I don't usually buy anything of significance without reading some reviews and I don't think I'm unique as a consumer.
When purchasing a "product," I believe you can place more significance on consumer reviews that detail how the product actually performed compared to the claims of the company who manufactured it. If the consumer also comments on the customer service they received from the manufacturer when a problem arose, that's a bonus.
In my opinion, purchasing pet insurance demands a different approach.
Technically, the "pet insurance policy" (terms and conditions) is a pet insurance company's "product." But reviews are usually based on how a company applies those terms and conditions to individual policyholders. Did the company pay or deny a claim and was it done in a timely manner?
However, I honestly don't believe that very many people with pet insurance have ever taken the time to read a sample policy prior to purchase or their actual policy after purchase (in its entirety) - not to mention making sure they totally understand everything in the policy.
I believe that over 90% of negative pet insurance company reviews would not be necessary if people actually understood what they were buying. I believe this is an important consideration when reading negative reviews on pet insurance companies.
For those people who consider reading reviews as the most important or first step when researching pet insurance companies, I hope this article will make you reconsider that strategy.
In earlier versions of the Pet Insurance Toolkit, I placed reading reviews as the second most important step in deciding which company would be the best one to insure a pet. Now, reading reviews is the 4th step. Why the de-emphasis of reviews?
There's always 2 sides to every story:
Unless a review site allows comments, especially comments from the company being reviewed, you are only getting one side of the story. Not all pet insurance companies are inclined to respond to negative reviews, and I get that; some management gurus advise not doing so. But, if more information would explain why a company legitimately denied a claim, it would be appreciated from my perspective as a consumer. I can usually decide if their response makes sense.
I recommend balance when reading reviews. You should read a sampling of 4-5 star reviews, 2-3 star reviews and 1 star reviews. Is there a recurring praise or complaint?
Are review sites trustworthy?
Are the people who posted the reviews actually customers of the company or users of the product they are reviewing? 1, 2, 3 What steps does the review site take to insure this?
I think we all know intuitively, but this has also been borne out statistically, that most people who leave reviews do so because they are displeased - so they leave a negative review. The 2017 Customer Service Barometer, a study by American Express4 found that Americans tell 15 people on average about poor service vs. 11 people on average about good service. Interesting, millennials don't follow that trend - telling 17 people on average about good service vs. 15 people on average about poor service.
The latest (June 2020) online reputation management statistics5 indicate that 75% of consumers trust a company if it has positive reviews while 60% of consumers said that negative reviews made them not want to do business with a company.
Needless to say, it is in a company's best interest to have more positive reviews that will boost its online reputation. Therefore, companies have sought ways to encourage their customers that are pleased with their services to go to review sites and leave a positive review. For example, insurance companies might include a note at the end of a policyholders' Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement when they pay a claim encouraging the policyholder to go to a certain review site and leave a review.
I worked in a veterinary practice where doctors were encouraged to let the practice managers know if they thought a client had a positive experience and they would send them a request to leave a review. I just explained above why companies to this - I get it.
But, as a consumer reading reviews, consider that those companies who use this tactic are going to have more positive reviews and be rated higher than those who don't actively encourage policyholders to do this. Would this affect how you perceive a company's rating on a review site?
Some review sites have rules that allow companies to encourage customers to leave a review, but when doing so, they cannot specify whether the customer leaves a positive or negative review. However, it would seem difficult for a review site to police this effectively.
Personally, when I read a review, I'd like to think the review was posted organically - that is, individual consumers took the time to go to the review site and post the review themselves. However, a former pet insurance company insider told me recently that some pet insurance companies send positive reviews they have collected to review sites for publication in an effort to boost their rating. Isn't this a way of manipulating or "gaming the system" for a company to send a bunch of mostly or only positive reviews that they have collected and ask the review site to publish them. This has the potential to really skew the ratings of pet insurance companies on review sites.
Many review sites make money from the pet insurance companies that are being reviewed. Some review sites may even elect to not include reviews on companies that they don't have a relationship with.
Here is an article from Internet Advisor that goes into even more detail about the behavior of people when reading reviews and on the trends and reliability of reviews in the marketplace in 2022.
Although technically not consumer review sites, you may have seen some websites that ranks pet insurance companies themselves e.g. "Best Pet Insurance Companies in 2020" or "Top 5 Pet Insurance Companies." What criteria did they used to reach their conclusions? The things they consider important may or may not be most important to you. Consider also that many of these websites receive a bulk of their income from referral of readers to pet insurance companies. Could this be a factor in how they ranked the companies?
What should you do?
You should always read some reviews before purchasing a policy from a company. I recommend it being the last step before selecting a company just as part of doing due diligence. Much more important is understanding what you are buying by browsing each company's website, reading a sample policy (never skip this step) and calling a company representative for clarification of anything you don't fully understand.
The Pet Insurance Toolkit helps you proceed in a logical 5 step method to find a company that meets the criteria that is most important to you. As a veterinarian, I've included for your consideration the factors that I feel are most important from a veterinarian's perspective. After all, we are the ones who diagnose and treat the conditions for which you will be filing claims. The good news is that with each step, you should be able to eliminate several companies from consideration so that by the time you get ready to make your decision on a company to insure your pet, you should be down to only 2 or 3 companies to select from. Generally, these are all good choices, but you should have enough information to select the best one for you and your pet.