All marketers are liars
— Seth Godin
Do you always read the fine print? I do most of the time, but not when it’s the type of fine print that comes in the mail after everything is paid for, and you’re already a member/customer.
Today Allstate Motor Club has taught me a lesson that has changed the way I approach the fine print.
After late evening shopping I decided to wash my car, and went to a local automatic car wash. Drove in, got presoaked, turned the engine off not to suck in the smell of the chemicals from the outside, got soaped up, rubbed, and mostly washed.., but when the time came for me to roll further on (for final rinse and drying) my truck wouldn’t start. I tried several times and realized that my battery has gone dead on me. What a bummer! There I am sitting in my car in the middle of the car wash, and the car wouldn’t move anywhere. So I pulled out my Allstate Motor Club “deluxe plan” membership card, and called them for help (I had this membership for almost 10 months, and they have helped me out 4 times in the past). The system didn’t recognize my membership number, and I was put through to an operator who informed me that my membership was canceled because I “used up all 4 service calls per year” that I was entitled to. “I had a limit of 4 calls per year?” – I asked. “Yes, Sir” – was her eloquent reply.
Wow. No, this is understandable from the economic standpoint (why pay for anyone’s service more than 4 times a year when you’re charging them only $1/week, or a total of $52/year?), but there are two questions that I have to the Allstate Motor Club as a marketer:
1) Why not make it explicit from the very start?
I decided to sign up with the Allstate Motor Club after receiving an invitation in the mail. Here’s the part of it that advertised the product to me:
About a week after signing up I received a confirmation in the mail, with 4 pages of fine print, together with the membership cards for myself and my wife. I must admit, I have not read through the 4 pages, and only now I see that on page 3 they did tell me that the use of “your emergency road or towing service benefit four (4) times within any one membership period will result in the automatic suspension of that benefit until the beginning of your next membership period”. Yes, the rule was mentioned to me. But why only after the sign up? Why are the 4 times a year (an extremely important piece of information to know, especially if I have a chance of adding “spouse and teens ages 16-18 living in [my] house”) not neither explicitly mentioned to the customer during the pre-sale, nor during the sale phase? This information is not disclosed before prospective customers at Allstate Motor Club’s FAQ page or any other generic page of their website either.
2) Why not notify the customer of the cancellation of their membership?
When my membership is canceled I’d love to find out about it before I stick my head under the soapy hood of my truck. Shoot me a text message, and email, a piece of mail, something that would inform me that I’m no longer covered by the “24-hour emergency road service benefits” any longer.
I ended up running across the street to the closest Walmart, rushing in 8 minutes before the store closing, buying a new battery, gloves, and a set of tools, and changing that battery right in the car wash. But a lesson was learned. Always, always, always read the fine print; even if it comes in the mail a week after you’ve purchased a product/service.
Edit/Note: Per Darlene’s comment made on January 20, 2010 the number of calls has now gone down from 4 to 3.