Despite the fact that auto insurance claims increased during 2011's fourth quarter, overall customer satisfaction remained relatively the same, according to J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 Auto Claims Satisfaction Study.
Using a 1,000-point scale, customer satisfaction averaged 855 during Q4 - a one point increase over Q3 and a slight uptick from the second quarter's 848.
The driving factor behind the increase in claims was weather-related damage. This led to higher volumes at autobody shops and, as a result, longer wait times to finish repairs. Specifically, repairs increased from an average of 7.8 days to 8.5 days between Q3 and Q4.
"Autobody shops handled the increased repair volume well, and insurance companies did a good job of keeping their customers informed, which helped manage customer expectations,” said Jeremy Bowler, Senior Director of the insurance practice at J.D. Power and Associates.
Bowler also touched on a recent shift in the way vehicle damage is being reported. "Several agencies" are now encouraging customers to contact their call centers rather than file a claim with an actual agent.
"Not all customers want to work with an agent," Bowler said. "Some just want to file their claim in the quickest and easiest way possible, whether that be through a call center or online." PropertyCasualty360 paraphrased him as saying the online option may be urged by agents because of improvements in technology.
However, customers who filed their claims directly with an agent still reported greater overall satisfaction this quarter compared to the second quarter, from 879 to 886.
"There still is a significant share of customers who prefer the personal interaction they get with an agent because they value working directly with a person they know," Bowler noted.
He added in general, communication is key. When insurers let customers know when their vehicle will be fixed while providing constant updates along the way, it acts as a springboard to retention, as well as customer satisfaction and loyalty.
PC360 points out that of the 27 insurers that appeared in the survey, Auto-Owners Insurance, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company and USAA were among the top-rated. State Farm, American Family, Amica Mutual and The Hartford also scored high marks.
J.D. Power used responses from more than 3,500 auto insurance customers over the past six months to quantify the results.