Never has it been clearer that people are fed up with the lack of humanity in big business than it has over the last couple of weeks. The public's frustration with business as usual found its voice via social media as a car accident case went viral.
If you've not heard about it by now, on the 13th of August a man named Matt Fisher published an entry to his Tumblr account detailing the facts surrounding his sister's automobile accident, her subsequent death, and her insurance company's handling of the claim.
In June of 2010, Katie Fisher was driving in Baltimore, Maryland, when her car was struck by another driver who had run a red light; she died as a result. The other driver's insurance company immediately paid the claim to Ms. Fisher's estate. As the driver was underinsured, the payment was on the small side. Katie Fisher was insured through Progressive Insurance at the time of her death, and she had an underinsured motorist provision in her policy. At this point it was up to Progressive to pay the difference between what the other motorist's policy paid out and the amount for which Ms. Fisher was insured.
At this point, Katie Fisher's parents were startled to learn that, under Maryland law, they would not be entitled to sue Progressive. Instead, they had to go after the other driver, establish his negligence in court, and use a verdict in their favor as leverage against Progressive.
Here is where insult got added to injury: Progressive was sitting on the same side of the table as the defendant, and tried to paint Katie Fisher as the responsible party. Matt Fisher took to the internet to tell his family's painful story, and it quickly took off via Tumblr's share features. Before long, Twitter users were hammering Progressive's account with pointed and angry questions about the Fisher's treatment at their hands. Facebook users inundated Progressive's wall with the same.
The Fortune 500 Company continued to flub the whole situation with a rote, automaton Twitter response: "This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they've had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and we feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations." This was accompanied over and over by the image of the cheekily-smiling Flo, Progressive's perky spokesperson. It was, at the very least, disturbing (they have since changed their Twitter icon to their company logo).
When it comes to a dead girl no one wants to hear coldness from a company, most especially the one who was supposed to have her back. The phrase 'contractual obligations' is just too detached to play well at all, most especially in the face of a grieving family's loss. Progressive really flubbed this one, and I have to say that --given my overall knowledge of them-- I'm not terribly surprised.
After a negligence verdict was handed down in this case, Progressive issued another less-than-stellar statement via their blog.
What's the lesson in all this? First, honor your contracts with your customers. Second? Remember that, while you are dealing with numbers, your customers are human beings dealing with heartbreak and loss, be it a couple of days of work or a family member. Third, if you wallow in big profits, use a portion of them to garner training or adequate representation in the social media arena. It requires a deft hand to deal with actual people. This whole situation is likely to cost Progressive a good chunk of change. In the long run, any moneys they might have saved denying this claim are far less valuable in the long-term than the cost of public goodwill.