Customers don’t like health insurance websites

To put it mildly, consumers are less than impressed with their experiences using health insurance websites, a recent study found. In fact, only websites for cable companies, cell phone companies and telephone utilities rank behind health insurance in terms of customer satisfaction on the web, according to ForeSee, a customer analytics firm.

ForeSee conducts yearly benchmark studies in various industry categories. The company published its forth annual health care benchmark this month, which included more than 100,000 customer surveys. The study looked at different kinds of health websites and calculated aggregate customer satisfaction scores on a 100-point scale. Both health information websites and hospital health system websites received a score of 78, while health insurance companies received an aggregate score of 51.

“They’ve been definitely the lowest scorer ever since we’ve done this. It’s just a big challenge that they have,” CEO of ForeSee Larry Freed said.

Freed said a lot of the trouble stems from the health insurance industry itself being complex, riddled with jargon and involving an overload of information. Insurance companies also find it difficult to design an understandable web interface to represent a messy and sometimes old back end system.

However, not every company flunked. Companies that scored in the 30s pulled the average score down, but many individual health insurance websites scored in the 70s ― great ratings for this industry.

These companies found success by zeroing in on aspects of the user experience that are particularly irksome to customers, Freed said. For example, a company focused on delivering a clear presentation of an Explanation of Benefits. Sites also scored points by appealing to consumers who are in the market for health insurance by presenting various options and plans in an understandable format.

The study comes at a time when plans for health benefit exchanges are in the works. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that by 2014 each state set up and create an online exchange where people in the market for health insurance can shop for plans.

What can these insurance sites learn from those that have come before them?

“One thing they can learn is no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to get it right the first time,” Freed said.

One tip he gave is for developers to focus on creating clear and easy-to-understand navigation systems. Leading users through the site via good navigation usually yields far better results than having them plunge into the site through search, Freed said. He also strongly recommended paying close attention to site analytics from the start and measuring what works and what doesn’t work.

Though customer satisfaction with health insurance websites is dismal, the future of these sites doesn’t have to be. Many people want to and will interact with their insurance companies on the web.

“The biggest message I think is that the value for improving the experience is huge and will give you a huge return on your investment,” Freed said.

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