Monday, February 15, 2010

Progressive Auto Isn't So Progressive

"I could use a little help." - Flo

Progressive Auto Insurance views itself as an innovative company that is welcoming the new advances in social media and finding better ways to interact with their customers. And they are. Progressive's website is easy to find, follow, and use. The ability to compare auto rates from other companies has been a major marketing point and the new Name Your Price and Quote and Buy Online features make individualizing and purchasing an insurance plan easier than ever. The website serves as a virtual helpdesk for finding answers and the Insurance Basics and Vehicle Resources offer a wealth of information for curious customers.

But are their latest strategies to engage customers hit or miss?

The source on Progressive's social media plan is Matthew Lehman, Web Experience Director and Progressive presenter at the Social Media Business Council on August 13,2009 in Minneapolis, hosted by Gas Pedal and featured on BlogWell.

*Note: Video length is 33 minutes. Read on for a synopsis.

Social Media at Progressive, by Matthew Lehman; presented by GasPedal and the Social Media Business Council from GasPedal on Vimeo.

Lehman makes several key points about Progressive and its views on social media:
  • Auto Insurance Companies are low touch environments with limited customer interaction. Customers only contact an actual representative 1-2 times per year.
  • Auto Insurance Companies rely on referrals even more than positive survey reviews.
  • Auto Insurance Companies are limited by the public nature of social media. Security is an issue when addressing individual policy concerns.
  • It isn't the number of followers that matters. The goal is to contact customers to give them relevant information.

Social media is an easy way to increase the number of positive customer interactions - no accident claim or bill correction required. Progressive focuses its website, blogs, Youtube channel, Facebook, and Twitter on the customer and providing information. By limiting itself to these applications, Progressive maintains a focus and makes the information easy to access. Or so you'd think. Once you dig into Progressive's social portfolio, you might find yourself a little lost. Let's take a look at where Progressive is showing success and where it needs a tune-up.

Hit #1: Flo, the Progressive Girl.
Flo, with her tricked out nametag and bright red lipstick, is the face of Progressive and has become the single most recognized use of branding for the company. She is featured in all the commercials, Facebook groups, Twitter, and the Youtube channel. Flo links all of Progressive's social media together into one quirky and recognizable personality that customers are happy to see. Her latest problem is finding an assistant and Progressive is giving its customers a chance to appear in one of their commercials to help her.

HelpFlo utilizes Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and the company website to encourage customers to play with their auto insurance company and to have fun with photos and videos. While customers aren't really getting to know the company behind the nametag, they are showing pride in their auto insurance mascot and are promoting the company's best features in each of their videos. Each tryout video receives anywhere from several hundred to more than one thousand views.

Hit #2: Severe Weather Updates and the Catastrophe Team
Lehman says that Progressive's "In" for social media was providing real time severe weather updates and suggestions through Twitter and podcasts. And I agree. Services like emergency updates provide relevant and meaningful information through social media, and, as Lehman points out, customers are more likely to have access to Twitter via a cell phone during an emergency than they are a television or a computer. Progressive's mobile Catastrophe Team arrives in disaster stricken areas to help customers file claims on-site and recover from floods, hurricanes, blizzards, and hail storms.

Hit #3: Super Service Stories
Progressive recently added a page to their website that allows customers to share stories about positive service interactions. Flo picks out a few new stories to feature every month. I like that this allows customers to point out specific representatives that took extra effort to help them through their claims. Unfortunately, there is no section for less than stellar stories. You won't find any negative or even lukewarm reviews willingly showcased on Progressive's website, or Youtube, or Twitter, or Facebook, or...well, anywhere.

Hit #4: Progressive Iphone App and Mobile Web Site
Bill pay, claims, and commercials on the go for anyone who has an Iphone or a Smart Phone. This is a great way for customers to keep up with their lives and their insurance at the same time. Just don't use it while driving or you'll violate your Oprah-sanctioned No-Phone-Zone pledge.

Hit #5: Facebook Pages
Progressive mixes information and fun in its Facebook pages. The main Progressive Facebook page is updated every four days or so with new event information or reminders and the page has a respectable 7,624 followers. It has a few fun addons, such as the nametagger that lets you add tricked out name tags to your photos. Flo is the real star of Facebook with two pages, one for Flo and one for finding a new assistant. Flo is a humble sales clerk with a loyal following of 317,456 adoring fans. Progressive also has a Pets application that allows customers to post pictures of their furry loved ones as a promotional tool for their Pet Injury Insurance, and motorcycle enthusiasts can post pictures of their bikes on the Progressive Motorcycle page. There are also several Facebook games on the Progressive Commercial Auto page.

Miss #1: Twitter Customer Service
Progressive decided to use Twitter as a way for customers to text in their questions and concerns about their insurance policies. Unfortunately, Twitter is public. Customers end up posting their private account information in hopes of speedy solutions and put themselves at risk of identity theft. Also, followers of the Progressive Twitter only see Progressive's replies and are unable to view the actual questions. There is only so much help that can be given in 140 characters and a Twitter feed of thanking people for contacting them, joining Progressive, referring to the customer help phone number, etc. becomes redundant. Without customers being able to see commonly asked questions and the answers that are given, it isn't really helping.

The Twitter Customer Service replaced the very useful (and private) feature of being able to go to the Progressive website, type in your phone number, and receive an immediate phone call from a representative who could help you. A real voice, a real person, and real communication. Also helpful is a website-based chat feature, where questions and responses can be longer than 140 characters and don't require horrendous spelling and grammar errors in order to get the message across. Since I'm a Progressive customer myself, I'd really like those features back. There's no way that I'm using Twitter to ask about billing errors and coverage changes.

Miss #2: YouTube Channel
All the Flo commercials you could ever want. And nothing else. Progressive is missing out on potential communication and engagement with their customers beyond their adorable sales clerk. If you look hard enough, there's one video about working at Progressive that features interviews, albeit clearly scripted, from employees about the benefits of working at Progressive. It actually lets you see into the company and learn more about what daily life is like for the people on the other side of the phone. It would be even better if we could see unscripted videos, how-to videos, or maybe even documentation videos of their Catastrophe Team. A YouTube channel can do so much more than replay old commercials. Progressive should take the opportunity to actually show their face and talk to their customers. Show them what they are paying for.

Miss #3: Facebook Pages (Second look.)
Lehman talked about how it's not the number of followers that matters, but getting relevant information to customers through social media. This isn't really working on Facebook. There are too many pages to follow all of them and they aren't created equally. Some pages lack updates, info descriptions, or content. The only pages getting the hits are the ones related to Flo. The information pages aren't getting marketed and aren't really getting seen.

Going Solo with Progressive is directed at teenage drivers and has great information and quizzes to help teens prepare for hitting the open road on their own. Unfortunately, this page only has 36 fans. Progressive Commercial Auto doesn't have many followers, but is packed with information, updates, and videos. The Automative X Prize competition page is actually pretty interesting, but isn't getting much attention. Then there's the Faces of Pride page, which supports corporate equality, but has lost all of its ties to the actual Progressive company. Another problem with the Facebook pages is the blackhole effect of links. Click on one Progressive Favorites page and you risk not being able to get back to the main Progressive Facebook page, since only certain pages are complete with links and content.

Miss #4: Blogs
Progressive lists seven different blogs on their website. They currently use the blogs to mine articles and re-post them into the Facebook pages, where the information might actually be seen. Few customers have the time to hunt through the actual website to find all seven blogs and read new posts. None of the posts have received comments from readers. If these pages are going to be listed and updated as blogs, it would be beneficial to consolidate them into one or two blogs that are easy to find or to differentiate between what is a blog and what is another page on the website.
Miss #5: Avoiding Discussion
Progressive encourages its customers to participate in viral marketing and to promote its services to their friends and followers, but it cuts customers out of the discussion by hiding feedback. It even hides the company behind Flo. There are few, if any, discussions on any of the Facebook pages and there are no rating or review features on the social media sites or on the Progressive website. While not every company is ready to face the public on neutral ground, social media requires two-way communication to be truly successful.

Progressive uses a Net Promoter Score to track their success in social networking based on referrals. Negative feedback would bring this score down. While shoutouts on Facebook and Twitter from customers with large numbers of followers will give the illusion of success, they don't mean that communication is happening or that Progressive is 1) listening or 2) learning about what their customers want. Nor does it mean that customers are learning anything about Progressive. Social media then is just an extension of one long commercial featuring Flo, in which customers can pass on the message, but can't genuinely participate.

Miss #6: Considering Using Social Media as a Sales Portal
At the end of Lehman's presentation, he acknowledges the question of changing how Progressive sells insurance online by saying, "Do I make them come to my site to work with me or do I let them work with me where they are?" While he claims that the answer is to go where they are, I strongly disagree. To me, the answer is clearly the Progressive website. The company's credibility is based in its website and in the security that they can provide. The customer is accessing the internet and they already have the option to manage their account at home or on the go with the mobile web site.

While it's nice to be able to post pictures, see news, and receive updates via social media, the Progressive website is one easily spelled URL away. Opening insurance sales through Facebook is an invitation for identity theft, scams, and loss of credibility. Progressive has a highly usable website for new customers and current customers. Why would they suddenly rely on Facebook to host all of your business needs? If the goal is to reward and track customers receiving referrals through social media, then Tweet coupon codes and discounts, or allow customers to credit who recommended them during the application process and give that person a discount that month. Don't sacrifice good business for a shiny fad.

Meeting Goals But Missing the Point
Progressive is using social media to increase their interactions with customers, but they are losing opportunities by not fully engaging their voice and the voices of their customers. Focusing their efforts into a clear, narrow social media campaign that is easy to follow and participate in will benefit them in the future. Having a presence in social media doesn't mean that all business interactions have to take place through Twitter and Facebook - real customer service is as important as it ever was in the past. It might also help to let Flo take a short vacation and let some of the real sales clerks and agents step into the spotlight and share their voices and views with the customers they serve.


  1. Wow, Denae, you've really captured the full picture of Progressive's use of social media. It's unfortunate that for all their efforts, they still miss the mark in many ways. I found it interesting that a company would even try to do real business/customer service on Twitter...what are they thinking?

    I love Flo! But there is no correlation in my mind, between some entertaining Facebook pages and YouTube videos, and what I'm looking for in an insurance company.

    Do you think we do/should expect different things from the online presence of certain companies, such as insurance?

  2. Thanks for this detailed post. I like the way you organized it into "hits" and "misses."

    Unlike Montyne, I can't stand Flo. But I agree with her that there is no correlation "between some entertaining Facebook pages and YouTube videos, and what I'm looking for in an insurance company." But, then again, I love that Geico gecko and I am a loyal Geico customer. Hmmm . . .

    In any case, I think you make a good point here: "It might also help to let Flo take a short vacation and let some of the real sales clerks and agents step into the spotlight and share their voices and views with the customers they serve."

  3. Denae, this is a great post, although I must admit that I, too, wish that Flo would fade into the mist. Maybe she and the gecko could duke it out, winner take all.

    I agree with the "miss points" you made, and I wonder if some of them, at least, could be attributed to the social media learning curve? As the big companies make the transition to social media, they may be prone to misstep as they try to learn the rules.

  4. First, I love, love, love Flo. (Though I'm still a Geico customer.)

    Second, this was a thoroughly detailed post, and I was super impressed.

    That said, I do want to counter a couple of points. Blogs can actually be used for other purposes aside from two-way dialogue. As a social media consultant, I suspect I know why Progressive keeps all of those blogs despite the fact that they don't get hits, and that reason is search engine optimization (SEO). Say that you are searching for "pet insurance Georgia." Google's mysterious algorithm will pull up sites that show a lot of credibility. Progressive's site probably gets a lot of backlinks, and updates their content regularly, making their site look credible. Since that's the case, people searching for pet insurance might come across one of their pet insurance related blog posts. Seeing that Progressive knows a lot about the topic (via their blog), they might feel more comfortable purchasing pet insurance with the company. That's a very basic explanation of the theory behind SEO.

    One of my clients is another low customer contact industry - personal injury law. Unlike family lawyers, people only call my client when they have been in an accident or gotten otherwise injured. Because an accident lawyer isn't like a store or a plumber, my client doesn't have many chances to build up customer loyalty. (I suppose unless he got a really accident prone client.) Nonetheless, he still maintains a blog for the very reason I just described. Though nobody might read his blog everyday and comment on various points of personal injury law, when they need a lawyer and start searching for lawyers specializing in child hotel scalds in the Atlanta area, my client is going to pop up first on search engines like Google due to his extensive blogging about the topic. So while his blog doesn't provide a two-way dialogue for my client, it does put his name in front of many potential clients and it gets about 100 hits per day. It would be great if he had a devoted blog following and a two-way dialogue, but the nature of his profession makes that unlikely. How many people want to talk to their lawyer everyday?

  5. your mist point have you made is great........!!Propolis Diamond

  6. i want to try at my pages to up >>
    i hope succsess