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Tracey E.Schelmetic

[July 27, 2004]

Dot Commentary

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, CUSTOMER [email protected] Solutions™

I Am Not A Lizard, But…


Considering 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 messages.


For instance, 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 my tale.


Having gotten 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.


After an 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.


Months later, 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.”


My opportunity 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.


Fast-forward to 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.


What impresses 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 incoming calls).


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 CRM, (news - alert) they’re lying to you.


Contact me about it, and I’ll send my mother in.


The 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 [email protected].


Like what you've read? Go to past Dot Commentary columns.

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