What to Look for in Reviews of Car Insurance Companies

By Jessica Bosari
After 13 years in personal and commercial insurance, Jessica Bosari now writes about personal finance, car insurance, risk management and related topics. Since 2008, she has been simplifying complex ideas through engaging articles for her readers.

Reviews of Car Insurance CompaniesWhen shopping for car insurance, most people look at price. Eight out of every 10 car insurance shoppers end up going with the cheapest policy. My guess is that the other two are looking for quality in customer service. If you’re one of those that really care about the service you get from your insurance company, you’ll have to take the time to check reviews. Having spent more than a few years chatting with claims customers about their experiences at different insurance companies, I’d like to help you weed out the duds and come up with some of the better car insurance companies for customer service.

My Own Customer Service Journey

In my 20s, I spent about five years working for an Amica claims department. I learned what it meant to provide “the best” customer service and heard quite a few horror stories about just how bad insurance companies sometimes behaved. I raved about Amica even after moving on to another company and continued using Amica for my homeowner’s and car insurance for many, many years – until just a month ago.

Why? Well, customer service went downhill – big time. Without going too deep into the problem that arose, let’s just say the company failed to answer many phone calls and emails about a change to my policy and then took the opposite action I asked for, without explanation. It was entirely outside my previous experience with Amica, but when you can’t even get a supervisor to call you back, something is very, very wrong. I was done.

So, when I bought a new car last month, I went to a local agent and ended up with a new company, one I had never heard of, Vermont Mutual. Knowing the ins-and-outs of car insurance, I wasn’t very worried about customer service when shopping for a policy. Unlike most, I know when a company is telling me the wrong thing. You, however, need to be sure you’re with a company you can trust before you sign on.

Finding Insurance Company Reviews

There are just a few trustworthy sources of information for car insurance reviews. One is the famous JD Power studies, done every year. It’s important to remember that this report looks at companies regionally. Amica, for instance, is ranked number one in New England, but doesn’t rank at all in any other region, even though the company writes car insurance nationwide. Insure.com’s rankings don’t even include Amica in the top 15. And, if you’re looking only at big name insurance companies like those in these ranking reports, you may never find smaller companies like Vermont Mutual, who could very well provide better service.

So, where can you go to find out about the best companies big and small? Google is your friend here, as long as you remember to avoid reviews coming from websites that sell car insurance. It’s not hard to understand why they might be biased. What you want is to find real experiences detailed by real customers.

One of my “go-to” sites for accurate information about car insurance service is City-data.com. This website offers a forum for people looking to move from one city to another. Users share their local experiences and have no other motivation other than to help someone get a feel for a new place. For instance, this thread on Massachusetts car insurance is pretty accurate when I think about my experience adjusting claims and talking to customers about their level of satisfaction at other insurance companies.

If you have a quote from a company and you want details on their customer service, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) keeps a database of complaints. Here, you can search the company name and type of insurance to see what types of complaints were submitted.

Don’t forget to ask friends and family too. They can tell you horror stories or offer glowing reviews, depending on how their insurance companies have treated them. If you know someone who was recently in an accident, ask them how the claims experience went.

Unbiased Reviews: Things to Consider

Even when you find unbiased reviews, you should still use a little caution. For instance, Vermont Mutual gets excellent reviews at Wallethub, but mostly negative reviews at the Better Business Bureau. You need to read the negative reports to see why people are dissatisfied. Many times, the issue is entirely outside of the insurance company’s hands. This complainer at Ripoff Report is mad at everyone over a rate increase – one that even the state’s insurance department can’t help her with. When the state sets the rates, no level of customer service can fix it.

It’s also important to remember that people are far more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones. If you find the company has negative reviews and does not take the time to issue a rebuttal, there’s a good chance the customer service is lacking. But when companies take the time to respond to customer complaints on third-party websites, it’s a sign that they really care about customer experience.

Finally, the NAIC complaint data can tell you a lot about a company too. For kicks, I did a search on Vermont Mutual and selected the “Compliant Ratio Report”. As it turns out, the company has a low complaint ratio, .76. In all of 2013, only five complaints were issued. Under the “Complaint Counts by Code” report, I found there was just a single complaint in my state last year, from an insured who was unhappy with a claim settlement offer, which was resolved without the need for enforcement action. I guess I got lucky being placed with this company. Hopefully, I’ll never have to place a claim to find out for sure.

Most Important Aspects of Customer Service

Probably the most frustrating bad customer service experience you can have is during the claims process. Even when the service is great, things might not go the way you want them to. So, the way your adjuster handles your claim, explains the process, answers your questions, and eases your concerns are very important aspects of customer service in car insurance. It’s not like Starbucks, where if your coffee doesn’t taste right, they’ll just remake it.

With car insurance, you could end up with a total loss on your car and no coverage to pay for it. And when you’re trying to sort something like that out after the fact, it turns into a he-said-she-said mess that only the most experienced and caring representative can handle. They may not be able to fix the problem, but if they’re good, they can explain what went wrong and why it can’t be fixed, leaving you feeling just a little better about the disaster of an uncovered claim.

You Deserve Only the Best Customer Service

For me, providing good customer service meant being as transparent as possible, explaining insurance issues in plain language and offering my customers other resources that they could check to help them realize I was giving them a fair shake. You should expect no less from the adjusters you deal with. If you’re not getting the service you deserve, get help from your state’s insurance department.