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When business model is incompatible with brand experience. Repellent.

When business model is incompatible with brand experience. Repellent.

 

instead of giving me customer service you gave me a stern talking to and let me off with a caution

Ever had that feeling when someone you’ve known and liked for years inadvertently gives you a glimpse of their hitherto well-hidden or well-suppressed nasty side, and it irrevocably changes things between you? Something dies inside and, ever after, you’re inwardly more guarded in your dealings with them, although you probably decide not to outwardly say or do anything about it. It doesn’t suit you to let them know that you know.

Well in this instance, Direct Line, it does suit me to let you know that I know about your nasty side.

I ‘fessed up to a minor scrape with another car and instead of giving me customer service you gave me a stern talking to and let me off with a caution.

 

The Direct Line call centre script for these circumstances dispenses with any pleasantries.

It happened like this…

There was traffic mayhem when I dropped my eldest off at her Glasgow University halls of residence – dozens of luggage-laden vehicles vying against each other to make progress in opposite directions through the narrow corridor that was left between double-parked cars.

On the way out I had to reverse to let incoming traffic pass. I ended up trapped too close to a parked car on a corner and I stupidly scraped against it as I pulled away. It was so soft – the vehicular equivalent of two snooker balls kissing – that I almost didn’t notice it.

I pulled in at the side of the road as soon as I could and got out to check. The paint had been scraped off the rear passenger side wheel arch. So I was not surprised to see that similar damage had been done to the other car when I walked back to look.

After several minutes of waiting the owner had not returned and so I left my name and phone number under his windscreen wiper.

He left a message for me later that evening and, in return, I left him a voicemail with my insurance details. We didn’t get to talk and so there was no need for any awkwardness. It is uncomfortable to say the least to know that your insurance may be rendered invalid by the basic human decency of owning up and apologising when at fault. My Direct Line policy makes it very clear that, under no circumstances, should you admit fault to the other party and that you should inform them immediately if the other party does. I had a mini speech prepared that would have expressed regret in such a way as to imply an apology without explicitly making one, but I didn’t need it as things turned out.

I tried to call Direct Line to alert them to the incoming claim but their lines has shut at 5pm. I had a busy day on Sunday and didn’t get round to calling again. Ditto Monday.

On Tuesday they called me.

The Direct Line call centre script for these circumstances dispenses with any pleasantries.

“I understand that you have been involved in an incident.” (Tone of voice: matter of fact.)

“Yes.”

“When were you going to tell us about it?” (Tone: accusatory and stone cold.)

My hackles were already up at this point and in my head I was saying to myself, “Just who the hell do you think you are talking to?”

But I kept it calm and explained that I had tried to call after they shut on Saturday.

“Well the lines were open until 5 o’clock on Sunday too.” (Tone: downright condescending.)

 

 Direct Line’s advertising promises The Wolf, but I got the Pit Bull.

I made a conscious decision to hold my tongue. The call was being recorded and I’m not sure what training purposes would have been served by, “I’m a widowed father of four and I had much better things to do on Sunday than be made to wait on the phone for ten minutes only to take crap like this from an upstart like you.”

And so it went on.

Direct Line’s advertising promises The Wolf, but I got the Pit Bull.

 

 

On the TV Winston Wolf solves problems. On the phone Direct Line was giving me a headache.

 

It’s called data you clowns and you’re meant to use it to make my life easier.

At some length I gave details of me and my motor that they already have on file. It’s called data you clowns and you’re meant to use it to make my life easier.

I then described the incident in detail to an audience that was more intent on affecting incredulity than helping its customer.

Then a standard issue Q&A that is clearly designed to give Direct Line the raw materials it needs to avoid paying out on my behalf if it can possibly help it.

Maybe they think they are helping you but even after I had clearly stated that I had collided with a stationary vehicle the questions were still of the wriggling on the hook variety.

“Was the weather a contributing factor?” (Tone: hopeful).

“No. It was a beautiful sunny day.” (Tone: triumphantly at fault).

Eventually she gave up.

“This will have to be an at fault claim then.” (Tone: the bitter resignation of someone whose KPI dashboard has just been spoiled. The tone of a site foreman who, after a minor bricklaying incident, has had to reset the “days since accident” sign back to zero when just shy of a company record).

She is clearly disappointed that I have had the foresight to protect my nine years of no claims bonus.  But she has the satisfaction of the last admonishing word, warning me that my no claims protection is now hanging by a thread for the next three years until my rap sheet is cleared.

I didn’t record the call but I made sure to remember it for blogging purposes. Hopefully Direct Line can learn from the experience.

 

An at-fault claim shouldn’t be the telephone equivalent of pleading with a sledgehammer wielding bailiff who has come to take your telly in lieu of unmet payday loan repayments.

The lesson is this. I want my experience of your brand to be consistently good. I want you to be as polite and considerate when dealing with me over an at fault claim as you are when I renew my policy without shopping around for a cheaper deal.

Here’s what Direct Line’s group website says about its Direct Line brand.

 

We target customers who have a high brand affinity and focus on a quick and straightforward customer experience.

That’s me.

And to be fair that was you too. Quick and straightforward until, after nine years of staying on the right side of you, you gave me a glimpse of your nasty side.

Here then, Direct Line, are some things that I’ve recorded for training purposes.

Your business model (only pay out as a last resort) is incompatible with providing a decent brand experience (we solve problems).

Your corporate vision (doing the right thing – see below) is incompatible with your customer service (treating hapless customers like criminals).

An at-fault claim should not be the telephone equivalent of pleading with a sledgehammer wielding bailiff who has come to take your telly in lieu of unmet payday loan repayments.

Consider this a stern talking to and a caution from a customer who, unlike you, is prepared to give the benefit of the doubt.

 

Direct Line's left hand gets it but its right hand doesn't.

Direct Line’s left hand gets it but its right hand doesn’t.

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to “If honesty is the best policy, which is the best policy for honesty?”

  1. Craig McGill says:

    Cracking read as always Phil and glad no-one was injured but here’s the thing: In Direct Line’s mindset you have given them grief because they are a company driven (no pun intended) by profit and, for them, that means not paying out.

    But it does raise a few issues, notably can you profit and not be ruthless about it? Is the marketing and the conversation nothing more than a fluffy covering over the pit bull? Sadly, all too often it is. And for me, there’s one test on it: would a business send you somewhere else if they thought it was of more benefit to you?

    It comes back in many ways to fear: fear that their offering isn’t good enough, fear of what their staff will say (hence the scripts), fear of losing profits, fear of losing a job. They also know that most people don’t change service providers, even after a negative experience.

    The best comparison I have to your tale is L+V who I’ve been with for about four years. I started with them because of price but when I had a bump, the very first thing their call centre staff said was “Are you OK? Anyone else in the car?” and that little human touch – impressed me so I’ve stayed with them, even when the premiums have gone up a little.

    But there’s issues here for most sectors to consider: do they just say they care about customers or do they genuinely care? Sadly, there’s too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

  2. Martin says:

    How about considering the core service being offered by the business before tagging it as a business for profit? In this case, Direct Line’s core service should be piece of mind and setting things right for their customer after things go wrong – as an insurance provider.

    Their “profit” is already built-in due to the pooling of risk that they obviously ‘game’ very well and as an industry promote fear among the public to maximise the “buy-in” of their services.
    Added to this, is the fact that insurance companies are some of the biggest players on stock markets. Leveraging huge amounts of cash-in-hand every single day to ensure that every year they hit the baseball totally out of the park regarding returns…

    I take the view to Direct Line’s short-sighted approach (no, lets just accept its a totally blind approach) in dealing with Phil’s already stressful/disappointing experience of hitting a parked car as total ignorance of what Direct Line’s branding dollars currently suggests.

    Wake up Direct Line and seek a quality consultancy service to help you refocus what your internal organisations customer interaction message should actually be.
    Direct Line wouldn’t want a competitor firm running a social campaign identifying the true drama being experienced by even 1% of your total customer base I presume!

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