By Brian Barfield
Have you ever had a negative life experience open the door for you to discover a new reality? For the past several years, I have focused on helping others reconnect with the modern-day customer by conducting business founded on the core principles of trust, honesty, and integrity. In a twist of fate, I was given the opportunity to experience the negative effects of a company who conducted business the wrong way. In this situation, I was the customer who had to endure a sea of lies and deception that left a lasting negative impression. In the end, I realized many people who are taken advantage of or cheated often have no voice or platform to share their experience. It just so happens I do in the various retail magazines I write for and have chosen to share my experience in this article on customer service.
My story begins Sept. 16, 2014 when I decided to sign up for supplemental insurance with a large and well-known company. I became very ill in October with severe acute bronchitis and was off work for nearly four weeks. At the time, it did not mean much since my short-term disability policy did not cover the first four weeks. However, the same illness returned in early January, causing me to miss another four weeks of work and make a frightening visit to the emergency room. The agent with whom I was dealing advised me to make a claim, since the illness was documented as being the same. I was so relieved to find I would be covered for at least three of those weeks.
I was given paperwork for my doctor and workplace to complete to proceed with my claim. I thought the process would be quick and painless, since the company advertised on television how quick they pay out claims to customers. What I got back was a quick denial of my benefits due to the small print stating the illness cannot take place within the first 30 days of coverage. When I was offered the plan, I was told I would be covered from the moment I signed up. Even though I signed up on Sept. 16, the plan did not start until Oct. 1, which put me within that 30-day window in the small print. Needless to say I was upset and disappointed! The story could have ended right here, but this was only the beginning.
I called my agent who had guided me through the process of both sicknesses and he assured me everything was going to be alright. I was told they were going to do a special review of my case and he was confident I was going to be taken care of. For the next month, I called weekly, expecting an update, only to be told it was still being reviewed. I became frustrated and demanded results. I was told it was best not to pressure them because they may deny my review. So another two weeks went by with no results. At that point, I called customer service and voiced my opinion only to find out there was no such review taking place. I had been misled the entire time by my agent and his supervisor.
After a series of apologies and explanations from customer service, as well as my agent, I was told a real review would now be taking place. Over the next month, they requested the exact same paperwork they already had from my doctor and employer. Each week, I was told a decision would be made once they got certain paperwork. Finally after three months of phone calls, paperwork, and stress, the insurer denied my claim, stating the same reason from the beginning. There was no special review or exception taking place on my behalf. This well-known company had simply told me what I wanted hear and wasted my time and energy on a claim that was never going to be approved.
So here I am after this gauntlet of lies and deception reflecting on my experience and exploring what I should do. I could hire a lawyer, as I had a very strong, documented case. In the end, I came to the conclusion that pursuing the more than $3000 the company owed me would not be worth more months of bitterness and strife. So I decided to examine the story closer and use it as a prime example of how not to conduct business. I began to wonder how this company could care so little about an honest paying customer in a time of need. Were there more out there who were given the same treatment and experience? Maybe this is how they were able to pay for all those expensive commercials on prime-time television.
In reviewing my experience, there was one fact that stood out to me: everyone involved was simply following company policy. Even though it seemed deceptive—and was in the small print no one ever reads—it was part of their policy. I took the time to explore the situation through their eyes. This policy was in place to help prevent cases of fraud and people trying to make false claims. What are the odds a 41-year-old man would get so sick shortly after signing up? Since the policy was in place, it would be best not to make an exception, since they legally did not have to. I totally understood why they denied my claim. What I did not understand is the way they went about it? Why be deceptive and string the customer along over a three-month period? My conclusion is this is the way they chose to conduct their business and I would have to accept it.
This whole process opened my eyes to reflect back on my career regarding situations involving customers where a decision needed to be made. Did I ever stand behind the small print or policy in a situation where I knew the customer needed or deserved to be taken care of? In my reflection, I can say with certainty I was able to take care of my customer in every situation, or at least meet them in the middle. It is all part of conducting business the right way and putting your customers’ needs first. The next time a situation arises with a customer of mine, I will make sure to remember to see the process through his or her eyes.
In closing, I encourage you to take time to see every situation through your customers’ eyes. When complex and challenging situations arise, a positive outcome can be achieved if you take the time to see things as your customer does. Even when your policy does not fully address the client’s problem, try to take care of them as best you can. Meeting someone in the middle is much better than losing them for life. If only my insurer had stepped out from behind the fine print and cared for its customer, it would have had a customer for life. This horrible experience helped me create my AFLAC motto: Always Focus Love Around Customers. It is critically important to remember our customers are the heart of our business. Without them, we could not function.
This article is based on the book, “Modern Day Selling: Unlocking your Hidden Potential,” by Brian Barfield. For more information, visit his website at www.moderndayselling.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.