“A few months ago, the pipe under my front lawn which leads to the water main, as well as two of my neighbors’ pipes, burst as a result of city firefighters cleaning the hydrants and shutting the water off too quickly. There was a nice little stream going down the street until the city came and shut off our water the next day, routing our service through a different (unaffected) neighbor’s pipes. The Water Services Department informed us that we were financially responsible for hiring a plumber to make the repairs, and that if we failed to do so within 30 days, we would be disconnected from our neighbor’s service. All of the estimates we got from plumbers came in around $1,500.”
Of course, we tried to fight the city on this, but to make a long story short, we lost. To make matters worse, the city reversed its decision at one point, leading us to believe that they would pay for the repairs, then waited a month and decided again that they weren’t responsible. All this time, we were drawing water from my neighbor’s service, so his water pressure was terrible (as was all of ours) and there was nothing he could do about it. Thanks to the city’s flip-flopping, we were finally able to get the repairs done just three weeks ago, after dealing with poor water pressure for over two months.
In speaking with other neighbors who had seen the same thing happen before, I was told that, in their experience, insurance companies typically don’t cover this kind of damage. Nevertheless, I thought it was at least worth making a claim and seeing what happened, so I called USAA (of which we’re members because my wife’s grandfather was an airline pilot), and to my great surprise was immediately told that it was covered (minus our $500 deductible). We relievedly faxed in the plumber’s invoice and waited for the check to come.
A week later (last Wednesday), we got a phone call at 9am from an agent named Lisa, who apologized profusely and said that USAA wouldn’t be able to pay the claim, because (as I had initially expected) that kind of plumbing damage wasn’t covered. Normally, I might have demanded to know why this differed from what she had initially told me, but she seemed genuinely distressed that she wasn’t able to help us, so I just thanked her for letting us know and left it at that.
An hour later, Lisa called again. She told me that she hadn’t been able to stop thinking about our case for the past hour, couldn’t stand the fact that we were going to have to pay so much money for something that wasn’t our fault and seemed like it should be covered, and was now determined to get USAA to pay our claim. I was a little stunned, but told her I really appreciated her extra attention to our case.
We didn’t hear back from Lisa for hours after that, and I was starting to figure she had just given up and moved on. At 3:30pm, though, she called back, sounding practically ecstatic: USAA had agreed to pay our claim, and we’d be getting a $1,000 check in the mail in 3-5 business days. I asked her if she’d been working on our case all day, and she admitted that she had. She said that what made the difference in the end was telling her manager that we had been customers for 11 years and had never previously made a claim. In a world where most customer service reps are loathe to spend five minutes of their time on the phone with you, to have someone spend their entire workday on your account was pretty incredible.
We got the check in the mail yesterday, and now I’m wondering how to thank an employee of a company who went so far above and beyond the call of duty because she felt personally responsible to set things right. It certainly wouldn’t have changed things for her one bit if she had simply followed standard procedure and denied our claim – in fact, that was surely the politically safe option. I’d like to at least send her a card, but what would really make me happy would be if her great service were to give USAA some good publicity in the form of a Consumerist post about this story.
Other companies—we’re looking at you, telecoms—proffer the “valued customer” spiel when conceding defeat for something that was clearly their fault. Not USAA. USAA loves their customers. They spend all year thinking of what to get them for Valentine’s Day. They carry pictures of them in their wallet. An honest, genuine concern for their customers is one of the many, many reasons that USAA may just be the best company in America.