For the fifth consecutive year in a row, Erie Insurance came in first in J.D. Power’s annual ranking of auto insurance customer service.

Erie Insurance’s score of 879 out of a possible 1,000 comes as carriers have increasingly had to rely on great customer service, personalized advice and strong agents to win over their customers in a second straight year of stagnant auto insurance shopping activity and modest rate increases, J.D. Power’s 2017 U.S. Insurance Shopping Study found.

The study finds that as auto insurers struggle to compete on price, they are being forced to differentiate based on factors such as brand reputation, agent recommendations, product and service to drive new business sales.

“The auto insurance industry is at an inflection point where customer patterns and behaviors are on the verge of shifting,” said Greg Hoeg, vice president of U.S. insurance operations at J.D. Power. “To survive this period of price stagnation, insurers must develop strategies to be able to better differentiate not just to acquire new customers, but also to acquire customers with desirable risk profiles in order to maintain profitability.”

Rounding out the Top 5: American Family ranked second with 869; The Hartford came in third at 861; Auto Club Group was fourth at 852; and Amica Mutual came in fifth at 850.

The study is based on responses from more than 16,400 shoppers who requested an auto insurance price quote from at least one competitive insurer in the past nine months and includes more than 50,000 unique customer evaluations of insurers. The study was fielded in April, July and October 2016 and January 2017.

Key findings of the 2017 study include:

  • Auto insurance market shopping stagnates:This year sees a continuation of the slowdown in shopping activity that was first noted in 2016. Average premium rates have increased just 2-3 percent; customer acquisition rates are flat; new quote volume is flat; and the total number of insurance shoppers is largely unchanged from the last year.
  • Price is more influential in brand consideration and quoting: Despite stagnant pricing, price remains a driver in every stage of the acquisition process, meaning insurers must always take it into consideration to be competitive in the market. For example, the influence of price on a shopper’s decision to consider and quote a brand has increased 5 percentage points in each of the past two years. As a result, the importance of price has surpassed that of a good past service experience when a shopper considers or quotes a brand.
  • Agents continue to play key role:Agent recommendations have become an increasingly important driver of customer consideration and quote generation. Shoppers are also increasingly reliant on agent recommendations when considering and quoting insurers, compared to 2015 (a 9- and 10-percentage point increase, respectively).
  • Communication is critical driver of satisfaction:The KPIs affecting the purchase experience index the most are ensuring the customer completely understands coverage; providing guidance and/or tools for selecting the right coverage; and ensuring customers understand premium calculations.

Source: J.D. Power