniques in assessing how well they are meeting the needs of mobile users.

“The best tool is Google analytics. It differentiates between your mobile and desktop sites, helping you make sure you are meeting the needs of all your visitors based on the technology they are using. You can drill down into the user flow for your site and determine where people are spending their time,” says ITC president Laird Rixford.

ECI rolled out both its desktop and mobile websites based on the ITC platform in 2010. The agency uses Google analytics to assess visits to the mobile site and the average time users spend on it.

“A key thing we’ve learned is that users don’t stay on the mobile site as long as they do on the full web,” says Cornelius. In ECI’s case, the average person goes to 2.4 pages and spends 2 minutes on the full site, versus 1.85 pages and 1.5 minutes on mobile.

“It’s still enough time for them to get things done, but it does point to the need for mobile to be streamlined from a content standpoint and easy to navigate,” Cornelius says.

Cornelius is also satisfied with the search engine optimization results ITC has achieved for the agency. Both the regular and mobile websites are the top-ranked results when searching for “Oklahoma City insurance” on Google.

Pauli says that in addition to crunching the numbers, it’s important to conduct focus groups and engage with consumers and brokers. “Usage reports don’t show what consumers really think about a website—you have to talk to them,” she says.

Silvey says that assessing effectiveness from a sales standpoint is fairly straightforward, involving tracking and comparing business that originates at the mobile and full sites. Service effectiveness is a bit more complex, requiring the assessment of how individual mobile features are used and talking to customers about their experience.

“We conduct frequent user research, which lets us hear directly from customers about what’s important to them. We’re always striving to seamlessly serve our customers the content they need, when they need it, and on the device they’re using,” says Silvey.

Fulford explains Progressive uses a “test and learn” approach.

“We’re continually testing how we present information to best suit our customers’ needs. At the end of the day, we make decisions based on what customers tell us they want,” he says.

Form Meets Function

The mobile-web world includes a wide array of device form factors, operating systems, and other differences that present challenges to delivering content and functionality consistently and effectively.

“The tier one insurers that moved into the mobile web area first had a real challenge because they were trying to hire and train people who knew and could keep up with changes,” says Breading.

Those early adopters of mobile also found their existing websites and portals weren’t architected for mobility.

“The content was too dense and IT would have to spend a lot of time trying to get the right content and design to respond to various form factors,” Pauli says.

Fortunately for insurers, the mobile web world has evolved to offer wide availability of design vendors and system integrators that specialize in mobile optimization.

“Content management vendors, customer communication vendors, and pure-play portal vendors have put a lot of effort in to the scenario of ‘create once, deploy many,’” Pauli says. “That’s a huge change that has delivered greater speed to publication and easier change management.”

“There are not that many insurers today that have staff thinking about how to create a version of our site for the new tablet or smartphone and so on. They are able to focus on the functionality they need to deliver to consumers and are moving forward with partners to handle the technical components of that delivery,” says Breading.

The two competing approaches to optimizing content for mobile devices are adaptive and responsive web design. While they share a common objective, the methods differ in the details.

Adaptive design creates distinct sites for each type of device and screen size. Responsive sends the same webpage to each device but, based on device identification and scripting, determines whether or not to show particular design elements.

“Adaptive creates additional work because of the need to develop multiple sites and maintain a continuously updated database of all the devices out there. With responsive, you only need to create one site, but it can be more difficult to implement because you have to be sure it meets the needs of all devices,” says Rixford, adding that ITC can support either approach.

The design strategy is more important than the technology method used. For instance, while much has been made of the mobile-native capabilities of HTML5, it’s entirely possible to code a mobile site based on HTML4. HTML5 does enable CSS3, the third version of cascading style sheets, and allows the ability to display Flash-type animation on iOS devices that don’t support Flash. However, browsers are not equal in their support for all of HTML5 functionality.

“The industry is trying to get down to a solid standard, but it comes down to the willingness and ability of device manufacturers to support the standard” Rixford says. “In some ways, HTML5 creates its own problems for insurers because you need to test it on multiple browsers and devices to see what features are actually supported.”

Progressive uses responsive web design. “The primary strength of our mobile site is that we’ve built it responsively with pages that dynamically flex for form and function. Our objective is to be sure we’re effectively meeting our customers’ needs regardless of how they choose to interact with us,” says Fulford, adding that staying current in mobile is a constant challenge.

“We‘re always trying to keep up with the proliferation of phones, browsers and operating systems. It take diligence and a lot of testing on our part, but it’s vitally important to ensure our experience works for the vast majority of our consumers,” he says.

Esurance is evolving its mobile website toward responsive web design. “With mobile now exceeding PC usage, and screen sizes continuing to be offered in a wide range, responsive design allows us to serve content customized for an individual’s screen size while enjoying the efficiency and continuity of a single site,” Silvey says.

Mobile Marches On

Influenced by their experience in other sectors, consumers will expect more capability from insurers’ mobile websites

“What we’re seeing in mobile, specifically, is an increased appetite for breadth of interaction and simplicity of design,” says Fulford.

“[Consumers’] expectations aren’t necessarily set by our competitors or others’ in the insurance space. They’re driven by all of the companies they interact with digitally every day. Think about purchasing something on Amazon or reserving a car on Uber, for example. Those experiences influence how we create effective points of interaction for our shoppers and customers,” Fulford says.

Expanded device functionality will also shape consumer expectations of insurers’ mobile sites.

“As technology and browser capabilities improve through things such as HTML5 and CSS3, you will see responsive websites become more prevalent and their functionality will expand,” Rixford says. “Coming soon will be uploading photos from your camera. Although insurers have provided the ability to do that via their own apps, consumers will be able to do that from within a regular browser environment.” 

In expanding their anytime, anywhere, any-device connection with customers, insurers need to keep in mind that an effective mobile website is more than just a pretty face.

“There aren’t too many insurers that would argue that [mobile] isn’t a need. Companies definitely understand the importance,” says Pauli. “They just have to resist the temptation to visually execute but not execute on the back end.”



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