The worst examples of customer experience – a car insurance tale

We tend to look to other industries for inspiration and leadership in customer service. Retail is certainly providing some good examples at the moment. But other industries can also provide some almost laughable examples of things not working.

Remember the BillingViews operative who spent almost a day listening to the music of two telephone companies beginning with V and an electricity company beginning with e (who kept him on hold for a record 55 minutes)? He recently had a great experience with an insurance company.


He wanted to sell his car. It was surplus to requirements. He rang his car insurance company and they said they do not do temporary insurance. They transferred him to a company with the same name that was clearly nothing to do with the first company.

He had a conversation during which he was quoted prices that made his eyes water and during which he thought he might as well have continued his automatically renewable annual insurance. He asked for voluntary excesses to be raised to levels that he could not afford and could have bought him a new car had he wanted one. The premium, slowly, came down to merely stratospheric levels. He said that was fine, he would take it. He looked at his watch. He had already spent 20 minutes on the phone and time was wasting.

Then came the questionnaire.

Was he born in the UK; was he in good health; was he able to drive a car; had he been in prison lately; was he a drug smuggler or the President of a country engaged in terrorism.

After 20 minutes of this, the insurance operative said that was great, all done. Now I just need to read you a statement and you must agree with it, in order for us to proceed. Again with the watch and again with the time a’ wasting.

The statement that she read out was 10 minutes long and repeated everything that he had said during ‘the questionnaire’ time. Yes, born in the UK; yes, in good health; no, never in prison; no, not President of any Axis of Evil or Axis of Annoying countries.

All done.

Excellent. How would we like to pay today. Credit card? That’s fine. There is a small transaction fee on credit cards, is that OK? No? Oh, do you have another card? No? Sorry, we can’t proceed then.

The BillingViews operative explained that he simply objected in principle to credit card charges being not only passed on to customers but actually marked up. He divulged the long number on the front, the expiry date, the three digit number on the back – and waited.

He was put on hold. At least there was no music. It was quite peaceful.

The insurance operative came back on the line to relay the news that the card would not go through. She had tried twice. The BillingViews operative would need to phone his bank to sort it out. It was Saturday, so he could not proceed until Monday. When he said that a mere two hours ago he had used the credit card to get some cash, she said:

“Yes, it does seem to happen a lot with us.”

He paused, not quite believing his ears. Then, please, he said, please just tell me I do not have to go through that whole process again. Oh no, she said, I will give you a reference number and all you have to do is call in and make the payment.

The BillingViews operative put the phone down and headed for the bar.

Monday morning came and said operative rang his bank, who enquired what his first car was, where his mother was born and what his favourite subject at school was. He said he did not have a favourite subject at school. The bank operative hung up.

He rang his bank again and told them what his first car was, where his mother was born and made up a subject that might have had some moment of interest at school. There was a pause. He was put on hold. The bank operative came back on the line. Apparently two out of three ain’t bad.

The bank operative examined their credit card system and announced that they had cleared two payments that would have paid for the space programme for a couple of years two days ago but that the company’s system had rejected them. For no apparent reason.

The BillingViews operative took a deep breath and rang the insurance company. He gave them the reference number and waited, twiddling his credit card between his fingers.

He just needed to pay, he explained. Ah, no, sorry sir. We have to find another quote. Prices change all the time.

And so, he waited while the new operative gave him a quote that would have funded the space programme for three years, haggled him down to something approaching normality – and then – went through the whole harrowing process again. Including, of course, the rejection of the credit card.

He waited for an hour or two to let his nerves settle, rang for the third time, was finally transferred to a manager who set about sorting it out, once and for all. With exactly the same result.

This is no good sir, we need to sort this out. This is obviously a big problem. I will get someone in ‘tech’ to give you a call in the next 20 minutes. This is bad.

He waited 40 minutes, then an hour. Sometimes he looked at his phone to make sure it was not on silent. In the meantime he borrowed someone else’s credit card, went through the same process online, with the same result. He tried his own credit card online, he tried it standing on his head. He tried it hanging from the ceiling. Nothing.

Then he Googled temporary car insurance, clicked on a site, filled in a short form, filled in his Driver’s Licence number, waited for perhaps five seconds while everything was checked, filled in his credit card details, waited another five seconds and he was covered.

The two things that the first car insurance company had got hopelessly wrong were that checking details via a Driver’s Licence number would cut the phone call time down by about 20 minutes and thus enhance the customer experience hugely. And second, their systems did not integrate with, well, anything.

As the BillingViews operative sat and stared at his screen, exhausted, he could not help wondering – how much money must that car insurance company actually lose?





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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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