Caveat emptor, foedus Meerkat, caveat vendor

I currently have three vehicles on a multi-car policy with Admiral, and let me say from the outset they’ve been fantastic on three occasions over the last 18 months and I would recommend their service to anyone.

However, one of the principle laws underpinning the Sale of Goods Act is ‘caveat emptor’ – a Latin phrase that translates as ‘buyer beware’.  On this principle, any time you make a purchase, it’s up to you to make sure you get what you expected.

In a busy world we don’t always get time to do our due diligence. This year though my car insurance renewal quote arrived in the lull between Easter and the Royal nuptials. As I needed to escape endless discussions of ‘the dress’ and ‘the kiss’, I thought I’d take the opportunity to ‘foedus Meerkat’ as they used to say down the Forum.
Admiral’s renewal quote for myself and my wife looked reasonable, although in part the research activity was prompted by a direct mailing shot aimed at her from Saga. She may not be happy to admit her age, but now takes the view that now she’s over 50 she needs all the help she can get. A phone call to Saga suggested we could be paying around £100 less for her Ford Focus.

Of course the real expense is my 18 year-old son, who has already had a car written off (by Admiral). Rather than phone around I took the Meerkat route and within little over 10 minutes established that I could save around £350 on his Polo with Elephant. The bizarre thing was I could also save £344 by insuring him with Admiral! When it comes to comparison sites it should be a clear case of ‘caveat vendor!’

Further research showed I could save around £90 on my old Subaru with Admiral as well. And up to £250 elsewhere.  The wife’s dudgeon has rarely been more elevated. ‘They’re trying it on,’ quoth she, ‘they should be looking after their valued clients.’ Agreeing that exceeding customer expectation and delivering service levels that surprise and delight should be the cornerstone of all long-term business relationships, I assured her that these things were all done by computer, and that there was no personal vendetta betwixt Cardiff and Hampshire, then sent her back to watch the going-away scenes at Buck House.

Of course the real problem is that as an amateur you never know whether you’re comparing apples with apples or turkeys with prunes when it comes to this sort of exercise. Was it a 10 or 12 month policy? Did it include monthly finance costs? What did the breakdown cover cost and cover? In the old days I had a trusted insurance broker, but since we’ve moved to the sticks I tend to be a ‘self-server’.  On the one hand you feel a bit outraged because it looks cheaper, on the other the last thing you want to do is buy cheap for cheapness sake, only to later discover you’ve dropped one of the family jewels.

On the basis that the Royal event was for a future Prince of Wales I left Cardiff alone that day and rang the call centre on the Saturday. I’ve always liked the Admiral call centre, my Dad was born in Wales and it’s nice to hear an honest Welsh accent.

The conversation lasted about 40 minutes. Being in marketing I know it’s cheaper to keep a client than find a new one. The girl, Gemma, tried really hard to get my costs down, and saved even more on my son’s car than the online quote had. Then a bit off mine and my wife’s. At the end of the day the cost came down almost £700. It had probably taken four hours of my time but I consider £175 an hour a reasonable sort of rate.

If I had bought individual policies I could still have saved a further £81. In reality that’s a mere £1.50 per week and, as I have had good experiences with Admiral, and also didn’t want the faff of having to complete two proposals with companies I didn’t really know, I decided to stay where I was.

There are several morals and learning points to this tale and journey:

  • Direct mail works for providers – for some reason Saga knew my wife’s car was up for renewal and the accurately timed mailing piece made me call them
  • Price will always be important – what didn’t work was that Saga’s quote, albeit cheaper, wasn’t differentiated enough to make me move to them, but made me curious enough to compare online
  • Comparison websites work for customers – this was my first time on the Meerkat site and, even though I’m dyslexic and form filling doesn’t suit me, it was quick and intuitive and I found great information on three cars within about half an hour
  • Comparison websites can potentially drive an enormous wedge between providers and their customers – especially when your existing supplier comes up with a cheaper quote!
  • Good call centre staff are worth their weight in gold – the girl I spoke to at Admiral was more ‘personable’ than the one at Saga
  • At the end of the day established service trumps everything – I didn’t really want to leave Admiral because I knew and trusted them. I know there is always a cost of changing, and whilst I know I’m paying an £81 premium to stay with them, I think it’s worth it.

Just one footnote about branding. The best quote for my wife’s car was from Sheila’s Wheels but when I told my wife her comment was ‘haven’t seen them advertising in ages – don’t think I’d trust them!’

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