I Am Not A Lizard, But…
that I’m an editor for a call center magazine, I can be pretty cynical
toward consumer marketing. I mute the TV during commercials and listen
exclusively to NPR on the radio. Maybe it’s people like me who have worked
among marketing and advertising for years who are marketing’s worst
nightmare. When you know what’s behind the process, you can spot the tricks
in a heartbeat, dodge the manipulation and hear some of the REAL underlying
whenever I hear commercials touting Tylenol as “gentler on the stomach” than
aspirin, or “less likely to interfere with other prescribed drugs” than
Aleve or Advil, what I REALLY hear is this: “We know that Tylenol has no
heart-healthy benefits like aspirin, and medical studies have repeatedly
proven that extended Tylenol use may damage the liver and kidneys,
particularly if you even occasionally drink alcohol, but we’re desperately
grasping to retain market share and are willing to play up any little
probably-made-up benefit in order to stop slipping in the marketplace. We
made it through that cyanide business in the early 80s, dammit, we’re not
going to let this sink us.”
I have few, if
any, brand loyalties, aside from Hellmann’s mayonnaise. I’ve spent so long
fighting with my health insurance companies over the years that it’s become
second nature to me. I complained so loudly about finding a hair recently in
my can of Chicken of the Sea tuna that the company has done everything for
me short of making me chairman of the board.
So it’s really
surprising that I’m going to gush over a company. Warning…gushing ahead.
If you noticed
the odd title of this column, you may have guessed that I’m going to gush
about my auto insurance company. Yes, I did recently switch to Geico and I
saved precisely $320 per year, for more coverage than I had before. I now
have 24-hour roadside assistance and lower deductibles. Do you know what I
got from Nationwide? Huge bills, indifference and attitude. That’s it.
Let me tell you
fed up with both my insurance company and my insurance agency (my old agent
retired long ago, and he was a wonderful person, but the putz who took over
for him did not impress me), I decided to eliminate the middle man and log
onto Geico.com. I was able to put in the terms of coverage I wanted, the
distances I drove my car and a little personal information (so they could
check my driving record and credit, presumably), and I got a quote e-mailed
to me within about 10 minutes. What I saw impressed me, so I called them.
initial greeting, the agent (who answered my call instantly), asked me about
myself. I told him I’m the editor of a call center magazine. He teased me.
“Are you wearing one of those ‘Hi, I’m Judy, your Time-Life operator
headsets right now?’”
I fell silent.
Humor from a front-line call center agent? He was supposed to be
disinterested, barely intelligible and ineffective.
When I got off
the phone with him, I had a new insurance policy, better coverage and a
lower premium. Shortly thereafter, Geico mailed me my new insurance card and
the card I carry in my wallet with the number for roadside assistance,
should I need it.
after my Nationwide policy expired (I sent a copy of my Geico coverage
statement, with numbers circled, to my former insurance agent. It made me
feel better), I received a notice from the State of Connecticut, informing
me that it appeared I had no auto insurance, which is required by law in
Connecticut. Apparently, no one told the State I had switched policies, and
no one had told me whose job it was to do so.
I called Geico.
I readied my best annoyance attitude, I warmed up my vocal chords. My
brother calls it “an Anita moment,” after my mother, who does not, let us
say, permit herself or others to suffer ill treatment at the hands of
waiters, supermarket checkout people, bank tellers, call center agents or
the rest of the world, for that matter. Have an unruly world leader to deal
with? Forget the invasion…send my mother in. In 20 minutes, he would be
writing apology notes to the rest of the world, admitting he’d been naughty
and promising to do better.
Once again, a
Geico agent picked up the phone on the first ring. I gave her my policy
number and explained the problem, bracing for the stonewall. I could hear
her clicking away on her computer. “Whoops. I guess Nationwide fell down on
that one, it’s their job to inform the state. I’ve got a fax number for the
State of Connecticut’s main DMV offices. I’ll fax them a copy of your policy
and a note right now and inform them that you’re our customer.”
to vent was thwarted. I hung up the phone and insulted a potted plant.
My next contact
with Geico was when I received two bills in the mail ― one for the premium
amount I had been paying all year, one for an amount that was $72 lower than
my usual amount. I called them, expecting this was a clerical screw-up. The
agent chirpily informed me that since I’d been a good customer and safe
driver all year, they had lowered my premium. “Just throw out the higher
bill,” she instructed.
After I hung
up, it took me a full 10 minutes to remember to close my mouth. I probably
looked like a grouper fish.
about two weeks ago, when my middle-aged Saturn coughed to a stop in the
parking lot of a local auto repair shop. The proprietor promptly informed me
that he didn’t take credit cards, didn’t like checks and wasn’t open on
weekends (it was Friday). My “loser detector” went off at full tilt, and I
vowed to get my car off this individual’s lot. I called a repair shop I had
used in the past, only to find it was busy. A co-worker gave me a ride back
to the office and I called my Saturn dealership, which quoted me a figure
just south of the national deficit for a tow. I called Geico last, assuming
that since my car hadn’t in fact broken down on the open road, my roadside
assistance wouldn’t be applicable.
The agent (who
once again answered on the first ring) commiserated with me, then put me on
hold for about a minute. When she returned, she had the name and number of a
nearby towing outfit, and informed me they would be at my car within 45
minutes. (She first inquired if I was in a safe location and could wait that
long.) Ten minutes later, the towing company called me and told me the truck
was on its way. All this, and the tow was fully covered by Geico.
I’ve been told
that one needs a fairly spotless driving record and excellent credit to be
taken on as a customer by Geico; I don’t know if this is true. The only
things marring my record are two long-ago speeding tickets.
me is that a company as large as Geico can maintain such extremely high
levels of customer service, responsiveness and connectivity (once they got
me on the phone, the agent knew everything there was to know about my
dealings with the company, there was no “Let me transfer you to the next
disinterested department so you can repeat your entire story, hold please.”)
Their agents are conspicuously well-trained, well-educated and content in
their jobs, and the company’s technology is clearly up to snuff (the Web
site is well integrated into the call center, the lack of queuing means the
call center is sufficiently staffed and equipped to handle a high level of
So when your
Very Large Bank, your National Insurance Company or your Super Retailer tell
you they’re simply too large to attain perfection in their
alert) they’re lying to you.
about it, and I’ll send my mother in.
author, who actually finds lizards kind of creepy and once woke up an entire
Boston neighborhood when her friend’s gecko climbed onto her in the middle
of the night, may be contacted at