NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Consumers are growing weary of unexpected and unexplained rate hikes in auto insurance, as they face an average premium increase of $153 in 2013, a 35% increase from last year. As a result, customer satisfaction with auto insurance companies has reversed course and declined from an all-time high in 2012, according to a recent J.D. Power 2013 U.S. Auto Insurance Study.
Based on a 1000-point scale, overall satisfaction with auto insurance companies is 794, down 10 points from 2012, but still the second-highest rating since the study began in 2000.
"In 2013, there is a sharp rise in the number of customers who have experienced premium increases," says Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the global insurance practice at J.D. Power. "The dollar amount of those increases is also larger, averaging $153 in 2013, compared with an average rate increase of $113 reported in the 2012 study."
Nearly one-third (32%) of customers are most likely to switch insurers when a premium increase is greater than $200. Consumers are most dissatisfied when rate hikes are unexplained and issued without prior notice, making them more likely to switch their policy to another insurer. Only 16% of those surveyed indicated that they had a discussion with their insurer regarding a potential change in their coverage after a premium increase.
"Generally, customers typically have little understanding of how their rates are set by their insurer, or why prices may vary by sometimes hundreds of dollars between companies when they shop for multiple quotes," says Bowler. "We've seen many companies focus on communicating discounts to strengthen customer perception of value. But the introduction of personal driving data characteristics in establishing discounts, and hence rates, represents another significant step forward for the industry in terms of better communicating price to customers."
The J.D. Power study measures customer satisfaction across five factors: interaction, price, policy offerings, billing and payment and claims. Scores across all five factors declined from last year.
"In today's low-interest market, many insurers are filing for new rate structures in order to rectify underwriting losses," said Bowler. "To prepare for the likely downturn in customer sentiment and risk of increased attrition following a premium increase, insurers need to do a better job of proactively reaching out to their customers and explaining the reasons behind the rate increases."
Among the five factors, price satisfaction is lowest at 716 -- more than 100 points lower than the average scores for interaction and claims.
--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet