My car insurance renewal was due. I was a bit annoyed that, for no apparent reason, the cost had risen from £199 last year to £233 this. I phoned the insurance company. The call could be summarised something like this.
I dial the number.
"Longwayround Insurance Company. If you are phoning about car insurance, please press 1. If you wish to..."
I press 1.
"If you wish to make a claim, please press 1. If you want a quote for car insurance, please press 2. If you have insurance with us, but are considering leaving us, please press 3. If you are..."
I press 3.
Blurb about underwriters.
Blurb about call being recorded for training purposes.
Finally a live voice. "Good morning! Heather speaking. How can I help you?"
"Ah, good morning! I've had a letter about my insurance renewal, but I'm not very happy with the premium."
"OK, sir. May I just take your policy number? And your name? Date of birth? Postcode? First line of your address? Car make and model? Registration number? And your inside leg measurement?"
"Surely, all of that's on your screen in front of you?"
"Yes, sir, it is. I'm just checking. For security reasons, you see."
"Ahh! I see!" Perhaps I imagined the inside leg measurement bit.
"So, Mr Distill. What seems to be the problem?"
"Well, Heather. My insurance premium last year was £199 something, and this year you're asking for £233. And 42 pence. Can you explain to me how that came to be?"
Blather about rising costs and Insurance Premium Tax. I'm not impressed.
"But I've been insured by you for the past 10 years or so, and the cost has never risen that much before. And you've had Premium Tax since 1994. Why the 17% rise now?"
She evades the question. I had, after all, pressed 3. She wants to retain my custom. My questions aren't relevant.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr Distill. If you give me a moment, I'll see what can be done for you."
Muzak oozes into my ear. I wait a moment.
"Thank you for waiting, Mr Distill. I've looked into this for you, and I can offer you your car insurance for £211.28."
"That was very quick!" She ignored that.
"How does that sound?"
"Well, it sounds £22.14 better." I can hear her working it out for herself. I wait in the silence. She comes back.
"I can also give you zero excess on any claim."
"No excess? What's the catch?"
She laughs just a little. "There's no catch, Mr Distill."
"But that would normally increase the premium!"
"This makes no difference to the £211.28 we're offering you."
I look puzzled, but shrug. "OK. Thank you."
"Do you have breakdown cover, Mr Distill? I could add 2 years free breakdown cover from Green Flag."
"No, I belong to the AA, thanks."
"But this is free!" There's incredulity in her voice.
"Yes, I understand that. But I have no wish to leave the AA. I've been with them for over 40 years, and Green Flag do not tempt me away."
"Not even for fr..?"
"Not even for free. Thank you."
There's a pause. I get the feeling she's looking up something on her computer, or in the Instruction Manual For Dealing With Customers Who Are Thinking Of Taking Their Business Elsewhere.
"How about a courtesy car? If you made a claim and your car were off the road for whatever reason, a courtesy car would be very useful, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, indeed it would."
"I could add that to your policy. A free courtesy car of no greater engine size than 1 litre. Or we could provide a 1.4 litre car like your own for an additional charge."
This is quite entertaining now. "I'm sure a 1 litre car would be able to transport me just as well as a bigger model. That'd be fine for me."
"You're sure? It would only be..."
...extra money on your premium which you may not notice me sneaking in there.
"Yes, I'm sure, thank you."
There's a pause. I'm wondering if I might get six months free petrol. Half price servicing and MoT. Free tickets to Top Gear.
"OK then, Mr Distill. I'll just run through that to make sure we're in agreement. £211.83. Including Premium Tax. Breakdown cover not required. Are you sure about...?"
"Yes, Heather, I'm sure, thank you."
"Courtesy car with 1 litre engine. Are you su...?" She bites her tongue. I say nothing.
She continues. "Zero excess on all claims."
It's my time to ask if she's sure. "And that really makes no difference to the premium? The premium wouldn't be lower if I opted to have an excess of a couple of hundred pounds, say?"
"It has no effect on the premium at all, Mr Distill. I couldn't get the premium any lower if I tried."
I accept the offer. She gives me the standard spiel about the need to read terms and conditions, the notice about changes in my policy (none of which applied), and my new policy which will arrive within seven days. Then there's the 14-day cool-off period. And finally, payment.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr Distill?"
"Any chance of free tickets to Top Gear?"
And all because I pressed 3! How different it would have been if I'd gone straight to the "Pay" option.
Thank you, Heather. That was time well-spent.