The tale of the insurance clowns

In mid-August 2004, I had a minor accident in the suburb of Balwyn. An old man hit my car as he was making his way through a red light at the speed of 20kmph. I was coming into the main road from a side lane and probably should have stopped before I swung in.

As I had not, I took it on myself to accept responsibility. I made an insurance claim the next night and then took my car to the insurer's showroom at Preston, the closest one to where I live. This insurer, AAMI, claims to be the best as far as customer service goes (they all do, don't they?) After the car was accepted for repairs, I was given a taxi ride to work and told that I would be informed when my car was ready.

A day later one of the AAMI staff called and said it would take a week for the car to be ready. Mind you, this was for some minor panel-beating work and the replacement of one shock absorber. Inefficiency was beginning to manifest itself. The guy in charge of my claim was one Mark Ganter.

The next day I was told that when my car was ready, I would be given the address of the repairer and that I could pick it up. My firm response was that I had left the car at one place and I would pick it up there. There was a bit of argy-bargy but in the end the insurance staff realised that they weren't dealing with a pushover.

Came the day for me to collect my car and I was picked up by a taxi and taken to the showroom. I drove my car home and realised on the way that the clock and the radio weren't working. As soon as I got home, I called and informed AAMI about this.

Now comes the surprising bit. This company's reps actually tried to tell me that as the radio and clock had not been affected by the initial accident, the company took no responsibility for repairing them! The woman who spoke to me - Anna Testa - tried her level best to make the case that I was responsible.

But then she probably is used to dealing with a brand of person who is meek, mild and prone to saying "have a nice day." I am far from that - I told her that the car was being brought back and that AAMI would have to fix it and also provide me transport from their office to my office and back again when the work was done.

The next week I took the car in and things were completed in a day. In the evening that day, I was contacted and told to take a cab back to the AAMI showroom. I was asked to obtain a receipt from the driver and hand it in when I collected my car and that the fare would be refunded on the spot. I did so.

Then the hemming and hawing began. The girl at the counter took the fare receipt to the man in charge of the AAMI showroom. He sent back a message that a cheque would be sent to me within a day or two. I left it at that.

There are times when, due to my own preoccupations, I tend to let things just lie. The matter of this fare - $28.10 in Australian currency - was just left there for a while. I often get letters at work after two weeks or so as I have moved floors twice. So I though this cheque from AAMI would come within a month. I was fully prepared to give them that much time.

Actually, I might well have let it go had it not been for the fact that on Sunday, October 31, I had a run-in at the local pharmacy (which I shall document some time) and was reminded that the AAMI matter had yet to be settled. I am a lazy fellow but when I rouse myself from my slumber I tend to get a lot done.

I called up AAMI but since it was a Sunday, I could not get in touch with either Ganter or Testa. The same afternoon as I was reading some stuff on the web, I thought of looking for the address of the insurance ombudsman. I found an address for this worthy and drafted a letter before the laziness descended on me again.

Come Wednesday, November 3, I had a call from the ombudsman. He gave me the phone number of the customer complaints division at AAMI and the name of the person to call. Once I called this gent on November 5 he said he would have the woman, Testa, call me and settle the matter.

I was late to work as my son was ill. I'd told the customer complaints bloke that I would be in by 11.15am. Testa had obviously had a fire lit under her. She'd called at 11.15 and left a message. When I got in, I called back. The farce was about to rise to a new level.

She started off: "Obviously, we haevn't processed your cheque... we have lost the receipt... do you have a duplicate? do you remember to whom you gave it? do you remember which cab company's cab you came here by?" She wasn't prepared for the gale which hit her. I told her in extremyl firm. clipped tones that I was damned if, after two months of waiting, I was going to listen to her spiel and answer questions. I told her that it was ridiculous for a company of AAMI's size to keep a customer waiting two months for a sum of $28.10 and then expect the customer to answer questions about it.

I wasn't about to stop at that. I told her that she did not understand the term "customer service" and that any company which had even an inkling about it would have apologised and paid the money immediately. She was unprepared for the barrage and took some time to recover. She then said she would call me back.

When she did do so, she informed me that a chque would be sent to on Monday, November 8. If she expected any thanks, she was in for a rude surprise. I told her that she wasn't doing me a favour - it was my money and should have been paid back two months back.

A week later, the cheque arrived in the mail. AAMI will lose a few policies next year and when they do, they'll become aware of the stuff-up.