Technofiles: Misinformation and muppets

I am long overdue a blog here, for which I apologise. Life at HQ has been a bit manic the last few months! This is just a quick one to share an amusing story with you: I bought a new car this weekend, which of course entailed insurance changes and the usual inept staff and poorly designed systems.

In arranging the insurance for the new car, I thought I’d have my partner added to it at the same time. He’s just finished a law qualification at UWE and starts a new job as a Paralegal next week. He was most surprised to find himself promoted from Paralegal to Solicitor in three seconds flat by the Churchill employee before he even starts!

The whole time I was on the phone to Churchill it put me in mind of a fellow blogger’s post on a very similar subject: Please Select From These Options.

After I’d spent a full two minutes listening to a recorded message pushing their other products and services at me, followed by five minutes on hold, going through to the wrong person and another two minutes on hold, the conversation went something like this (CR = Churchill Representative):

CR: And what’s your partner’s occupation?

Me: Paralegal

[lengthy pause]

CR: ... err... is that... P - A - R - E - L...

Me: No, P - A - R - A, then ‘legal’

CR: Oh, that’s what I put in first time. It’s not in the system. Does he have any other title?

Me: No, just ‘Paralegal’

CR: It’s not on here, unless he’s a paramedic?

Me: [stifling a laugh] no, he’s definitely not a paramedic

[partner calls across the room - ‘tell him to try Trainee Solicitor’]

Me: How about ‘Trainee Solicitor’? He’s not, but it’s closer than paramedic

CR: No. I’ve got ‘Solicitor’s Secretary’

Me: [getting exasperated] Oh, just put him down as a solicitor

And just like that, he was promoted! Not sure what the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority would make of the method though...

Similarly, I think I’m down on my own insurance as something to do with IT Administration, which was the closest thing they had to a Website Editor.

Touch wood, we’ll never have to make a claim. But if we do, I sincerely hope that no issues arise from their misinformation - particularly when it’s their own fault for having such narrow and short-sighted systems.

The designer of the system must have known that they’d never get every job title in the UK on there - what was wrong with a free text field? Perhaps one that suggests suitable matches already in the database as the employee is trying to enter the one given. I could build them that based on the tutorials on W3 Schools - it’s hardly rocket surgery.

Overall, it makes for a very poor customer experience, but a good anecdote.

Comments (8)

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  • 1
    Henry wrote on 5th Jul 2011

    For some reason every insurance company I've ever had to deal with wants to triple my premiums if I say that I'm a journalist. This is despite the fact that I don't use the car for work! On one occasion they tried to put my occupation down as a book maker as it sounded similar (to them that is) as someone who makes magazines! Some insurance companies won't insure my wife either and she draws pictures!

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  • 2
    Patrick wrote on 6th Jul 2011

    What was wrong with a free text field? Nothing in principle, but all it takes is a few typos and suddenly the data is useless when it comes to reporting or any analysis that needs to be done of the customer in regards to assessing risk (although you could argue that this is no worse than having only an approximate entry to start with). I would assume that any suggestion prompt would also stop producing the correct profession once they enter the 'e' in your example, so you would still inevitably end up with errors in the records.

    By the way, did you mean 'rocket science' or 'brain surgery'?

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  • 3
    Hache wrote on 6th Jul 2011

    Not only that the free text field is a bit of a concern, but at the same time, your premium is calculated based on your title. My experience, I checked 3 insurers the last time I renew, and 1 of them had a free-text option, problem? It was twice the cost... so I'm guessing it went into some kind of default cost model.... anyhow, just my 2 cents.

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  • 4
    Azaria wrote on 6th Jul 2011

    @Patrick: 'Rocket science' or 'brain surgery' - that was the joke. :)

    Perhaps then the better option is to use an approximate to give the quote, but have free text for the real job title on the actual policy in case of any legal problems later on. If they try to claim that I've given them false information by saying that my boyfriend has a more responsible job than he actually does, there could be repercussions.

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  • 5
    Michael wrote on 6th Jul 2011

    Unless they've changed the law since I left Old Blighty, the person who enters the details is regarded as an insurance agent rather than their sales clerk. That is YOUR agent, so any falsities s/he enters is YOUR lie.

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  • 6
    Lee wrote on 8th Jul 2011

    Always an annual source for hilarity renewing car insurance.
    For years i was with Directline and no other insurer came close to the premium DL were able to offer. The post sale of DL my premium doubled so I was forced into the world of meerkats and Iranian comedians. More recently I caught a programme that suggested your job title could make a lot of difference to your premium. Testing the theory, my premium would be either £500pa for my real title of IT Manager or £250 for Office Worker. Like many people I am an office based worker who doesn't use his/her car for business so why the great difference in premium.

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  • 7
    CJP wrote on 13th Jul 2011

    Having worked in Insurance for a number of years before I saw the light and moved into IT, I can give you a little insight into these issues.

    Insurance systems are typically integrated with a lot of other insurance systems (for example insurance broking systems, or websites such as In order to do this effectively they need to have data in common. This is where ABI (Association of British Insurers) lists come in. The ABI have created a list of job roles and this is what most insurers will select from. Sadly, this can't cater for every possible nuance.

    @Henry. In my Insurance training I'm afraid I was told that journalists were seen as (to use an insurance phrase) 'moral hazard' and therefore a higher risk. Since the insurer doesn't know whether you work for a computer journal or News International, I'm afraid you all get treated the same. In the 'olden days' a good broker who knew you could probably negotiate you a better deal, but with everything more automated these days, I guess that has become a little harder.

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  • 8
    Steve Boronski wrote on 15th Jul 2011

    For a list of the ways technology has failed to improve our lives, please press 3

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About the author
Azaria came to BCS in mid-2009, joining the Institute as a web editor right in the middle of the exciting transformation period. She originally trained in English and creative writing at university, and is a self-confessed gadgetophile and grammar guru.

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February 2018