I’ve been with the same insurance agency for over 15 years. It started when I bought my first car — and with that my first car insurance — and now includes our home, household effects, and travel coverage. To be fair, they aren’t the cheapest but they have always been there for me. And as my dad always says to me: “ you only know if your Insurance Company is any good once sh*t hits the fan”.
It was a really rainy Sunday night somewhere in the early winter of 2016, some 50 kilometers from Spa in Belgium. My fiance and I had just spent a weekend with my parents at the vacation park they were staying at. We were invited to stay for the weekend, so we drove down there and enjoyed a great family weekend. It was smooth sailing all the way, up until the drive back home. It was pouring rain, we had done about 20 kilometers, and while driving down a mountain road…the car suddenly died. Everything started beeping, lights were flashing and for a moment I thought I had won a Las Vegas Jackpot. I didn’t win anything. I had lost…all power in the engine and we were rolling down the mountain road.
I was able to park the car on the shoulder of the road where the car officially deceased. “No worries honey”, I told my fiance. For years, I have had this car insured at the best Insurance Company in the country. I’ll give them a call. Sure enough, my point got proven quickly. The tow truck my Insurance Agency arranged arrived within an hour. The car got lifted onto its platform and we were driven to the nearest garage. Once we arrived there, we saw a tiny garage, two dozen barrels of gas, and a woman (later we found out, the driver’s wife) smoking a cigarette leaning on about 3 of those barrels. But I’ll save that potentially life-threatening story for another time. Let me cut to the chase. I was asked to call the Insurance Company after our arrival at the garage. The mechanic told us we needed a spare part and it would arrive the next day (Monday), so we would need to extend our stay by 24 hours.
Staying another day wasn’t an option. I had a very important meeting — one of those you really can’t cancel — in Rotterdam the next morning. I told my Insurance agent and she was amazingly quick in fixing the issue. Normally they would cover a taxi and hotel for 2 people. However, empathetic as she was, she understood the pickle I was in and offered us an alternative. We could use the hotel budget for a rental car in the South of the Netherlands to drive back home. We took that option. The tow truck driver offered to use his Sedan to drive us over the border and he’d invoice the Insurance Agency. They agreed, we agreed and so we had (the most terrifying….again, another time) ride to the rental company.
Saving you all the details of driving home at 1:00 in the morning and nailing the meeting at 9:00 in the morning in spite of everything….we got home safely, all was well and we returned the rental the same day. At the end of the working day, I received a phone call from the same lady that we spoke to the night before while still abroad. She called just to ask if we made it home safely and If everything worked out with the rental car.
She didn’t mention any of the charges or potential impact on my no-claim. As I recall, she did ask if I needed any assistance in traveling back to Belgium to collect my own car. “No thank you, I’ve arranged a train ticket and I’m being picked up just North of the border,” I told this very friendly agent. A day later I received an email from the Insurance Agency with a confirmation of renting — and returning — the rental car and taking a taxi from the garage to the border. We never heard anything about this entire case ever again. All costs were covered and the only one we spoke to afterward literally called to check up on us as humans, not as “just” customers or living & breathing data (as we often feel nowadays).
Times have changed, though! As impressive as the above-mentioned service still is to me, that same Insurance Agency has adopted many technological features, none of which feel they really contribute to the sentiment I have for them. It used to be like calling a relative. I would call, press the number of the appropriate type of insurance I needed info about into their phone menu, and voila, I would talk to an agent in minutes (if it was busy, otherwise they pick up almost before you could input your answer). You could ask any question about your insurance, details, or policy and they would take you through the information and answer swiftly. You could almost claim damages and finish the case in one 15-minute phone call. But as I said, times (or at least, their ways) have changed.
Back in January 2020, I had canceled an event I was supposed to go to (if you don’t remember what an event is, Google is your friend). Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered events being a part of my insurance policy. If it were canceled or you couldn’t make it due to Force Majeure, you could get reimbursed. But I wasn’t sure, so I thought I’d contact my Insurance Agency a call and find out. I hadn’t called them since we got stranded in Belgium, so looking up their phone number on their website was inevitable. I went over to their contact page and noticed they actively pushed to using the chat screen — rather than calling — to get in touch quickly.
At first, I was fine with that, thinking I would talk to a friendly agent — maybe even the same agent as back then — and I’d be sorted in 5 minutes. Boy, was I wrong! It was a chatbot. I’m not against them, not at all, at least if they do their job right and actually help me get to an answer quicker. Here’s a paraphrased version of that conversation:
: “Hello, my name is Billy* (*fake name). I am an automated chatbot here to help you.“
: “What can I do for you?“
: “Hi, I would like to know if canceling events are covered by my travel and cancellation insurance.“
: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you say it in keywords, please?“
: “Event canceling part of travel insurance?“
: “Do you want to purchase travel insurance?“
: “I’m sorry, I don’t know how I can help“
: “Is canceling an event in a travel insurance policy?“
: “Do you want to know more about travel insurance?“
: “Here is a link to our insurance overview (sends me a link with their landing page where you can purchase insurance)“
: “I don’t need a new one. I want to know what’s in the policy“
: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean. Would you like to talk to a human colleague?“
: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean“
I was in shock. I came in with a simple question and got very frustrated after this conversation. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? “Forget this, I’m going to call them right now”, is what I actually said out loud, making my fiance question what I was doing. I explained, and she too was in shock.
I went back to the contact page, looked up the phone number, and dialed the 10 digits. At that point, I was still100% confident this would become another old-fashioned high service call. I was greeted with a menu….a robotic menu this time. Come again?
: “Please state your zip code and house number“
: “1234 AB 12*“ (obviously fake, for privacy reasons in this article)
: “Sorry, I didn’t get that, please state your zip code and house number“
: “1234 AB 12!“
: “Sorry, I didn’t get that, please state your zip code and house number“
: “1234 AB 12!!!! You deaf SOB“
I think it either refused to ask a fourth time, or it was angry that I called it an SOB. Either way, I got moved to the old-school dial-pressing menu.
But finally, in the time I usually hung up with an answer and a great feeling, I was 10 minutes in, waiting in line to talk to an actual human being. It took another 5 minutes before I was talking to an agent. “Is it covered in my insurance and cancelation policy when I have a ticket to an event and I can’t make it?”, I asked. I know for a fact in 2016 the person on the other end of the phone would have opened up my account, looked for the answer, gave it, and would follow up with: “Is there anything else I can do for you right now?”
The 2020 version of that conversation was very different, to say the least. Again: “Is it covered in my insurance and cancelation policy when I have a ticket to an event and I can’t make it?”. Not a very hard question. Another paraphrase:
: “You would like to know if not going to an event is covered?”
: “Yes please”
: “I don’t know sir. Have you tried asking Billy the chatbot? He can send you a lot of information about these types of questions.
: ”I tried talking to Billy, but I didn’t get a satisfactory answer. Plus, we are talking right now. Could you please check in my account, I don’t know how to do that myself.”
: “I cannot check it for you, sir, I’m sorry. I would urge you to use Billy the chatbot. You should then ask Billy to start filing an insurance claim and you can put it in the details of the event”.
: “Filing a claim? No, I just want to know if it’s covered to make sure it’s worth both our time to file a claim. If you tell me it’s not covered, there is not need to file a claim”
: “Sorry sir, filing a claim is the only way. Please file it and within 4 weeks you’ll receive the outcome, and then you’ll know if it’s covered or not”.
: “Ok, thanks….I guess”
So, I did what I was told. I returned to my newly found nemesis Billy and asked Billy to start filing a claim. Billy sent me a link to a page on their website….
So I started filing the claim. I noticed that, as opposed to what it used to be like, it no longer asked you to manually describe the damage or issue. Filing a claim was also automated and “optimized” (not sure for whom though). I got 2 options when selecting a type of damage:
- The flight was canceled or delayed
- The hotel was overbooked or the hotel stay got canceled
I had neither and it was a form with no exits. You either pick 1 or 2, nothing else. The form had become just as (human) unfriendly as Billy and his flesh & blood colleague. At that point, my inner economist did some quick maths and calculated that the ticket price of the event did no longer outweigh the hassle of getting my questions answered, let alone file it as damages and maybe recoup some of the costs. I took the loss, flipped Billy off one last time, and stopped recommending their Insurance Agency from that day forward.
A) Stop putting software in human positions, at least as long as it’s not as good as — or better than — the actual people in that position unless you hate people (and revenue for that matter)
B) Never underestimate the power of the people. I tell the story about that friendly agent and her incredibly helpful actions (and follow-up call) to this day. That’s a better brand builder than Billy for sure.
C) Humans can understand a situation, but more importantly the emotions behind it. Feeling understood can sometimes outweigh financial compensation. Machines on the other hand just do what they are told and couldn’t care less about you…in fact, they don’t care at all. But caring is the core of every brand.