The largest insurance firms in the nation recently were rankedon how they treated online customers in the first quarter of thisyear. Insurers received improved marks in their responsiveness toonline inquiries, but they continue to share user data at higherrates than other industries, the Customer Respect Group, aninternational research and consulting firm, summarized in itsOnline Customer Respect Study.

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Although a direct comparison among industries is difficult, theaverage customer respect index throughout 2004 was 5.9. Insurers inthe most recent survey scored slightly better, at 6.1. In theproperty and casualty category, Progressive Corp. was ranked numberone, while Mercury General Corp. was last on the list.

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“We're seeing some of the same trends in the insurance industryreport as we saw in the recent financial service report,” saidTerry Golesworthy, president of the Customer Respect Group. “Thereare some qualified gains in responsiveness, which are offset bycontinued privacy issues. The stakes are the same in bothindustries. Users object to having their submitted online datashared with third parties or even internally without theirpermission.”

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Overall, insurers' responsiveness, a measure of how many onlineinquiries went unanswered, improved from 36 percent to 19 percent.Despite a rise in the volume number of inquiries addressed withinan hour, however, the number answered within a day fell from 67percent to 54 percent. Taken one level further, only 25 percentwere answered within the day and were considered helpful.

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Insurance firms continue to share user-submitted online datawith business partners and other third parties at an alarming rate,the study noted. In 2004, the data-sharing average was 24 percentfor business partners and third parties across all industries,while the insurance industry's 2004 average was 34 percent. Thisyear, insurers have pushed that rate slightly higher, to 35percent.

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