State Farm is Where??? A customer service disaster.

by John Furgurson on August 12, 2008

By John Furgurson

A couple years ago, when my kids were just 9 and ll years old, the subject of insurance came up at the dinner table. God only knows why.

My kids could recite — and often sing — the slogans of every major insurance company in the country. They had been exposed to so many commercials, they knew ‘em all…

“Nationwide is on your side.”

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”

“You’re in good hands, with Allstate.”

Prudential. “ Like a rock.”

As a parent, I was aghast. As a branding professional, I was amused, and a bit curious. Why would the insurance companies spend millions advertising on the Disney Channel and on ABC Family? At first glance, it seemed like a lot of wasted exposure.

Then I think about my own experience, and it sort of makes sense.

My parents were insured by State Farm. My wife had a State Farm agent when we got married. It never occurred to me to look anywhere else, and we’ve never had a compelling reason to change.

Insurance is one of those low-interest, out-of-sight-out-of-mind service categories that no one really wants to think about. I’d rather have a root canal than deal with insurance of any kind. And that’s why those early branding efforts are so important… once they have ya, they have ya.

We’ve stayed with the same insurance company for almost 20 years not because State Farm has good service or great rates. Not because we’re loyal to our agent, who lives 120 miles away and never speaks to us. It’s because we absolutely hate the thought of switching.

It’s like brand loyalty by default. Life, auto, home, boat, cabin… We’re all in, and the hassle factor of changing insurance carriers is just too much to even contemplate.

But that was before we ever filed a major claim. Before our little winter disaster.

It always snows a lot in the Oregon Cascades, but January 2008 was crazy. The garage/shop at our mountain cabin eventually collapsed under the weight of 10 feet of heavy, wind-packed snow. It was a total loss, to the tune of about $60,000.

Naturally, we called our agent. Her assistant put us in touch in contact with a claims adjuster, and for the first time, we realize that State Farm is like two separate companies. The independent agents who set up the policies and collect the money have nothing to do with the claims adjusters who pay money out.

For 80 years, State Farm has branded itself as a neighborly, down-home sort of company that would be there for us, if we really needed ‘em. That’s the perception they’ve spent millions to maintain.

The reality, however, is quite different indeed.

The lady who’s supposed to be handling our claim definitely didn’t get the memo about being a good neighbor. In fact, any goodwill that State Farm has built up with us over the years went right out the window with just one claim.

It’s been seven months, and they haven’t even finished cleaning up the disaster area. Our neighbors are not happy. State Farm is going to cover the loss, eventually, but the process has been painful at best. When we called our devoted agent to complain, we got nothing but excuses and second guessing.

I can’t even imagine what the Hurricane Katrina victims must have gone through. The State of Mississippi finally had to sue State Farm to get them to pay the claims due.

Talk about a PR debacle. Instead of looking like a good neighbor, State Farm came out of that storm looking like an evil, corporate giant that could care less about the little people. I’d love to know how much market share they’ve lost since then.

There are two important morals to this saga:

1. When it comes to branding, actions speak louder than words. You have to be very, very careful about promising something in a slogan or ad campaign that you can’t deliver day in and day out. Fifty years ago, State Farm probably could deliver on their promise. But not anymore. Today, State Farm is country’s largest home insurer and in the top 30 on the Fortune 500 list, It’s too big to be a good neighbor.

2. Branding is not just a function of the marketing department. It’s also an operational issue.

State Farm’s operation is totally out of alignment with their brand. The sales side and the claims side are not operating from the same playbook, and State Farm can’t fix their problem by changing their tried and true slogan. They have to change the way their claims division works in order to live up to that slogan. They need to align the experience with the brand promise.

A tall order, no doubt.

Brands have always been about trust, and promises kept. For me, State Farm betrayed that trust. The behavior of one claims adjuster was so “off brand,” I’m ready to start the long and painful process of changing insurance companies.

I think.

If anyone knows of an insurance company that doesn’t operate like two separate entities, let me know. And if there’s anyone out there who works for State Farm and would like to expand on this, please do!)

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The Car insurance blog » Blog Archive » State Farm is Where???
August 12, 2008 at 8:13 pm

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Frank Bliss August 13, 2008 at 4:35 pm

John: I’m a State Farm agent in California. I just read your comment about your loss and extend my sympathy for the experience you have had. The State Farm interface which allows us to be the Good Neighbor is the agent who sells the policy. On any claim, but especially a large one, my role is to help the customer know what to expect. We do that by helping to match the customer’s understanding of the policy with the promise made in that contract. If there is ever a disconnect with claims, you’re right, we haven’t done as good a job as we should. We constantly try to make that connection better for our customers. If I don’t agree with claims’ interpretation of the policy I’ll go to bat for my customer, helping them to communicate facts of the loss to claims but I cannot change the language of the policy nor influence the outcome.

Claims job is to work with the customer on an ongoing basis after a loss. Indeed, the agent’s job is to sell the policy, since if no policy is in force at claims time, State Farm cannot pay a dime to anyone. The perception which insurance companies have marketed to sell policies is that if a claim occurs, we’re “Johnny on the spot” and you’ll be made whole instantly. So while that approach may sell policies that is far from reality in a complicated resolution of a loss which will require estimates, contractors, city building department approvals, permits, inventories, purchase receipts and the like which take both the customer and the company a long time to resolve. That is why we have a claims department. In addition, any construction project is stressful since so many decisions have to be made which interrupt our daily lives.

Having been an agent for nearly 23 years, I can assure you that our corporate intention is to be a good neighbor. And that is truly more than a slogan. We work very hard to pay what we owe…not more, not less. Since I’m not licensed in Oregon, nor am I your agent, I cannot personally help you with your loss. Of course, State Farm is not perfect. (No insurance company could ever admit that and sell policies). Nevertheless, when you consider the alternatives to a good neighbor, you’ll find that we still do a very good job at making people whole after bad situations. That is how we got to be #1, a position we’ve maintained for many years. And that is why the press loves to rag on us. Their job is to sell too and if they can raise interest among 20% of the public by mentioning a person’s insurance company (State Farm) whether bad or good, they’ll sell more.

Finally, I encourage you to talk to your agent regularly. If 120 miles is too far, ask for a closer one. One of my biggest challenges as an agent is to get people to come in to review in advance of a loss. As you mentioned, most people don’t want to think about insurance. Then when a loss happens, they’re surprised at the result. The regular contacts with your agent will help to avoid those surprises, and then when the agent needs to get involved with claims, it is much more personal because you’ve both done the hard advance work. Please let me know if this analysis is helpful. –Frank Bliss, working hard to be a good neighbor every day.

Helv August 15, 2008 at 6:49 pm

I had a similar problem with my insurance company–Allstate. When we were initiating the claims process, luckily, we we stumbled onto using Adjusters International, which ended up being a really good idea. adjusters int’l ended up saving us a lot of time (presumably) and got us a bigger claim. So, that’s just my two cents.

Buy a car online August 19, 2008 at 9:26 am

I read a simliar post just the other day by Sandra Kosineck but yours is much better.

Snake Pliskin August 21, 2008 at 7:56 pm

Trial lawyers refer to State Farm and Allstate as Snake Farm and Allsnake. In my area State Farm has a pretty good reputation for taking care of their customers. However, let one of their car insurance customers hit you in an accident and hell may freeze over before you see a penny if you see anything at all. My wife was hit by a State Farm insured, 100% his fault. We had to go to the insurance department to make them pay.

Peter September 25, 2008 at 4:05 am

If you live near a COSTCO, go through them. They sell Ameriprise Auto & Home and costco members get an awesome discount. Good luck!

John S. August 20, 2009 at 6:48 am

State Farm is already too expensive. I hear from people that they have thousands of people at their Bloomington, Illinois headquarters collecting paychecks and doing nothing.

M. April 7, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Well, I do agree with what you said. I just reciently got into a car accident, my car got totalled. The person who hit me was impaired and was arrested and to top it he came off the wrong ramp (totally opposite direction). We got injuries and above all we have a small 7 months old infant with us. And then came the adjusters, its different to describe the attitude they speak you with as if i am begging for something. Statefarm dont ever delay sending you your bills and deduct premium from your account however, they are taking all the time in the world to mail us our benefits package after even reminding them many times. I had my childs stroller locked in the trunk of the car, I informed the insurance and they said that i need to get the stroller myself and it cannot be claimed or reimbursed and i need to do it else my car will be moved from the towing company and will be disposed. My car trunk was to be broken else there was no way to get the stroller out. I informed Statefarm and my agents for their approval to go get the trunk broken and get stroller and other stuff and was surpised to get a call from the adjuster after a couple of days deducting a good amount from my claim because i damaged the trunk. Keep aside i paid good 200$ to the person who broke it for me as i wasnt in the position to do that. My fault, their apporval was not in writing but was in a telephonic conversation.

Insurance around the world must be bad but i really hate statefarm, the fourth day of my accident with me having all sorts of soft tissue injuries its hard to explain the tone and the behaviour of the adjuster. When i asked for sometime to get back to her question, adjuster said she wants to leave for home and cant wait for me to respond. Explained 30 different features my car had and asked me to confirm on phone. DO i remember them byheart? All i need to say is that they are a ripoff when its your turn to claim benefits.

I wont suggest any of my friends or family to go for state farm.

Randy September 3, 2010 at 4:12 am

I was a State Farm customer since I started driving- over 30 years. When I really needed them, they were not there. A couple years ago I remarried, and in the process of insuring my wife and her daughter with State Farm, the billing got all screwed up. A few months later, my wife had an accident that totaled her car. Fortunately she was ok, but when we called our agent’s office, there was “nothing they could do” because the policy had lapsed a couple months before due to non-payment on that particular car. I tried to explain the billing had gotten screwed up, but they took the “high road” and claimed I hadn’t paid the policy. I asked why they hadn’t called me or something, and their only response was that a notice had been sent. I never got that notice, or I would have paid it. So, after 30 years of never missing a premium, and due to their office screw-up we ended up paying for my wife’s car and are being sued for damages to someone else’s car as well. Thanks a lot, Good Neighbor.

Roman September 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Well let me say first that State Farm commercials are over the top and not reality when looking for the right company…After 8 months of not haveing them insure my rover .I recive a bill for a hospitailization fee ,,good thing I dont use the card that they take the money from so I had a zero balance.Which is now overdrawn thanks to State Farm. If I had money on my card I most likely would have overlooked it and they would have gotten away with FRAUD…

Like A Good Neighbor State Farm Is SNEEKY…

You Decide.,,Watch your bank statements. !!!

Roman

SF Customer? November 1, 2010 at 2:54 am

I have been insured by State Farm for over 10 years, my husband for over 20. Neither one of us had ever gotten into an accident or gotten a ticket, until a few years ago. We both got into little “fender benders.” I was involved in a very minor “no-fault” accident. and my husband accidentally backed into a 2-foot tall pole in a parking lot (that he didn’t know was there when he was backing up). I would say that both repairs totaled less than $1200. State Farm payed them both out relatively quickly and we were happy…. Until we got a letter in the mail from State Farm that they were going to drop us as customers because we were too much of a liability. After 30+ collective years of perfect driving, and never a late payment, we were now being told that we were a liability!! So much for being a “Good Neighbor!” We called our agent, and he told us that it was not his decision – it was “corporates” decision, and there was nothing he could do about it. We were so upset. After several weeks of yelling and screaming, our agent finally moved our cars into our house policy so they would still be covered, but the premiums went up so much that we could hardly afford it. Like everyone else has said, State Farm has gotten too big to be a Good Neighbor. All they care about is their money!

John Dombroski December 23, 2010 at 2:56 am

I agree with the ariticle,there is a disconnect between the salesman and the claims department. I was involved in an accident where State Farms client rear ended me and push me into the car in front. I had a State Farm mobile claim inspector come out to the house to provide and estimate. He only focused on the cosmetic damage, nothing under the hood and didn’t recommend to State Farm that they provide a rental until the damaged was fixed. The sad part of the story is when I took the vechicle in for a second and third estimate, both places where suprised that I was still driving the vehicle due to safety concerns. Lucky, the third estimate was an State Farm prefered autobody shop and they where able to pursude State Farm to provide a rental. The moral of the story is, if you have the time take the vehicle in for your own 1st and 2nd estimate. The State Farm claims agent either is not competent or is trying to save money for State Farm. Last word, State Farm has lost any chance of me switching to State Farm. I wouldn’t want myself or someone making a claim against me treated this way. I guess their slogan needs to change …

rick holsbeke February 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

well, i had state farm for 20 some years. recently i had a escrow shortage due to a hike in the insurance on the home. i paid the shortage and decided to call state farm. they suggested i could get a repital company to inspect my home. maybe get some money back from state farm . well, the repot on the house did not give me too many credits. next thing i know ,state farm is saying i’m paying too much on the house and they are suggesting they find another company for me. uh!!!!!

robert gill April 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm

State Farm is an irresponsible reckless company. They did not pay my claim for property damage and Med claims promptly and in full. I died twice during surgery as a result of an auto accident and had over 400K in medical bills. They also did not pay their uninsured or underinsure insurance policy amount promptly. Our local agent is Al Bowler in Eagle River Alaska. We cancelled 4 policies and our neighbors are doing likewise. If you are 55 or over Hartford or other insurers have a much higher consumer rating . State Farm is among the bottom. There is a good reason why State Farm has so many complaints with the BBB.

Al Mahany September 6, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Like a bad neighbor, State Farm is hiding.

I sustained a minor loss on my vehicle from Hurricane Irene. So where was State Farm after 25 years of loyalty to them? Well they might have been someone else’s good neighbor, but they sure as hell are not mine.

I reported the claim the moment they opened, Monday morning, 9 AM, one day after the loss. I was told someone will get back to you by Tuesday.

Tuesday came and nobody got back to me. So I called them.

Oh, someone will get back to you by Thursday.

Thursday came, and my “neighbor” was nowhere to be found. So I called them again. Now their pathetic tune is that someone will get back to me “as soon as possible”. I pressed them for a specific date, but to no avail.

It is now 9 days after the storm. State Farm refuses to let my body shop touch the car until they see it and further refuse to see it. All I get out of them is one pathetic excuse after another as to why they can’t give me what I paid for. All the while, I have a broken sunroof, covered with plastic, leaving my car vulnerable to leaks and break ins.

State Farm is the worst insurance company in the world, bar none. I will be switching to Geico as soon as this claim is resolved. I have already filed a complaint with the Department of Insurance, and a lawsuit is my next step.

DO NOT USE STATE FARM FOR ANYTHING!

derek dangelo November 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm

i have been in the autobody repair business for over 30 years and have dealt with state farm many many times. they at one time were the best at handling claims and now the are the absolut worst. i have a claim the other day that took over 3 weeks for the adjuster to come look at, when i asked him that according to the pa appraiser act they only had 3 days to contact the owner he said i know and so does state farm but they dont care, sue them if you like. what an attitude! state farm ins. stinks!!!!!

EAC January 12, 2012 at 3:48 am

I was in Statefarm for 11 years but because of huge increase of premium, I decided to shop around but I was asked by my new insurance company to provide the letter of experience stating Im no fault to the accident. I asked my local statefarm agent to provide me the letter but they told me that they do not provide letter of experience not unless im moving to the other province. I asked my agent to show me in company policy or in any of their memos that can convince me that the word been told was authentic but they cannot show me anything instead she called thru phone somebody to find out that the policy is under process( I feel its a joke and stupid answer), The office manage said the same thing when I asked for it.
I called the State farm main office in illinois to provide me a letter of experience and I got it the following day. THIS IS BULLSHIT

Rachel January 14, 2012 at 6:17 am

Interesting. You’re right, those commercials must just disappear into the back of the mind.

DYOP August 30, 2012 at 2:38 am

State Farm is the worst unbelievable service and should just close down. If the would look how the interaction and inform customers and basically called a liar. I will never forget the experience from State of Denial. Maybe they need some training how to treat their owner as they are a mutual company I paid their salary. Think about taking care of customer, employee instead of spending your time padding your pockets. The cheat customer with the claims department and a lot of class action lawsuits in home and car. Every agent and employee should be ashamed if you look at what you company is doing you would be appall at what your doing. NO STATE FARM

Jim Elmore September 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I just dropped State Farm insurance and went with Geico. Many Penn State fans told me to do it, so I did it because I am a close friend with many of them (not a fan of college ball) and boy am I glad I did. Much better rates with Geico. I’ve heard that the word is out to all Penn State football fans to drop State Farm insurance because of the ban they imposed on TV sponsorship of Penn State games. These bums at State Farm couldn’t care less about the victims of Sandusky’s crimes they just want the publicity.

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