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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