How Getting Too Personal Sullies Your Brand
“Oh my gosh!” My wife shouts from the kitchen. I rush in to see what happened. There she is, my beloved wife of 4 years, holding a bill from Allstate Insurance. Why are our premiums going up? Because they’ve added my ex-wife to our policy.
It was a funny story to tell at parties – until the bill arrived. One month before, on my wedding anniversary, my wife approached me with a letter wanting to know why Allstate planned to add the woman I divorced 10 years ago to our current policy. Clearly it was some sort of data mining gone wrong. The letter from Allstate said, “If you would like to add Laura as a driver under your auto policy, you don’t have to do anything. We will automatically make this change in about 30 days.”
Allstate misused Marketing Personalization. The result? Allstate decided, without our permission or request, to add someone to our policy unless we interrupt our busy schedules and actively object. They’ll never do it, I assured my wife. It’s got to be illegal. We chuckled at the uncomfortable mistake and went on about our lives. Allstate would never commit such a rogue act – or so I thought. But then they did it. And sent us the bill one month later.
Marketing Personalization Gone Wrong
Sound too hard to believe? It should, because no marketer should ever thrust products on their customers without their clear request and approval. I’m a marketer and I love marketing. As upsetting as Allstate’s actions are to my personal life, I’m equally upset by how they blemish the community of marketers. My belief: Purge the rogues from the community!
As I wrote in Problems with Marketing Personalization, when you use customer data to serve the needs of your customers, it’s an effective use of marketing personalization. Build long-term relationships grounded in trust and you will be a winner. Trade long-term relationships for short-term gain and you do irreparable damage to your brand. Allstate spent years with me building their brand and minutes destroying it. The “Good Hands” of Allstate now has a new meaning for me – and I’m watching my wallet.
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, news of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience. The takeaway from HelpScout is that taking the time to remedy the situation with an unhappy customer is not only worthwhile for keeping their business, but also to avoid negative word of mouth exposure.
More Dirt on Allstate – if you’re into that sort of thing
If you want to kick someone’s research skills up a notch, just piss them off. You won’t believe all of the dirt I was able to dig up on Allstate after Lettergate. We all make mistakes and have oversights, but get this. When we published the original article about Allstate’s threat to add my ex-wife to our policy, our visitor logs showed that someone at Allstate read the blog post. First at 12:17 PM CST and then again at 1:11 PM CST on April 15th. They read the article not once, but twice, and then continued with their rogue policy of thrusting services on customers without request or consent. Oops!
Local Allstate agent confirms
The local Allstate agent confirmed that they do this. When I asked where they came up with this name, she quickly mumbled something about Laura being linked to my home address through the DMV. The problem is Laura moved to North Carolina 10 years ago – so she doesn’t have a Texas driver’s license anymore. Now she lives in China. So, how does someone who hasn’t lived in Texas in 10 years isn’t even a U.S. resident find her way to Allstate’s computers?
Expert witness: “I was a victim of pure fiction”
The same way “Charles” did on Brad Whittington’s insurance. As an author and novelist, Brad knows a good piece of fiction. Allstate Insurance sent him a letter claiming Charles was living in his house and would be added to his insurance. Brad knew the 24-year history of his address and knows there has never been a Charles living there in that time.
Brad called Allstate and asked who Charles was. Allstate didn’t know who Charles was or how he got linked to Brad. Not even a salacious story about a long-lost love child looking for meaning in life. Nothing. Brad has no idea who Charles is or how Allstate determined Brad should pay for his insurance. Pure fiction.
Texas Department of Insurance: “No problem here”
Still thinking this had to be illegal, I called the Texas Department of Insurance to report suspected fraud and ended up talking to someone named Scott, who wouldn’t give his last name. Most of the call consisted of Scott talking over me and defending the actions of the insurance industry. I asked Scott how he would feel if I randomly decided to invoice him for some product he didn’t request or agree to. He made it clear he would have a problem with that, but apparently not with the same action done by the insurance industry that his office oversees. In his defense, Scott earns his living from the palms greased by the insurance industry, so I don’t really blame him for his position.
Insurance expert: “This is horrible customer service”
Still shocked by all that happened, I called a friend from the insurance industry to get his perspective. Craig Straube is a local insurance agent for Farmers and is appalled (naturally). Craig personally contacts his customers to make sure their policy is right and no rogue individual is added to their policy. He says that the vast majority of names arbitrarily added to policies are wrong. This is what we should expect from marketing professionals. Meet the needs of customers and look out for their best interests.
It could happen to you
The most upsetting part of this story is realizing this isn’t isolated. It’s not just Brad and me. Allstate appears to be fishing for names and adding them to insurance policies without calling the policyholder to ask if the person lives there. It could be happening to you – or one of your friends. Apparently, insurance companies have been doing this for a couple of years. This is horrible marketing and horrible customer service. As consumers, we must demand more of the companies that serve us.
As marketers, we must be vigilant about aligning our marketing to serve the needs of our customers, instead of thrusting products on them without their consent. It is to our brands’ own peril if we fail, because of human nature to expose the rogues.
Have the “Good Hands” been inappropriate with you? If so, speak up. If not, just be sure and learn from their mistake.