What I Learned About Customer Service from Two Deer Accidents in Six Weeks

For years I’ve opined privately on how I dislike insurance. I need insurance for my house, my cars, my motorcycle, my health, my teeth, my eyes… it feels like I pay all this money into a system that only cares about taking my money – and more of it every year.

Then in the last six weeks – seriously, six weeks to the day – I’ve had two car/deer accidents. Besides the thought that “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” I’ve started thinking about the lessons I’ve learned from the interactions with the same industry I’ve whined about, and others involved in my accident recovery. I’ve come to the conclusion that customer service, while it’s not complicated to execute, it seems to elude so many.

Fortunately for me, the players in this adventure have all stepped up and taught me the lessons with what they’ve done well.

Car Insurance

Any time I’ve needed to put my vehicle insurance to use, I’ve been fortunate enough to have good experiences. Even in the frustrating situation of having my van “totaled,” the people were empathetic and the service solid. It doesn’t seem to take that much effort to make an impression. From my local independent insurance agent to the insurance company, I learned valuable lessons.

The Insurance Agent

The local independent insurance agent I work with is terrific. They’re available when I call – a human answers the phone, not an automated phone tree I have to navigate for 10 minutes. They’re also great with email.

As soon as I called and let them know what happened, the first question was “Are you okay?” The reps also each echoed my frustration at hitting the deer. Of course when I called in for the second crash in just six weeks, we both had an annoyed laugh at the craziness of it all.

In just a few simple actions – empathy, sympathy, authenticity – my local agent made me feel known and important. Now I’ll recommend Charvat Insurance in Three Rivers, Michigan to local friends.

The Insurance Company

A faceless corporation is never fun to deal with. At least, that’s our impression of insurance companies. Their communication is often full of jargon, confusing and feels like it’s meant to just get us to pay more money.

However, that hasn’t been the case working with Auto Owners Insurance in my deer accidents.

First, they’ve been quick to get in touch with me. Within hours of talking to my local rep at Charvat, someone from Auto Owners calls me to start the claim process. Fortunately they work with the auto body shop we prefer, so it’s even better.

In the first accident, the person I worked with talked me through everything as long as I needed him to do so. Unfortunately the damage to the vehicle was more than 70% of its value, which means by Michigan law the insurance has to total it. My connection at the insurance company wasn’t exactly happy about it, and understood my frustration. That shared frustration eased the burden.

The representative I worked with helped me navigate the complicated path of having a loan on the van, how to get the payment settled and the paperwork finalized. He even met me at a car dealer where I had to find a new vehicle to replace the totaled one.

For the second accident, the woman helping me also showed empathy and concern. She was also responsive and quick.

The big, faceless corporation is helping me, not trying to hose me.

Again, good customer service doesn’t have to be complicated. Taking time with me and going a little extra helps to make for a great experience. It makes paying that monthly bill a lot less painful knowing that when I need them, they’re there for me.

Side note: This same insurance company covers my homeowners insurance, and took great care of a roof replacement.

The Auto Body Shop

I don’t mind the extra driving it takes me to get to the auto body shop where we take our vehicles when needed. Why? Because I know the service is great.

Erik and Lynda at AutoBody USA in Sturgis are quick, helpful, empathetic (seeing a trend?) and personal. They even laugh (instead of cry) when I’m there twice in just over a month. For deer.

The professionalism Erik and his team exhibit has put them in preferred status with my insurance, which makes it easy to work with them.

In addition to the “regular” good service – which is above and beyond compared to many businesses – they help with things like calling the local rental car shop to make sure I get a ride and a car. The personal touch is great.

Lastly, Erik’s expertise with quoting the damage quickly and accurately truly helps make me feel secure – seriously, the guy can get an estimate done in his sleep I think.

Even though he didn’t “get the job” the first time since the insurance company totaled the van, Erik was happy to help the next time. His disposition was never one of annoyance. He even “stored” my vehicle at no charge while it was all figured out.

The Car Rental Company

Finally, my experience with Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Sturgis (Yelp page) caps off the deer-recovery journey.

Mike and his team are great. Every time I’ve hit a deer (three times total, two in just six weeks) I’ve gone to Enterprise in Sturgis. They’re close to AutoBody USA, they always have a car available, they work EASILY with my insurance and they’ll even upgrade at a reasonable price.

I even got the obligatory “Watch out for deer” comment as I left, with a little humor mixed into the concern. I tend to like authentic interactions.

The national service at Enterprise is fine, but the local connection is great. I’ll call the office directly as Mike understands taking care of the customer.

My only suggestion – better hours. Stay open a little later (6:00pm) or a few hours on Saturdays and I’d be even happier. I’d recommend this location to anyone nearby needing a car.

Lessons Learned

Impressive customer service isn’t brain surgery. It’s a relatively simple concept, but seems difficult to execute. However, in the Information Revolution where consumers have the power of the internet and social media to find solutions – and avoid the bad service providers – it’s vital to get it right. Fortunately, the bar is low and our expectations can be met easily.

Show empathy. At least acting like you understand your customer goes a long ways.

Be human, be authentic. Having a real dialogue with your customers, commiserating with them or laughing with them, goes a long way.

Be available. Answering a phone, text or email is so simple, yet we try to insert so much automation into the mix. Be there for your customer.

Serve. From making a phone call to upgrading a service, simply finding ways to serve the customer without being asked will impress.

What about your experiences? How can businesses impress you?

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