Monday, November 20, 2006

Big Corporations (from July 2006)

Like many other folks I have had my fair share of run-ins with big corporations. You know the kind of run-ins I’m talking about. You dial the 800 number and then spend the next 20 minutes pushing buttons answering questions that have nothing to do with your problem. Eventually you get the part of the process where the automated answering system will transfer you to an operator. This is the point where your call will most often be terminated when you are transferred to a dial tone.

Recently I had a much different experience dealing with a large corporation. When my mother passed away in June, I was told that she had a life insurance policy with Road Runner Gas, a company she had worked until she retired about six years ago. I was also told that she didn’t have any paperwork about this life insurance policy. We were supposed to call the company and they would have all the information in their computers.

I have to tell you that I was rather dubious about this whole situation, especially since Road Runner Gasoline had been through several name changes including Diamond Shamrock, Total Petroleum and currently Valero Energy.

Since Mom also had a couple shares of stock in Valero Oil, I had received a stock prospectus from them a year or so earlier. So I dug out this nice glossy paper annual report and looked around for a phone number to call. Inside the front cover was listed the Valero Oil corporate office address and phone number.

Preparing myself for a long exhausting and ultimately disappointing and frustrating experience I dialed the 800 number. I almost fell out of my chair when in the midst of the second ring a human female voice answered the phone with a slight Texas accent “Valero Energy Corporation, Good Afternoon, How may I direct your call?”

After a short pause, at least I hope it was short. I was so stunned to have a human answer the phone that I may have sat there dumbfounded for several seconds. Eventually I explained that my mother who had retired from Total Petroleum a few years ago had passed away and I was checking into a life insurance policy. The voice on the phone replied “I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sure our personnel department will be able to help you. Will you please hold while I transfer you?” Then there was a pause for several seconds until I realized that she was waiting for a response. So I told her I would hold.

Immediately the line transferred and started to ring. Right after the second ring the phone was answered by a different female voice, this one with a slightly heavier Texas drawl. “Personnel Department how may I help you?”

I repeated my question to this woman who responded. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. You and your family have all our sympathies. What was you mother’s name?”

I told her my Mom’s name and could hear her typing on a keyboard. “Almost immediately she responded “I can transfer you to the appropriate personnel manager who can take care you anything you need. Will you please hold?”

Again, there was a pause while she waited for me to agree to hold. I did. The Texas Drawl left me with a repeated expression of sympathy and transferred my call. This time the phone was answered on the first ring. Another female voice also with a Texas accent introduced herself and asked how she could help me. I repeated my question and answered several return questions such as Mom’s name, address, date of birth, etc. After a short pause this third human female informed me that she did have all of my mother’s information there and that there was an insurance policy. She verified my fahter's address and told me that she would have to mail the forms to the address of record. Since I was going to be in Cheyenne in a week that was find with me. Then she told me that the proper claim forms would be mailed out that very afternoon. Then she gave me a couple explicit directions on filling out the forms. Then expressed her sympathy with my loss and asked if there was anything else she could do for me. I replied no, thanked her for the kind thoughts and all her help and then I hung up.

Total time on the phone for this call – just over 3 minutes and I got to talk to three different polite women who all had marvelous accents.

Three days later, My dad got the single page, double sided form in the mail, a stamped return envelope, a hand written note of sympathy and a repeat of the special directions along with the personnel managers direct phone extension if we needed any other assistance.

When I got to Wyoming I filled out the form, attached the death certificate as directed, had my Dad sign and mail it and two weeks later he received the full insurance settlement from Valero Oil.

A lot of large corporations seem to have forgotten who their customers are. But there are still a few of them out there who remember and still know how to deal with real people.

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