I can’t even remember how long I’d been with the NRMA; for years and years, I’d faithfully paid for roadside assistance and used them for my comprehensive car insurance without a thought about switching.
Because, frankly, I was just too complacent about shopping around for better prices. I took it in good faith when they told me I was on the maximum no-claim bonus rate, plus their customer service had always been top-notch, I thought.
That was until about a month ago, when I had a flat battery as I was headed out at 7.30am, and had to call for NRMA roadside assistance. That went smoothly; the technician showed up within the hour, got my vehicle started, then he helpfully advised that I could get a free battery recharge service at the NRMA service centre in Rockdale, which was within walking distance from my place.
But, he warned, I would need to allow up to 4 hours, because that’s how long it would take to recharge it fully.
I had a delivery to do for my business, but I figured I could push it to 1pm, so I drove up to the NRMA Rockdale Service Centre and booked it in. It was about 8.45am by the time I spoke with the counter staff and was advised that no, they would need more than 4 hours; it would be more like 6 hours, which meant I was looking at closer to 3pm.
I figured they were probably just playing safe, but worst case scenario, should it take that long I could still make the delivery by late afternoon (it was a 90-minute round trip away, but as long as I made it there before 5pm, I was okay).
No worries, we’ll call you as soon as it’s done. So I went home. And waited. And waited. My optimism was unfounded (I seriously thought they would call before 3pm) and when I didn’t hear back, I called THEM.
After putting me on hold for some time, they came back and said they would need another hour, hour and a half. I’m not a mechanic, so I don’t really know how long it takes to recharge a car battery, but I had reworked my schedule based on what I was told by the first guy, which was 4 hours.
Their new estimate meant that this would be pushing 8 hours, so I have to admit, I kind of suspected that maybe they forgot about my vehicle and didn’t get it charging until halfway through the day.
Don’t worry, said the woman on the phone. We will definitely call you back as soon as it’s done. So now we were looking at 4–4.30pm.
I had to contact my client and advise that it looked like it would have to be an after hours delivery after all.
Did I mention that apart from running a business, I am a sole parent of a special needs child?
Who is medically assessed as requiring round-the-clock care?
So, apart from the usual “life is hard”, “running a business is hard”, “being a single parent is hard” stuff, I also spend an enormous amount of my life juggling therapy and care for my kid. And he was going to be picked up by a carer shortly but what if her shift ended before I could get my vehicle back and get the delivery done? So, stress, stress, stress.
But I digress.
4.30pm came and went. No callback. So I decided to take my chances and show up at Rockdale NRMA Service Centre anyway and hope for the best. I mean, even if it wasn’t fully charged by that stage, it was better than nothing.
I fronted up at the customer service desk right before 5pm. There was nobody there; someone was in the back room putting things away. Ever the optimist, I thought that once I got her attention she would tell me she was just about to call to let me know my car was ready.
Nope. She had no idea who I was (different person to the one in the morning). No intention to call me. Didn’t know what car I was picking up. She was getting ready to lock up the place. Was it a Subaru? No, actually, it wasn’t.
By this stage my perennial optimism had been replaced with frustration. I told her I needed my vehicle to run a business and because of this stuff-up I could have very well ended up with my car keys being locked in their premises overnight. I didn’t even mention my special needs child and the fact that I had no family support and would have been well and truly screwed.
Please — I told her — could you find out what happened and why nobody got back to me? Because — I said explicitly — if you don’t call me back with an explanation, I’m going to lodge a complaint. Yes, no worries! I asked for her name (to ensure accountability) and she willingly gave it.
Did she call me back? Nope, no callback.
So I did what anybody who’s experienced bad customer service does. I posted a 1-star Google review. I saw that other reviews received a response from the centre, both good and bad. I got no response. Maybe because the woman I last spoke with, the one who was closing up for the night, was the manager of the store herself (I could see it was her name that was attached to the other Google review responses).
Remember the NRMA advertising tagline? “Help is who we are”? Right.
So I escalated it — I went to the NRMA website and filled out the complaint form. Do you have a policy with us? Bingo, I thought — I pay over $2300 a year for my COMPREHENSIVE car insurance; that might be small change to a behemoth like NRMA, but I’m pretty sure I pay a lot more than the average car owner, so that coupled with the number of years I’d been with the same company must mean something.
Would you like a phonecall or an email response once we’ve investigated? I opted for a phonecall.
It’s been nearly 3 weeks. I don’t know what kind of investigation takes 3 weeks, when all I’m seeking is a simple apology — sorry, we stuffed up, we’ve spoken to the manager and she assures us that this won’t happen again etc.
Everybody leaves happy, I continue to fork out $2327.69 for my comprehensive policy plus $113 roadside service per annum.
After 2+ weeks waiting for that elusive phonecall that never came, I finally got motivated enough to replace my insurer.
I couldn’t even be bothered to shop around too hard for it; I hopped online, found the first one that popped up (AAMI — and no, I’m not getting paid by them for this piece), and got a quote within 5 minutes.
A big fat saving of over $800 when you add their first year FREE roadside assistance service into the mix.
Voila. NRMA clearly doesn’t care about losing my business, and I’m glad their crappy service has opened my eyes to the fact that I’ve been overcharged all these years. So thank you, NRMA Rockdale Service Centre.
Before you think I’m being overly dramatic (I mean, nobody died, my client got her delivery and she was okay about the delay even though it was pitch black when I got there, I got back in time to take over from Noah’s support worker, etc.) — before you think I’m being petty, hear me out.
Back when I was caught up in the viral controversy about people petitioning to have Noah removed from my market stall, one person in the special needs community posted a comment that’s stayed with me ever since.
At that time, I had decided to quit my business after running it for 14 years, rather than to fight for my child’s right to stay with me. This person wrote (I’m paraphrasing) — Jackie, you need to stay and fight. We have faced this kind of discrimination our whole lives. You have a voice. You need to speak out.
I’m also reminded, as a child of immigrants, the story my dad told about some young Aussie punk who pointed at him from across the street and spat on the ground. My parents faced this kind of discrimination because they couldn’t speak English. They couldn’t talk back when someone mocked them.
Heck, if they had a problem with the NRMA, it wouldn’t be a simple task of logging into their portal and cancelling their policy and signing up with someone else. My parents didn’t have the opportunity for proper schooling, but they made sure their kids did.
So yes, I’m sometimes perceived as being a bit OTT when it comes to making noise, but I’m not doing it for myself.
Clearly my experience with NRMA Rockdale has nothing to do with disability discrimination or racial discrimination — it was just sloppy customer service.
It’s nice that I saved $800, but the truth it, I do it not necessarily for myself, but also for those who come after me, who don’t have a voice or don’t have a platform. And to hold big corporations like NRMA accountable for their systemic failures; if everybody did the same, we would all benefit, trust me.