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USAA, American General and Kaiser Permanente earned the highest scores from customers in their respective categories in Insure.com's annual customer satisfaction study.

Overall satisfaction with insurers' customer service went up for everyone except auto insurers, where satisfaction levels held steady. And while satisfaction with life insurers went up, they still dropped below health insurers this year for customer service satisfaction.

We asked more than 5,600 insurance customers nationwide to rate their satisfaction with their auto, home, health and life insurance companies. We collected ratings for 20 large companies for four types of insurance. Click on our insurance tool to get detailed customer satisfaction scores.

Here are percentages of customers saying they are "completely" or "somewhat" satisfied with their insurers' customer service:

  • Auto insurance customers: 80% (2012 results: 80%).
  • Home insurance customers: 76% (2012 results: 73%).
  • Life insurance customers: 67% (2012 results: 63%).
  • Health insurance customers: 71% (2012 results: 61%).

For overall scores, companies were judged on five measurements:

  • Customer service.
  • Claims satisfaction.
  • Value for price paid.
  • Percent who plan to renew.
  • Percent who would recommend the company.

(Life insurance scores did not include claims or renewal questions.)

Auto insurance winners

Among auto insurers, USAA, Erie Insurance and Auto-Owners Insurance scored the highest and earn Insure.com's "People's Choice Award 2013."

USAA, which sells only to members of the military and their families, had a resounding victory, scoring five stars for customer service and claims in both the auto- and home-insurance categories -- the only company to do so.

USAA

96 (of a possible 100)

Erie Insurance

91.7

Auto-Owners Insurance

88.1

Find complete auto insurance rankings.

Home insurance winners

Home insurance customers gave the highest scores to USAA, Amica Mutual and Country Insurance. All three were propelled to the top with the help of five-star ratings for claims satisfaction. Amica stumbled slightly on price satisfaction but had strong scores in the other measurements.

USAA

96

Amica Mutual

90.4

Country Insurance

90.2

Find complete home insurance rankings (click on “Home” tab).

Life insurance winners

American General, Jackson National and Allstate went to head to head for the best life insurance scores, but ultimately American General edged out its competition due to the high percentage of its customers who say they would recommend the company.

American General

83.2

Jackson National

80.6

Allstate

80.5

Find complete life insurance rankings (click on “Life” tab).

Health insurance winners

Among health insurers, Kaiser Permanente and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois were able to snag the top two spots thanks for strong showings for claims satisfaction and renewal scores. Humana earns a People's Choice Award at No. 3 with the help of high scores for renewal.

Kaiser Permanente

83.6

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

83.3

Humana

83.1

Find complete health insurance rankings (click on “Health” tab).

The moment of truth

Ken Rosen, senior vice president of claims for USAA, which ranks No. 1 for both auto and home insurers, says "the secret sauce is an engaged workforce." He says USAA employees are singularly focused on facilitating the financial success of the company's military members.

Rosen says insurers are judged on "that moment of truth," when the customer has had a car wreck or house damage.

"When you talk about the mission of USAA, it resonates with everyone" in the company, says Rosen. "Everything is focused on the members."

All levels of employees at USAA are encouraged to speak up if they spot a problem and to submit ideas for improvement. For example, an employee originally suggested an accident-animation function for USAA's mobile app. It's now part of the app and allows members to reconstruct an accident in animation and submit it with their claims.

USAA also conducts random surveys of members after they have been on a call with a representative and after they've had a claim. The insurer also conducts customer focus groups to get feedback on possible new products.

Monitoring and tweaking

American General, ranked No. 1 among life insurance companies, also relies on its staff to follow through on superior customer service. Stephen Kennedy, senior vice president of producer services, says, "We spend the time understanding why customers call and then ensuring we have the right people available to assist them."

American General home office staff are trained to "take ownership, be responsive and proactive, be nice (but firm when necessary) and follow through," says Kennedy.

The insurer uses surveys, real-time monitoring of customer feedback, call observation and random call-backs to monitor and tweak its processes and training.

The price shopper

Price was cited by 42% survey respondents as the most important factor in auto insurance-buying decisions; 21% think customer service is the most important factor. Satisfaction with claims, often a pain point, came in at 15%. Knowing how many customers would recommend the company and customer renewal rates were chosen as most important by 11% each.

Among customers who say they won't be renewing their auto or home insurance policies with their current company, price was the No. 1 reason.

Among people who say they won't renew with their current car insurance company:

  • 62% think their price is too high.
  • 12% think other companies are better.
  • 10% cite poor customer service.
  • 9% have "other" reasons.
  • 8% point to dissatisfaction with claims.

In terms of actual satisfaction, however, shopping by price doesn't lead to the happiest customers. Among people who use the auto insurer their parents had, 57% gave a five-star rating for customer service. Among other types of insurance:

  • Customers who chose a home insurance company based on reputation were most likely (57%) to give five stars.
  • Among life insurance customers, those most likely to give five stars (48%) chose their company based on a TV commercial.
  • Among health insurance customers, those most satisfied were those who picked based on company reputation or a recommendation from a friend (46% each giving five stars). The least satisfied were those who have a health plan chosen by their employer.

The fine print

You'd be hard-pressed to find an insurance expert who doesn't recommend that you read and understand your insurance policies. Yet our 2013 survey suggests that ignorance is bliss.

Among consumers who made car insurance claims in the last three years and say they haven't read any of their auto policy, 61% were nonetheless "completely satisfied" with the claims process. That's not too far apart from policyholders who made claims and also say they've read all of their auto policy -- 69% were "completely satisfied" with their claims.

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O, help me

We also asked people who they would most want as their insurance agent from a celebrity list. Oprah Winfrey slightly edged out Donald Trump, suggesting most consumers either hope for an "aha!' moment with their insurance policies or want a pit bull to find them the best prices. Very few wanted Kim Kardashian trying to explain their insurance policies.

  • Oprah Winfrey: 33%.
  • Donald Trump: 31%.
  • Barbara Walters: 17%.
  • Al Roker: 15%.
  • Kim Kardashian: 5%.

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