Many insurers are so clumsy in cyberspace that they are unable to respond to questions submitted through electronic mail.[@@]

Researchers at the Customer Respect Group, Ipswich, Mass., have published that assessment in their latest quarterly review of insurers’ Internet operations.

The researchers surveyed Internet users and also examined the Web sites of more than 2,000 companies, including 47 life, health and property-casualty insurers.

The researchers gave each Web site a customer respect rating ranging from 1 to 10.

The overall insurance rating was 6.1

Property-casualty sites were slightly better than the industry average and life and health sites were slightly worse, with a 5.9 rating. Health care plans earned a rating of just 5.4.

Non-insurance financial services firms failed to respond to only 16% of Consumer Respect Group e-mail inquiries, but insurers failed to respond at all to 26% of e-mail inquirers, firm researchers report.

Insurers sent helpful replies within 24 hours in response to only 16% of the e-mailed questions, the researchers add.

“Especially poor were the health care plans, which ignored more than half of the email inquiries,” the researchers write.

Although 47% of the carriers responded consistently to e-mailed inquiries, 12% did not respond at all to any e-mailed queries, the researchers write.

The insurance industry “has made the least progress of all major customer-focused industries,” says Customer Respect Group President Terry Golesworthy.