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Happy Birthday! It's State Farm!

Posted by: Jena McGregor on November 28, 2007

Okay, I get the whole idea of authenticity. The experience is what matters. Make your customers feel special.

But this was a little over the top. Today, my insurance agent called me on my cell phone to wish my husband happy birthday. Nice gesture? Yes. A little too implausibly personal? Definitely.

While it’s a rare complaint, sometimes the whole idea of customer service gets taken a little too far. While I wrote recently about how much most customers love Room & Board, the hip furniture store, my colleague was bothered by how many times they contacted her after she made a purchase to make sure everything was ok. Hotels that greet you by name on the way in the door can creep some people out. And then there’s the happy birthday cell phone message from your insurance agent. While I’m sure he meant to be nice, it just smelled a little bit too much like false folksiness to me.

What do you think? Do some companies take their attempts at authenticity too far?

Reader Comments

John A. Byrne

November 29, 2007 12:30 AM

Not possible! Suggesting that a company can go overboard on authenticity is like saying you can be loved too much. We've come to expect so little in customer service that it may seem like overkill when you get a birthday call. But what a wonderful gesture that is in a world that is becoming ever so impersonal and rude. I wish one of my favorite companies--Trader Joe, Apple, or Jet Blue--call and wish me a happy birthday in January when I'll celebrate my 55th!


November 29, 2007 8:13 AM

Here's a time when I wish my insurance agent calls -- when I need her, like if I get into an accident and she gives me updates on the status of everything and makes sure I'm happy with everything. So yes, instead of this guy giving you a call on your birthday, he needs to spend his time actually helping (when you need it), not "being nice." Thomas H.

HR Wench

November 29, 2007 10:59 AM

My 70 something mother hates it when sales people use her first name. She is of the generation that is used to being addressed as "Mrs. So and So" by strangers. Her complaint is "I shop here, we are not friends!". However, as a 30 something I cringe at being addressed as "Ms. So and So" and would much rather be addressed by my first name. You can't please all the people all the time.


December 3, 2007 3:03 PM

I think sincerity is the issue. Just like recognition getting a compliment or a birthday message that you know is insincere is meaningless. In the case of the insurance agent you know there's a computer program that told him it was your husband's birthday so he knew he should call. If he had taken the effort to notate the birthday of a customer and then called that's a sincere gesture and therefore has meaning.

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