Go with the Flo: What Good Customer Service Looks Like

Scooter, awash.
Scooter, interrupted.

I just submitted the long, happy note below as part of a survey in response to my having filed an insurance claim on my scooter, ruined in a flash flood. I’ve spent enough time whining about lousy service on Facebook that I thought it would be worth posting my praise for Progressive just for the sake of balance.

As I reread my response to the survey, though, I noticed that it reveals quite a bit about how good customer service looks. In particular, Progressive seems to have anticipated several my likely pain points as a customer and, like Icy Hot, applied (figurative) ointments to relax them away.

In what follows, I discuss a few of these tactics in terms of how I imagine it would be to deal with Flo, the famously helpful character in Progressive’s advertising of the last few years.

Flo wouldn’t act like she was selling used cars.

I mention below that I expected the kind of service relationship one has with a used car salesman, antagonistic just below the surface and fraught with mutual suspicion. Conversations with friends about having to file a claim revealed they had the same expectations, some based on past experiences. Instead, though, each of the handful of people I spoke with took careful steps to disarm what cynicism I came to them with.

For example, the claims adjuster explained why he was asking me certain questions that might otherwise have seemed odd, like whether there was any damage to the scooter before the flood. He told me he was asking not in order to reduce any potential coverage amount but to help determine an initial likelihood that the scooter would be written off as a total loss, which he and I both suspected based on the circumstances. The result of his explanation was to set me at ease—and frankly, given his patient demeanor and proficiency as a speaker, he might have seen the same result even if he had been telling me my coverage might be reduced.

The point was that the explanation and the professionalism made me feel like I was in an honest service relationship with somebody who wanted a fair outcome on both sides, like I did. And that’s as it should be: Given a well-run insurance company, there should be no need to inflate margins using scare tactics and little lies the way used car dealers so often do.

Flo would be flexible, not a stickler.

According to the rules, the adjuster should’ve had me call the shop and release my scooter to Progressive, and then had the bike transported to their own casualty center for inspection. But in this case, my adjuster saw the situation for what it was:

"Fishbowl Bike"
At the shop, they called it “Fishbowl Bike.”
  1. My scooter had been fully submerged for perhaps 30 minutes. (See photo at right, from about three weeks after the fact.)
  2. You can’t submerge a scooter for perhaps 30 minutes and expect to fix it for less than the resale value of the bike.
  3. I had sent my scooter to a shop that the claims adjuster had dealt with before.

Given these facts, you might think a reasonable course of action would be to just send a rep—any rep—to the shop next time he or she was in the neighborhood. And that’s exactly what my adjuster did.

Sticking to the rules would’ve meant not only extra hassle for me and the shop, but also laying out extra cash for towing and inspection (because the inspector would be starting from scratch, instead of having a mechanic already familiar with the problem walk him or her through it).

At a worse company, I’m sure, my adjuster would’ve had to stick to the rules. But Progressive, it seems, trusted him to make the judgement call. I’m glad they did.

Flo would know everything.

The single word “knowledgable” in my note below actually carries more weight than I let on. I’d expected having to go over the details of what happened again and again, each time answering the same lame questions. (“So wait: There was a flood on a hill?” “Dammit, no. There was a flood in Squirrel Hill.”) I remember once having to explain the precise manner in which my Internet connection would periodically drop to five separate Comcast employees in three days. And it’s almost always like that, right?

Not with Progressive, of course. Once I had told the claims rep the story, it was as though that information had spread, as with The Borg, to every corner of the organization. I spoke with three more people about the situation and each of them knew everything about what had happened to the bike, what I had done about it, when, and why. Even better, they all knew that I had comprehensive coverage (somewhat non-standard for scooters, as I understand it), a $100 deductible, and every other relevant detail of my policy and situation.

I don’t know enough about the industry or the logistics of customer service to determine what exactly Progressive does to enable this kind of pervasive knowledge-sharing. I suspect that the process involves unusually ample time to review a case before making customer contact, training on how to suss out the most salient facts, and a positive work environment that encourages communication across departments and functions.

Then again, maybe I just got lucky, ended up by chance with a posse of top-notch service reps. But I doubt it.

I’ve never had to file an insurance claim before (other than for health care), and I expected it would be one of those things that everybody hates, like buying a used car or calling your ISP for technical support.

Instead, it was one of the best interactions I’ve ever had as a customer: First, everybody I spoke with was professional, courteous, and knowledgable to degrees well beyond anything I’ve experienced in the past. Also, the settlement—which was available to me within just a few days—was more or less exactly what I expected after I did some research on the value of my vehicle.

I was especially surprised to see the adjuster streamlining the process in ways that I wouldn’t have thought he had the power to do. For example, it was pretty much a sure thing that the scooter was going to be a total loss; it had been underwater in a flood for like half an hour. So instead of having to tow the thing to your casualty center, he just sent someone on a quick trip to the service center that had the bike. (They also reported they loved working with Progressive, by the way.)

You’ve really won me over with this experience. I can’t imagine switching to another insurance company. Thanks a million.

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