The Name And Shame Game: Car Insurance

The Name And Shame Game is an ongoing (if occasional) series of posts in which I name and shame organizations that should know better than to provide shit service to bitter, grudge-holding, ranty old bitches like me.

This time: my recent adventures with Real Insurance, a brand through which parent company Hollard issues numerous types of insurance products.

* * * * *

12 April 2017

Dear Real Insurance and Hollard Insurance,

Re: my recent claim on the car insurance policy I’ve paid Real Insurance for, without ever having claimed anything, for more than six years 

My Ref: I/M/A/\LoyalCustomer
Your Ref: 2017.01.21/AllClaimants/Shafted

I’m directing this feedback about my recent experience with both Real Insurance and Hollard Insurance to these two generic customer service email addresses, because I can’t find any specific instructions on either of your websites that tell me how else I can provide it, other than having yet another telephone conversation with your inept staff which, frankly, I’ve got plenty of time but zero inclination to do.

I’ve had a good deal of experience using websites over the past twenty-odd years; I also have a certain understanding of good website design. So, while I could be mistaken about the degree of difficulty with locating the most appropriate feedback option on your respective websites, I don’t think I am.

In any case, it turns out that I don’t actually need to speak with anyone, because I’m not submitting this feedback to you as a complaint per se; indeed, from the very helpful, if indirect, clarification of “complaint” and “dispute” on the Hollard website, I was able to determine that I don’t actually have a dispute that needs resolving at all. Thanks for helping me see that. If only you could’ve resolved my actual claim with such speed and efficiency.

Given that at least one of your websites states that you “work hard to give [me] great products, great pricing and great customer service”, and encourages me to “let [you] know straight away if [I] ever feel less than satisfied in any of these areas”, then now is definitely the time for me to provide you with this feedback, because I am very greatly dissatisfied in at least one of the aforementioned areas.

Here’s the story of a lovely lady, who was… as it happens, the other party with whom I was involved in a minor collision on 11 January this year. Ostensibly I was at fault, since the rigid rules of car insurance dictate that, irrespective of what actually happened, if I initiated contact with the other vehicle, and I then dare to claim on the policy that I’ve never claimed on despite having poured money into it hand over fist every month of every year for the past six years, then the incident was clearly my fault.

The other party and I are both 100% agreed that the incident was actually caused by a third-party, who left the scene without stopping. I know, right—what’s the world coming to? But apparently, such agreements between two wholly unrelated parties can’t possibly amount to anything because, again in accordance with the rigid and accusatory position of insurance companies, any claim in which neither party acknowledges fault, and where the finger of blame points to an unknown third-party, must be completely dodgy.

Guilty until proven innocent—the mantra of the insurer; such is the restoration of my faith in humanity, it makes my heart sing. Oh, how I love dealing with insurance companies. Ho-hum.

The day after the incident, I contacted Real Insurance to ask about my options and next steps and was duly advised of same by Jade; after confirming the other party’s preferred course of action, I contacted Real Insurance again on 20 January and advised Heather that I wished to proceed with an ‘at fault’ claim. Heather ended this call by informing me that she would send me a text message containing the details of my nearest smash repairer, who I could contact about getting the initial quote for repairs to my vehicle.

I received no text message.

I mentioned the missing text message in my response to a customer satisfaction survey on 22 January (I imagine my responses to that survey might be significantly different if you asked me to complete it today). I was marginally reassured when said missing text message appeared, to my very great surprise and (sort of) delight, on 24 January; I obviously wouldn’t know if this was down to Heather, or to someone else at Real who actually looked at my feedback and acted on it but, either way, it was reassuring.

I contacted the smash repairer immediately on receipt of the text message and Terry booked my car in for a repair quote on 1 February—which, I should clarify, was most definitely their first available slot, not my first opportunity to get there.

On the day, a chirpy little bloke called Barry reviewed the damage to my vehicle—this amounted to a five-minute walk-around and a handful of photos on his iPhone. I couldn’t help thinking the whole exercise seemed a tad perfunctory. Afterward, he told me my insurer would get in touch at some point with further instructions.

For six long hot weeks, I heard nothing further, until a missed call from Margaret at Hollard on 13 March. I attempted to return Margaret’s call multiple times over the following days, but on each attempt, the wait time to be answered was longer than the time I had available to wait for anything, let alone for an unknown person I was calling for an unknown reason.

On 15 March I called again, this time while I was able to keep working throughout the extended wait that I had accurately anticipated. After more than half an hour on hold, I was answered by Sharon. Sharon attempted to transfer me to Margaret. Margaret turned out not to be available.

To her credit, Sharon did try to assist me on Margaret’s behalf but, after several minutes of ummmm’s and aaaaah’s and other assorted variations on the concept of ‘nothing helpful’, Sharon told me she couldn’t see the relevant notes on my file and would need to email Margaret to ask her to contact me again. Sharon then proceeded to read her email to Margaret out aloud, word-by-word, as she typed it; it was as if she wanted to prove to me that she was indeed generating the email as promised which, I guess, was nice of her to do, but I really didn’t need such detailed confirmation. But at least she did something, for what it was worth—maybe if I’d been more grateful at the time, everyone else involved in this process might’ve done something too.

At any rate, the upshot was that I spent 44 minutes on the phone and came out the other end still none the wiser as to why Margaret had called me two days prior. Following my previous abortive attempts to be answered by Hollard, I also purposefully made note of numerous other aspects of this call:

  • I waited more than 34 minutes to eventually be answered by Sharon
  • I spent nearly 29 of those 34 minutes listening to possibly the most irritating hold music I’ve ever had the misfortune of being stuck in an oft-repeated loop of
  • The hold message I heard repeatedly was “Thank you for waiting. Unfortunately, we are experiencing a large volume of calls at the moment. One of our Hollard insurance consultants will be with you shortly”
  • That hold message was played at intervals of roughly 55 seconds
  • You told me you’d be with me shortly 37 times
  • According to my definition of ‘shortly’, you actually weren’t with me shortly at least 35 of those 37 times
  • I spent 7 minutes listening to Sharon say nothing helpful whatsoever
  • I was on hold—again— for 4 minutes, waiting for Sharon to not locate Margaret
  • The outcome of the call was 44 minutes of… (see previous paragraph)

That same day I received a letter in the mail from Jenny at Auto & General, the insurers of the aforesaid lovely lady. The letter advised me that A&G had “contacted [my] insurer, who [had] advised that they [were] unable to represent [my] interests in relation to this matter as [I] [had] not paid [my] excess”.

Immediately following my fruitless 44-minute call to Hollard, I called Jenny at A&G. (As an aside, save for punching in a few numbers, my wait time to speak with Jenny was less than a handful of seconds—quite the comparison wouldn’t you say, Hollard Insurance?) I clarified with Jenny that she’d evidently had more success obtaining information from my insurer than I’d had, as I’d not yet received any request to make any payment of any kind and that even when I had been able to talk to someone, it wasn’t the person who’d contacted me and they weren’t able to help me in the end anyway. Jenny advised that she’d wait another week or two and someone would contact me again to re-confirm the situation if it was still outstanding.

On 23 March I finally heard back from Margaret, who advised me of the outcome of the repair quote, and I agreed to proceed. While speaking with Margaret, I referred to the call from A&G and specifically asked her if I should make the required excess payment while I was on the phone with her. She advised that this wasn’t necessary, as I’d be asked to pay by the smash repairer when the repairs were undertaken.

At the time I thought this arrangement sounded a bit odd but, with no previous experience of paying an excess for an ‘at fault’ claim, I had no reason to doubt that it should be so. I further assumed that Margaret would be in contact with A&G to confirm the outcome of the conversation we’d just had, since A&G had clearly already been in contact with Hollard; blind optimism is a wonderful thing.

Later that same day, Nolene from the smash repairers called to book my vehicle in for its repairs. The soonest they were able to do it was 5 May; momentarily, I found myself thinking that the planet’s first supercontinent had broken up and drifted to the location of today’s seven continents in less time than all of this was taking. Once I’d shaken myself free of that little dream sequence, I took the opportunity to question the payment arrangement that Margaret had mentioned. Nolene advised that, while it wasn’t the most common approach, some insurers did arrange for excess payments to be made via the repairer. Again, despite it seeming a little odd to me, I had no reason to suspect that it wasn’t the case.

On 6 April I received a follow-up call from Martha at A&G, who asked if there’d been any progress with Hollard. When I advised that my repairs had been scheduled for 5 May, she told me she’d get back in touch with Hollard—by this stage, it’s fair to say that poor Martha clearly wasn’t best pleased. Sensing this, I re-confirmed that, despite having been ready and able to make the excess payment since January, I’d never once been provided with any instruction to do so by either Real or Hollard; I reiterated with Martha that the delay with the excess payment being made was absolutely not down to me because, in fact, I’d only ever been explicitly told to not make the payment.

Today, 12 April, I received a call from Carol at Hollard, advising me that A&G were about to commence legal proceedings because I still hadn’t made my excess payment. Refreshingly (for me, at least) I was able to retain my composure, while I informed Carol that I knew this to be the case because I’d had a very pleasant chat with Martha from A&G just last week. I further informed Carol that, during my conversation with Martha, I hadn’t just agreed to her taking whatever action she needed to take, in order to extract some kind of blood from the Real/Hollard stone, but I’d actively encouraged her to do so.

I also told Carol today that I’d been ready to pay the excess since the first time I spoke to Real Insurance in January and that, despite having asked more than once if I should do so, I had repeatedly been told that it wasn’t necessary—given this, I asked Carol to explain why I was now being threatened with legal action for not having made a payment that I’d been specifically advised not to make; Carol’s only response was a stock scripted apology for the provision of incorrect information. Despite this, when Carol advised that she would email the payment instructions to me she was also exceedingly clear that I should make the payment as soon as I possibly could—despite everything that had been discussed and despite multiple apologies on her part for the conflicting information I’d been provided with by Hollard to-date, the expectation of a more-or-less immediate transaction was put firmly onto me.

As a matter of principle, as soon as I was able to do so this afternoon I made the payment of my $800 excess, as per the instructions provided in Carol’s email. If only you’d provided these instructions to me three months ago, all of this fuss and bother could’ve been avoided; the fact that you didn’t, and that it consequently wasn’t, has only left me with a less than positive impression of Real Insurance, Hollard Insurance, and your awful, inconsistent, ill-informed, slow to answer, slow to respond, snappish, shitty customer service.

In fact, to say that all of this has made for an appalling customer experience on my part would be one of the greatest understatements of my life—and even as someone who’s known for dramatic flourishes, much ranting, and frequent exaggeration, that’s still a big call.

Among other things, the grossly inefficient way this seemingly straightforward case has been handled has resulted in much wasted time for Jenny and Martha at A&G, for Terry, Nolene and Barry at the smash repairers, and for your own staff members Jade, Heather, Margaret, Sharon and Carol, as well as having taken up a vast amount of my own time and energy—and now, it’s also sucking the life of whatever poor sap’s been charged with the task of reading this feedback.

So now, my dear parent company Insurer and sub-brand, I have some questions for you, which I would ask you to respond to at my earliest convenience (see date specified below), lest further action be initiated against you. To paraphrase your recent written instruction to me, it is important you attend to this promptly, as I will not cover any legal costs incurred due to you delaying the response to my questions.

Question 1: why should I, as a loyal Real Insurance customer of more than six years’ standing, have received threats of legal action regarding a payment for which I’d never received any instructions, nor indeed any specific request, to make?

Question 2: why, today, did I receive an email stating “It is important you attend to this promptly, as we will not cover any legal costs incurred due to you delaying the payment of the excess”, when I’ve not been the cause of any such delay—nor any delay at all—at any point along this process to-date?

Question 3: why have I spoken with five members of Real/Hollard staff who, it would seem, have not made any reference to notes on my file regarding previous conversations, agreements or other undertakings in respect of this claim? (The assumptions I made with this question are as follows: 1) notes were actually left on my file; 2) staff are able to reference my file and relevant notes; and 3) your offices are not stuck in a 1980s time-warp, where access to information is restricted to those with a physical copy of a paper file—feel free to clarify if any of these completely reasonable assumptions of a 21st-century organisation are, in any way, erroneous and, if any of them are, I promise to provide you with suggestions for how to improve your horrible, ineffective processes).

Question 4: why are your staff so willing to launch into accusations of payments not made, when it was their own colleagues who told me not to make said payment in the first place? I can only assume the “guilty until proven innocent” approach is industry-standard for Insurance.

I would like to receive a response from both Real and Hollard, explaining how such an appalling customer experience could possibly happen. Further, I would like both Real and Hollard to explain what you will do for me, as a long-term loyal customer, to compensate me for the time, stress, and inconvenience I’ve been caused, and the harassment to which I’ve been subjected, throughout this needlessly drawn-out situation.

(In respect of the former, I don’t expect it to even happen and, if it does, I fully expect it to be full-to-overflowing with stock-standard apologies, scripted explanations that are either too generic or too complex to mean anything to my specific situation, and platitudes that amount to virtually nothing; in respect of the latter, I don’t have any expectation of any form of compensation at all, but as always I’m more than happy to be proven wrong—what’s that turn of phrase again? “don’t ask/don’t get”.)

I would very much appreciate this feedback being forwarded to the most appropriate person or area within each of your organisations and I request a written response by COB Friday 29 April, or I will not hesitate to escalate my concerns to the Financial Industry Ombudsman service. I fully appreciate that the FOS is something of a toothless tiger in many respects, particularly with situations that don’t require any specific resolution but which, instead, seek only to hold organisations who provide shit service—in this case, that’s you, Real and Hollard—accountable for the complete and utter shittiness of said shit service.

Ultimately, whether you do or don’t take accountability for the aforementioned shit service is really neither here nor there, as the story will eventually be published on the World Wide Web for all to see and will, no doubt, generate a storm of comments and feedback from tens of thousands of other people with similar, if not worse, experiences of Insurance companies, such is the very high esteem in which you are all held, worldwide. Top marks for consistency, if nothing else.

Thanks & regards,


* * * * *
So I dropped the car off at the smash repair place this morning. Helpfully, Hollard sent me a text message three days ago (see image)—yes, that’s three days before the date of the booking that I made more than six weeks ago, back when they told me I could go ahead and make it. Maybe this is the SMS that Heather promised to send me back in January? Or maybe this is what Margaret was calling me for back in March—to ask if I got her text? I wonder if I should write back…

And what of the written responses I requested by COB Friday 29 April, from both sub-brand and parent company? Well, ten days before my somewhat arbitrarily chosen ‘deadline’ I received an email from Johann at Hollard.

Johann’s email advised me that, among other things, my feedback had been “referred to the Claims Manager to give them the opportunity to review your claim and contact you”. I was also informed that they would “monitor the progress of your request to ensure your concerns are addressed promptly”.

Now, I dunno what the word “promptly” implies for you, but the 19th of April was sixteen days ago now and I still haven’t heard from them (again); I think Hollard Insurance must’ve referenced Urban Dictionary for its definitions of words like promptly, timely, straight away, soon and shortly coz, from where I’m watching this whole car crash of a situation play out, they’ve not kept one single promise with any of the things they’ve so far claimed would happen promptly, timely, straight away, soon or shortly… at least, not according to the traditional definitions of any of those words. It’s funny, though, when they told me to immediately make the overdue payment they’d never asked me to make, the how-to instructions were in my inbox faster than I could type an eleven letter word…

In the end, though, you know what the funniest part of all this is? Just watching it happen. I seriously don’t care what happens from here. I’m not stressed or worried. I have no issue or complaint that needs resolving. I just want them to squirm. I want someone within this appalling organisation to do something now because they have to, not because they choose to. But more than anything else, I just want them to acknowledge how shit their service, and this whole situation, has been. And I want them to acknowledge that, if it can pan out like this for someone who’s neither overly bothered nor hugely impacted by the situation in question, it could be so much worse for someone having a genuinely difficult time with whatever lead to their own claim. And that’s not good.

Something else that’s really not good, and not just with Hollard, not just with Insurance companies, but throughout the corporate world: in 99.9% of cases, with 99.9% of organisations, save for a handful of people who have to deal with feedback like this because it’s their job to do so, these situations will never, ever see the light of day anywhere else.

Nobody but that handful of necessary participants in the review and resolution process will ever know exactly how shit the organisation was in this case. There’ll be no process review, there’ll be no staff review, there’ll be no over-arching review of the big shit—all the residual shit that sits around the shit in the middle that either results in or results from the shit service; it’s impossible to know how to describe it, because nobody will ever look at it to try to understand what happened: was it a series of systemic failures? Or was it just a couple of otherwise minor shitty things that conspired to create a chain reaction? Or is there a much bigger problem here?

Nobody will ask those questions, neither for the benefit of their customers nor their business, because “it’s only one customer”, they’ll say, “it’s only one situation—how could it possibly be that important?”. “It’s no big deal”, they’ll tell themselves, “it’s just one thing that kinda went a bit wrong. How could it possibly reflect our usual standards, or the whole end-to-end process, or all our staff, or the entire organisation?”.

And in 0.1% of cases, someone might actually ask the most important question of all: “how could this possibly happen—and what are we going to do to stop it happening again?”



* all names changed to protect the identities of individual Real and Hollard staff whose individual ineptness may have been due to dodgy processes or systems that were outside of their control… for some reason, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

** elements of original letter may have been slightly altered for dramatic/comedic effect