I read with interest the recent blog post by Matt Fisher about his family’s nightmarish experience with Progressive Insurance. Since the time of the post, the company has responded by saying that they didn’t provide defense counsel to the driver who killed Mr. Fisher’s sister, Kaitlynn; Gawker then posted court documents exposing this as a lie.
It’s been a PR disaster for the company, and I am not surprised. My own Progressive story is, thankfully, nowhere near on the scale of what happened to the Fisher family, to whom my heart goes out. I do think, though, that it illustrates what kind of company is really behind that creepy, chirpy spokeswoman.
I signed up for auto insurance with Progressive in 2000. Their rates were good and on a couple of occasions when I needed roadside assistance (flat tires), I received prompt, courteous help. Once, my car radio was stolen, and I had no trouble getting all the needed repairs. I stayed with them, even when I remarried and combining policies would have saved me money – the company treated me well, so I saw no reason to change.
Until one day in 2010. On that day, I picked up The Child from her school, and we took our usual route home, along local roads. On the street her school is on, the speed limit is 35 mph, which is what I drove.
After that, I made a right turn, went up a hill and continued along at 35 mph. I did not realize that the speed limit had changed to 25 mph. I only realized it when the motorcycle cop pulled out of his hidden spot and pulled me over.
He was polite and I was polite: He pointed out the speed limit and said he had seen me coming and hoped I would slow down. I said I hadn’t realized the limit dropped when I turned the corner, and apologized for my failure to observe that. He gave me a ticket, explained I could contest it, which I might want to do for insurance purposes, and told me how to do so. I said thanks and we both wished each other a nice day.
I wasn’t overly concerned, for several reasons, primarily this: It was the first speeding ticket I have ever received. Maybe I’m obtuse, but one speeding ticket per decade just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, especially given the speed at which I was traveling: 35 mph. I’m not trying to absolve myself of responsibility. I made a mistake, for which I take full responsibility. I understand that speeds are lower on different roads for good reasons. I get it.
I briefly considered contesting the ticket “for insurance purposes” as the officer suggested, but this struck me as a bad use both of public resources (using court time over a small infraction) and my own resources (as a working parent, my time is a limited commodity).
I understood that my insurance rates might rise as a result, but since it seemed to me to be a relatively minor thing attached to a very long history of being a good, safe driver, I didn’t see that my rates could go up much. That said, I admit my fault and if my rates were to go up somewhat, it was a consequence I was willing to accept along with the cost of the ticket, which I paid.
I promptly forgot all about it, for at least a month and probably more – until one day, my phone rang, and the caller ID indicated it was Progressive on the line.
I found myself speaking with a cheery company representative, who said she was calling to check in with me, as they often do with their long-time customers, noting I had been with them for ten years. She was chatty, and inquired as to whether I’d been happy with my service (yes), was still driving the same car (yes), and things like that. I’m pretty sure she asked about the weather. I’m naturally chatty, and so it went on pleasantly for a few minutes in the same innocuous vein.
Then she asked, “Have you had any traffic incidents recently?”
And I replied, “Yes, I got a minor speeding ticket.”
With a completely changed tone, she responded: “That’s what I wanted to know.”
Suddenly, she was all business. She went on to inform me that since I had now admitted to this traffic infraction, I would receive my revised rate notice shortly. The conversation quickly ended.
I was so startled by the conversation’s abrupt turn that I could barely speak.
My insurance rate increased by more than $200 per year. Of course I don’t want to pay higher rates, but I understand that factors like traffic citations affect my rates with any insurance company. I wouldn’t have taken issue with that had Progressive simply called me and been honest: Say they became aware of the citation, ask me to confirm that fact, and then tell me that my rates were going up as a result. Not a pleasant conversation, but a reasonable one.
That wasn’t what they did. Progressive was obviously aware of the infraction before they called, and getting me to admit to the infraction was the sole purpose of the call. To achieve that end, the company deceived me: they represented their purpose as friendly service call with a long-time customer, to assess my satisfaction level. It was nothing of the kind.
I don’t know why they needed or wanted me to admit to it; perhaps some insurance specialist can explain it to me in the comments. What troubles me is the fact that they lied to me to get the information, even when it wasn’t necessary to do so.
I was honest with them, and they were not honest with me.
That’s not how I do business, so when my policy ran out, I changed to another insurer, who matched my original rate with Progressive – in spite of the citation, which, he told me, was “not that big of a deal.”