The insurance industry is below par in call center customer service compared to other industries, particularly in customer interaction, acceleration of call resolution and customer service representative training, according to a consulting firm study released today.

The CFI Group in Ann Arbor, Mich., surveyed customers from six service industries, including catalog, banking, cell phone service, cable and satellite television, insurance, and personal computers.

Insurance call center service, the survey found, scored below-average ratings compared to other industries. Banking and catalog services received the highest ratings.

The insurance industry placed second-to-last in customer call service satisfaction, with a rating of 68 on the index’s 100-point scale. Overall customer satisfaction received a 75. The report said insurance company representatives were rated highly by customers in terms of courteousness and speaking ability, yet their overall effectiveness was lacking.

The report also found a fifth of all callers never get their issues resolved.

According to the report, the results can be troublesome, since service satisfaction is important to customers.

Approximately 61 percent of insurance customers who experience inadequate call center service will consider leaving the company, the survey found.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said they will definitely leave, while 35 percent surveyed were undecided. But why do an overwhelming percent of customers feel this way, and what can be done to enhance the call services?

According to Sheri Teodoru, author of the CFI Group study, insurance “customer service representative (CSR) performance is just middle-of-the-road compared to other industries.”

“The issue for the insurance companies was agents not having the knowledge to solve the customer’s problem,” said Ms. Teodoru.

The study showed that customer service can improve if call resolution accelerates and the industry improves different aspects of customer service, including Web, mail, interactive voice response and in-person contact.

Well-trained CSRs, the study found, are “critical” to improved customer service.

“CSRs need proper training in dealing with both product and service issues as well as in interpersonal skills for dealing with stressful situations.”

In her report, Ms. Teodoru also explained the importance of improving interaction services.

“To the extent the insurance industry can improve all interaction points, the customer will be the winner as well as the company,” said Ms. Teodoru.

“The call center’s ability to deliver on the company’s promise will continue to be critical for the success of the organization in both the short and long term,” she added.

Among insurance companies that were surveyed in the CFI Group report were Progressive, Allstate, Geico and State Farm.

CFI Group said it used the methodology of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) to find its results.

Research for the satisfaction study was the result of an online survey of 900 persons who responded to a 20-question survey and evaluated their most recent call center experience.